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Doctrine denies equality

| Thursday, March 20, 2014

At the risk of sounding obsessive, I dare to open up the controversial, often-discussed but never completely-resolved question: Why can’t women be priests?

I have been a member of the Catholic Church for my entire life. Similar to many modern Catholics, I maintain my Catholic identity and possess a strong sense of belief, but continue to question or disagree with certain aspects of the Catholic Church as an institution. The role of women in the Church — their power, their socially-accepted roles and lack of official leadership — is a subject that frustrates me immensely.

To be fair, devout Catholic women are capable of attaining certain positions of important, sacred nature within the Church. Women can become nuns, prioresses, missionaries, parish council members and leaders of religious ministries, among other things. These positions come with great responsibility and require admirable levels of faith and dedication, and they are important in their own right.

However, there are no positions available to women in the official Church hierarchy — priest, bishop, cardinal, monsignor, pope or even deacon. Only those in these positions partake in the Church’s hierarchy of power, and only those who reach the highest levels of the hierarchy have the authority to make decisions regarding the Catholic faith as a whole. Only members of the hierarchy have the authority to perform the Liturgy of the Eucharist, to give Confession and to facilitate the Sacraments. On a grander scale, only the highest level of authority has the power to write encyclicals, deliberate the Church’s position on social issues, clarify the interpretation of scripture and establish the focus of the Church as a whole. These responsibilities lie only with men.

If women make up half of the membership of the Catholic Church, why are they denied any real power within the institution? Why are their insights excluded? Why are they considered not good enough, or blessed enough or capable enough to partake in the critical discussions and decision-making processes that define the direction of the Church?

People offer a variety of answers to these questions. One such response is the argument that no one in the Church has the authority to alter a sacrament, and allowing women to be priests would inevitably alter the Sacrament of Holy Orders. I ask the question, however: What exactly are the most important, fundamental aspects of this sacrament? Are they personal sense of calling to vocation, dedication, and service, and the ability to follow through on sacred vows? Or are they biological circumstance and outdated convention? Moreover, previous popes, because of the doctrine of papal infallibility, have made equally “radical” declarations regarding Church teaching, including official interpretations regarding the assumption of Mary and the existence of purgatory, which are not implicitly stated in the Bible.

Another response is the argument that Jesus was a man, so naturally all leaders of the Church must also be men. I find this response to be a bit more absurd. Given the time period and location that Jesus walked the earth, and the customs and culture surrounding that setting, a female would not have been taken seriously as a religious leader, let alone a revolutionary. However, the times have since changed dramatically. Besides the historical context, one must seriously ask what the most important qualities of a priest, or other hierarchical leader, are. If a person feels called to devote his or her life to God and the Church, and is willing and capable of being a leader in the Church due to religious education and profound faith, why should that person be denied the opportunity because of gender?

People also argue that God created men and women to possess different roles in society. On a certain level, this may be true. However, those roles, as the Church claims to interpret them today, are meant to be equal, though they may be different. One gender is certainly not meant to dominate the other, and for one gender to possess sole decision-making power over the other in any household or organization is inherently unequal. Why does the Catholic Church hierarchy perpetuate this exact kind of inequality?

It is easy to brush off this issue of fundamental inequality as unimportant. The Church offers various rationalizations as to why this inequality is permissible, or even worse, why it is not really a case of inequality at all. The fact of the matter is, however, that the fate and direction of the Catholic Church on earth is decided solely by men. And women are, if even unintentionally, labeled as unworthy, incapable or unfit to take on a leadership role in their own religion — and it is not right.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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