Why Women Cannot Be Catholic Priests

Recently, this issues came up in our parish. I pray for those who are mislead in to thinking that women will someday be ordained, it will not happen, ever. I was going to write an article explaining why, when I came across this wonderful article at EWTN.com from Our Sunday Visitor, in 1995.


Lost in the debate over women priests is the reason for the
Church's  teaching. A top woman theologian explains why the
Church has always believed what it believes 

By Mary DeTurris

Shouts of rage and whispers of schism have irrupted in
the month since  the Vatican issued a brief confirmation
of the Church's long-held teaching that it cannot ordain
women to the priesthood.

Yet lost amid the rash of reports of rebellion and
frustration is a  chorus of voices singing out in
support of the clarification of Church teaching,
published Nov. 18 by the Vatican's Congregation for the
Doctrine of the Faith with the approval of Pope John
Paul II.

 These supporters argue that critics, confused Catholics
and others, would  do well to study what the Church has
really said about the reasons for barring women's ordination,
which have nothing to do with "gender equality" and everything
to do with Jesus and the  history of the Church.

 "It seems so patently unreasonable and unfair to people that
they can't  imagine this, and they don't even give it a chance,"
said Sister Sara Butler, a Missionary Servant of the Most Blessed Trinity.

Admittedly, at one time Sister Butler would have been
an unlikely  supporter of the Church teaching. And she
understands firsthand the frustrations of those  advocating
women's admittance to the priesthood.

In the 1970s, she was among the numerous theologians
who spoke out  publicly in favor of women's ordination.
But Sister Butler, currently a theologian at  Mundelein
Seminary in Illinois, said she was forced to change her
mind as her study of the issue drew her  deeper into Scripture
and Church history.

Now, after years of continual study of the questions,
she is one of the  American Church's leading authorities
on the issue. And she believes that Pope John Paul II's
argument is "the only possible reading of the tradition"
of the Church.

Original choice

 "Catholics have always insisted that the ordained ministry
has its origin  in Jesus' own choice of the Twelve [Apostles]
and that they are the foundation of the Church," she explained in a recent interview.

Following Jesus' example of choosing 12 males to be His apostles,
the  Church from the earliest days has reserved the priesthood to males.

Sister Butler acknowledges that this requirement is not spelled
out  directly in the Bible, "as if Scripture, as if Jesus, said,
'I don't want any women to be priests.' "

History, however, shows that the first Christians believed that Christ
intended a male-only priesthood.

"We know it is so because early in even the second and third centuries
some people went ahead and admitted women to at least priestly functions,
if not to ordination,  and those people were considered heretics,"
she explained. "The response was that this was not what Christ willed,
and it's against apostolic teaching."

<Inter Insigniories>, a 1976 declaration by the Vatican's  Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith, details the early Church's response
to the Gnostics and other radical Christian sects that supported
women priestly roles. The Fathers of the Church, the Vatican said,
"immediately censured this step, judging it a novelty which should on no
account be accepted into  the Church."

The declaration, which was approved by Pope Paul VI and remains
the  Church's most explicit explanation of its teaching on women's
ordination, recounts that  beginning with early Church leaders such
as St. Irenaeus, Tertullian, Origen and St. John Chrysostom,
and extending through the Middle Ages down to the current popes, the
male-only priesthood was  an unquestioned tradition.

Even the Oriental or Eastern churches, which split with the
Roman Church over many theological issues, never questioned
that tradition. The question came up with the Protestant Reformation
in the 16th century. The Protestant churches effectively abandoned
the idea  of the priesthood in favor of "a pastoral ministry" in which
men and women could participate.

Nevertheless, the Catholic Church and the various Eastern Catholic  churches have
held true to Christ's original plan.

 As Sister Butler said, "The reason is we don't think Jesus intended this  for the Church,
and this judgment has been made repeatedly and definitively by the Church of our
own ancestors. It's a universal, unbroken tradition."

Anti-woman bias?

 Nonetheless, critics of the ban on women priests insist that it has  always reflected anti-
woman bias in the Church, and that if Jesus were living in an age with a  greater
appreciation of women's dignity and gifts, He would have chosen female disciples and
ordained  women priests.

 This is another argument that holds little water for Sister Butler, based  on her study of
the issue and the history, even though she once felt that the Church's main  objection to
women priests was based on its belief that women were inferior and should be
subordinate to  men.

 "The Vatican did clarify its teaching about women's equality and has been  very
specific," she said. "Pope Paul VI very specifically reiterated what Vatican II had said
about  the absolute equality of women and men, and Pope John Paul II has been very
lucid in many, many  places clarifying women's equality with men."

 In fact, Pope John Paul has written and spoken often about the equality  of women,
their unique gifts and their role in the Church.  In 1988, he devoted a 116-page
apostolic letter, <Mulieris Dignitatem>, to the subject of the dignity and vocation of
women.  And  last year he wrote an open letter to the women of the world in which he
acknowledged that women have  been oppressed and discriminated against and that
some of the "blame" for this can be laid  on "not just a few members of the Church."

 In apologizing for discrimination by some Churchmen, the Pope affirmed  women's
central importance in history and said the Church believes the Gospel message of
Christ is "ever relevant" when it comes "to setting women free from every kind of
exploitation and  domination." In <rdinatio Sacerdotalis>, the Pope's 1994 apostolic
letter  reaffirming the Church's teaching on ordination, he was careful to spell out that
the decision to deny women  access to the priesthood is not based on a belief that
women are less competent than men.

 "The fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the  Church,
received neither the mission proper to the apostles nor the ministerial priesthood
clearly shows that the nonadmission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that
women are  of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as a discrimination against them,"
the Pope wrote.  "Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be
ascribed to the Wisdom of the  Lord of the Universe."

 That wisdom is sometimes called into question by those who campaign for  the
ordination of women. Many who support a female priesthood claim that there is no
connection between today's bishops and priests and Jesus' choice of the Twelve

 That view, according to Sister Butler, is something "quite alien" to  Catholic tradition.
"They really intend to suggest that the ordained ministry is the creation of the  Church,
something that it  developed for self-organization," she said. "Once you have done that,
you  have completely emptied out the whole idea of the Catholic sense of this Church."

 Since the very beginning of the Church, she continued, the authority of  bishops and
the priests under them has been seen as an extension of "the authority of Christ, who
acts through His ordained ministers who exercise His authority in a way that other
baptized Christians cannot."

 This authority structure ensures that what the Church teaches remains  true to the
teaching of Christ, and that is why the teaching authority of the popes and the  bishops
is at the heart of the question concerning women's ordination.

 And the authority of the Church has been "absolutely consistent" on the  issue of the
male-only priesthood, Sister Butler said. "Theologians have thought through the
centuries that it belongs to the deposit of faith, and that's what the Holy Father is
saying now, and  it does." The "deposit of faith" is the body of unchangeable teachings
entrusted by Christ to the  apostles and handed on by them to the Church.

 "When you tell people that this is what Christ willed for the Church,  they often say, 'If
He were alive now, He would do it differently.' He is alive now. Don't we believe  that
the Lord is living and acting in the Church, that these teachers are not just acting on
their own judgment but are trying to be absolutely faithful to the teaching that they are
entrusted  with and doing that against tremendous odds?"

 While she believes in the Church's authority and believes that the Church  is teaching
the doctrine of Jesus on the ordination question, Sister Butler worries that reaction  to
the Vatican's recent statement is focused so much on the authority question, which is
"misleading to the average person," and misses the real reasons for the Church's

 "My expectation is that there will be a lot of talk about the pope's  authority," she said.
"But what we really need is a deeper theological investigation of the reasons
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1 Comment

  1. This book set me straight when I was a wee budding neo-feminist back in the day (like 18 years ago – yikes! did I just type that number???):


    Unfortunately, it seems to be currently out-of-print. I still have my copy over at my mother’s house. This was my first introduction to my beloved Mrs. Alice von Hildebrand. 😀

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