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Why can’t women be priests?

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The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, as emphasised by Pope John Paul II in the apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis”, is “that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

Why can’t women be priests?

Catholics believe that Christ was not bound to the limitations of His surrounding culture, and that therefore His commission of the twelve Apostles – all men – was a free and deliberate choice. The Church has therefore taught through the centuries that she has no right to ordain women as priests. Bishops, successors of the Apostles, and the priests who are their cooperators, stand in the place of Christ as Bridegroom of the Church and share in His fatherhood in the order of grace. These are roles of supernatural spousality and fatherhood that are every bit as real as natural male spousality and fatherhood – arguably more so – and therefore in the case of a priest can only be filled by a man.

In no way, however, is this exclusion of the priesthood to men to be understood as a sign of masculine superiority, especially since the greatest human creature, the masterpiece of divine grace, is the Blessed Virgin Mary – who was never a priest. From the beginning of the Church, women have played significant roles in its life: Mary, the Mother of the Lord, Mary Magdalene, the first proclaimer of His resurrection, the women martyrs like Cecilia, Agnes and Edith Stein who witnessed to their faith with their blood, the women like Monica who witnessed to their pagan husbands of their faith in Christ, the innumerable women who raised their children in the faith, the women like Scholastica and Clare who entered or founded monastic communities, the brilliant and holy women like Catherine, Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux who taught the Church about following Jesus. Without these women and countless others, the Church would be immeasurably poorer.

The Church’s understanding about the priesthood is not easy for some to accept. It is important to keep in mind, though, that Jesus at the Last Supper washed the feet of His disciples – the first priests – and explicitly instructed them to do the same. The authority exercised by priests should never be one of power and domination, but always one of humble service. That is the light in which the male Catholic priesthood should be evaluated.

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