Our bulletin has a new segment called "question of the week" in which different members of the staff take turns answering topical questions. This week was my chance to do so. I put the short version without the first two paragraphs in the bulletin. Here's the long version of what I did.
Why can’t women become priests?
In seminary, this question was posed to me while I was sitting down to eat at a benefit for a catholic school. I started what I thought was a rather eloquent explanation from tradition and scripture similar to the one below only to be rather consistently interrupted with the ad-hominem argument that scripture and tradition are biased and outmoded. My pastor, who had been sitting next to me enjoying the exchange, finally spoke up and said what I believed (and still believe) to be the weakest explanation of them all: This is just the way it is now. Stogy, old Rome may not be willing to face the fact that things are changing, but they’re just delaying the inevitable.
This seemed to pacify my interlocutor so I decided to return to what was, up until this point, a rather enjoyable soirée. Nonetheless, this exchange haunts me to this day because of the presumptuousness of the explanation. No one knows what the future holds. If we need further clarity of this, look at this past year’s presidential election. Two years ago, it seemed clear that this was going to be the year in which we would elect the first women president in Senator Hillary Clinton. Two years later, we are, instead, on the precipice of electing the first African-American President in Barak Obama. Who saw that one coming?
The most frustrating thing that many women feel is that they, honestly, probably could do better than a number of men at some of the tasks required of prests. There are, undoubtedly, many women who could preach better, hear confessions better, anoint the sick better, administer a parish, etc. better than men. Pope John Paul II, in his Apostolic Letter on this topic entitled Ordinatio Sacertotalis wanted to be sure to affirm the gifts that women bring to the church. He said, “The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable. As the (earlier) Declaration Inter Insigniores points out, ‘the Church desires that Christian women should become fully aware of the greatness of their mission: today their role is of capital importance both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church.’"
The Pope refutes those who say that Christ was handicapped by his times and biases by referring to Pope Paul VI’s encyclical letter Inter Insigniores which stated…”to the great astonishment of his own disciples Jesus converses publicly with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:27); he takes no notice of the state of legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages (Mt 9:20); he allows a sinful woman to approach him in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7:37); and by pardoning the woman taken in adultery, he means to show that one must not be more severe towards the fault of a woman than towards that of a man (Jn 8:11). He does not hesitate to depart from the Mosaic Law in order to affirm the equality of the rights and duties of men and women with regard to the marriage bond (Mk 10:2; Mt 19:3). In his itinerant ministry Jesus was accompanied not only by the Twelve but also by a group of women (Lk 8:2). Contrary to the Jewish mentality, which did not accord great value to the testimony of women, as Jewish law attests, it was nevertheless women who were the fist to have the privilege of seeing the risen Lord, and it was they who were charged by Jesus to take the first paschal message to the Apostles themselves (Mt 28:7 ; Lk 24:9 ; Jn 20:11), in order to prepare the latter to become the official witnesses to the Resurrection.”
The Point the Pope seems to emphasize is that priesthood is neither a job that demands the fulfillment of certain tasks or the possession of the church. “…the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church.” He’s saying that it is a gift given to the church by Christ to carry out Christ’s mission of salvation. And, so, the church holds no authority whatsoever to altar the gift given. Thus, Pope John Paul II states in no uncertain terms, “the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents…I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”
John Paul II Ordinatio Sacerdotalis
Pope Paul VI Inter Insigniores
For more reading