– Fr. Benjamin
At the end of youth group this week, one of the girls asked why women cannot be Catholic priests. After all it isn’t fair. I told them I would answer the question next week, which will be our first official, “Awkward Question Night.”
After reflecting for a while on Catholic priesthood I believe there there are three main reasons to explain why the priesthood is not open to women. I will deal with the second and third in subsequent posts.
The Church must always remain faithful to Christ and he did not chose women as priests.
Remember that we are not saved alone and individually, we are saved by being united to the Church. The Church is the family of God (Mark 3:35) and the Body of Christ (Romans 7:4, Ephesians 4:12). Just like the family brings life and learning to its members, and the body brings blood and nutrients to its members, the Church is the supernatural reality which brings God’s Divine Life to us. This life comes through the sacraments, especially the Body and Blood of Christ that flows to us, and through a sharing in the Holy Spirit.
The problem is, that where two or three are gathered together, there will be an argument. Jesus needed to establish clearly who was in charge, to ensure unity. So he formed the twelve Apostles and ordained them to the triple leadership of teaching, worshiping, and guiding the Church, with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, the “Spirit of Truth” (John 16:13). The assistance of the Holy Spirit is what guarantees that the Church will not succumb to human weakness and betray the Gospel, but will continue in fidelity to Christ until the end of time.
Some argue that Jesus, limited by the prejudices of his time, didn’t realize women could or should be Apostles, but this is absurd. He used the woman at the well (John 4) to teach the town that he was the Messiah. It is clear from the Gospel that Jesus made a deliberate choice to call men to this mission and only men.
The Apostles ordained bishops and priests to continue this mission from one generation to the next. Just as the Apostles were all men, so the Church has always believed that this mission was given particularly to men (not to all men, only those chosen by the Holy Spirit for this particular work). By the Church, I do not mean simply that the bishops and priests refused to allow women “into the club”, I mean that women and men, educated and poor, saints and sinners in every age up to the present moment have maintained the belief that priesthood was a role given to men. This enduring character is testimony to the truth.
Some will argue that the Holy Spirit is doing something different now, and calling women to priesthood. This is a possibility, since the Holy Spirit frequently does new things. Who gets to decide if the Spirit is doing this? It is the responsibility of the Church to discern if this is TRULY coming from the Holy Spirit (again, the Church is not only the Bishops but the theologians and the people in the pews). Here is the beauty of being Catholic. Each individual Christian does not bear the burden weighing these issues and trying to come to a personal conclusion. The burden of coming to a conclusion is a burden carried by the whole Church and especially by the Bishops.
After careful reflection, the Church has discerned that it is not God’s will to extend the priesthood to women. Pope John Paul II declared the fruit of this discernment in his letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. So, we are now free from having to worry about whether or not to ordain women. However, this opens up the question, for our careful investigation, why God would only chose men as priests. I’ll discuss some reflections as to why this may be in another post.