Thursday, June 10, 2010

Why Can't Women Be Priests?

The student newspaper at Texas A&M had a poorly argued editorial yesterday entitled "Extending the cloth for Catholicism". This is after our the AP ran an article about the same issue entitled "Sex abuse crisis gives new momentum to dissidents".

Both have the same sense that the Catholic Church needs to "get with the times" and the problems in the Catholic Church are due to archaic doctrines that subjugate women and entrench men in powerful positions in order to keep power from others. Thus, they argue, women should be allowed to become priests and celibacy shouldn't be required.

The ignorance on display is not surprising, but is sad. Too many people have no clue what the Catholic Church truly teaches or why.

I thought we might explore these issues while answering a few questions that have arisen out of these articles:

1 - Why does the Church require celibacy?
2 - Is celibacy a cause of abuse of others?
3 - Why can't women be priests?

I hope we can give some straight answers and clear up some misconceptions.

1 - Why does the Church require celibacy?
It does not. We are free to choose whether or not we will be celibate. Some choose to, some don't. It is not imposed on anyone. You might change the question to be - why do you have to be celibate to be a priest? We must remember that the teaching on priestly celibacy is not doctrine, but a noble practice. There have been, and are presently, priests who are married, though they are exceptions to the norm in the largest part of the Catholic Church – the Latin Rite. In other the smaller Eastern Rites married priests are more common (see here to learn about the differences between Catholic Rites). Also, ministers from certain Protestant denominations that are married and then become Catholic are allowed to remain married when they become priests, if they receive a special dispensation from the Vatican.

Celibacy is a requirement for Latin Rite Catholic men who join the priesthood in the normal way. This is because Christ was celibate and extolled the virtues of celibacy.

2 - Is celibacy a cause of abuse of others?
Some believe we need to abandon celibacy because it causes repression of sexual desires and thus abuse occurs. When we look at this objectively, the data doesn't support such an idea. Most Protestant denominations (who allowed married clergy) are suffering from abuse on an equal level as well. Also, public schools have a much higherrate of abuse.

Certainly some priests have repressed their sexuality, but this isn't the norm.

Celibacy can help the priest to live as a more perfect “sign” (or sacrament) of Christ. St. Paul says in 1 Cor 7 that it is better to remain celibate in order to serve the Church.

Celibacy must not be seen in the negative “giving up sex” manner. It is a positive. The priest gives a good thing away in order to point to something even better – life with Christ forever. Both married life and celibacy are gifts from God.

Misunderstandings of the priestly life of celibacy as well as the over-sexed nature of our society and the problems many young men have with remaining celibate and chaste while single are the cause of such ignorance. Some just can't see how anyone can be happy unless they act out sexually. This is a sign of an internal issue, not one with celibacy.

Jesus was celibate and I don't hear anyone saying he was inclined to abuse others...
Matthew 19:11-12: "Not all can accept this word, but only those to whom it is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it."
3 - Why can't women be priests?
This is a different kind of question. This does deal with Catholic dogma, that is, the unchangeable teaching of the Church given by Christ and handed down to His Apostles. Christ was a man and so were his 12 Apostles. Thus, the Church has no authority to change what Christ has given to us. If it is given by Christ, we are protectors of the teaching - not masters of it.

Some say that Christ didn't come as a woman or call women to be His apostles because he wouldn't have been able to do so because of the cultural norms of His time. My answer has always been - if this is the case, then please give me one other example of Jesus failing to speak truth because of the culture. There is none. Jesus was a radical for His time who rejected the cultural norms regarding the sick, imprisoned, Gentiles, laws of purification, Sabbath restrictions, lepers, tax collectors, and women. Christ doesn't make mistakes.

Others say that women are merely treated as unequals to men and this is a sexist power-grab by the men. Women can do anything a man can.

This is also untrue. Women can't be men and men can't be women. True equality doesn't come from what we "do". True equality comes from who we are. Yet, men and women have different functions and abilities. we are created to compliment one another and still we are equal.

I can't bear children, yet I am equal to women.
Women can't be priests, yet they are equal to men.

So, our equality must not be based in how we function or what we can "do". It is based in something much deeper - being created in the image of God. It is based in our human nature. For more on this topic, you can read my article on true equality (pdf).

I don't expect the press to "get" the Catholic Church, because we are always supposed to be a sign of contradiction to society. But, I expect them to do their homework, not make ignorant statements about doctrine, or try to open a can of worms they have no understanding about.

Maybe I expect too much.


Gert said...

Great article Marcel. Concise and to the point.

Your last two lines are a well deserved rebuke to the press. I teach journalism and intentionally avoid assigning articles regarding sexuality. Why? In a public school, the only article I could publish without rebuke from my left wing colleagues is one that would endorse promiscuity. In addition, it is rare that I have a student who has a good understanding of the issue.

I remember a pro-life dinner I went to years ago where the keynote speaker said she would speak slowly because the media was there and listening.

Jeanne said...

Excellent post

George @ Convert Journal said...

'luv the post and yes, you expect far too much from the press!

It is surprising how many Catholics think there may someday be women priests. They should reference:

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" (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4; Pope John Paul II).

...and the following year: it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium 25:2).