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Responding to Jimmy Carter’s Criticism of the All-Male Priesthood

800px-Priesterweihe_in_Schwyz_2When St. Thomas Aquinas argued that the female sex is an impediment to receiving the Sacrament of Holy Orders, i.e., becoming a priest or deacon, he cited the First Letter of Paul to Timothy, wherein the inspired author wrote that, in the gatherings of the faithful, women should learn in silence and with all submissiveness, never teaching or having authority over men. Aquinas added, “Since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.” By and large, you won’t today hear apologists for the all-male priesthood follow Aquinas’s lead when trying to explain Catholic doctrine to a hostile audience. To our ears, his reasoning rings of sexism, sounding exactly like the sort of arguments historically (and still today) used to defend the mistreatment and degradation of women. Nowadays the church’s most common refrain is that it hasn’t the authority to ordain women because Jesus Christ didn’t give it that authority: it’s not the limits of women, but the limits of the ordained men that prevent women serving as priests. This line of reasoning works to maintain the exclusiveness of its priesthood while evading the charge of sexism.

No surprise, critics of the all-male priesthood disagree. President Jimmy Carter, for one. He’s on tour for a new book, A Call To Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power, about the abuse of women around the world. Women today suffer inequality, enslavement, murder, legalized rape, torture, and other atrocities enabled by religious beliefs, practices, and structures of power. In interviews, Carter has included the Roman Catholic teaching on the priesthood among the causes of abuse and mistreatment, saying that it influences people to think of women as inferior to men–the kind of thinking that precipitates abuse.

The National Catholic Register has an article quoting prominent Catholic laywomen responding to President Carter, but their criticism of his statements doesn’t really address the key issue he’s raised. They accuse Carter of misunderstanding Catholicism and God: God didn’t make women inferior and the church doesn’t teach that they are inferior. Maybe Carter doesn’t understand the doctrine of the all-male priesthood, but whether he’s exactly right about the doctrine isn’t the question. The issue is whether he’s right or wrong about the real world consequences of the doctrine and the institution. He could be wrong about the teaching but be right about its influence on thought and behavior. Proving that the priesthood as such is free of sexism doesn’t prove that it in effect contributes nothing to sexism.

And the charge of sexism isn’t going to go away. If the door is closed to women priests, as Pope Francis and pontiffs before him have said, then the all-male priesthood is going to receive more condemnation as society becomes more respectful of women’s equality. Accusing critics of being ignorant of Catholicism won’t do the job. Nor will framing the priesthood as an institution of service instead of power, as Ashley McGuire does. “As Pope Francis continues to remind us,” she says, “it is service to others that is the primary aim of Catholics, not authority or power.” Yeah, okay. So what? Service requires power. An organized ministry such as the priesthood necessitates a complex power structure. Women, being women, are excluded from exercising the power to serve the church in important and consequential ways: administering certain sacraments, celebrating the Mass, preaching from the pulpit, leading a diocese, and defining doctrine, for example. Is such a power structure of no consequence because its aim is service? Would excluding women from running for public office be defensible by saying that public office is really about public service and not authority or power? Obviously not.

If President Carter is correct that the institution of the all-male priesthood contributes to sexism and the abuse of women, then it behooves the church, if not to change its doctrine on the priesthood, at least to acknowledge this unintended effect and work diligently to counter it.

Kyle Cupp is an author and freelance writer. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

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106 thoughts on “Responding to Jimmy Carter’s Criticism of the All-Male Priesthood

    • I don’t know all the in’s and out’s, but nuns are not on the same level of authority as priests. Even the nomenclature demonstrates this: priests are referred to as Father; nuns as Sister.

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      • And a nun is not empowered to celebrate the Mass; she can say the words, but the host will not transsubstantiate.

        (If you believe in that sort of thing. Correct me if I’m wrong, Catholics, but you’ve pretty much got to believe in transsubstantiation at some meaningful level in order to be Catholic in the first place.)

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      • That’s a little bit off, Kim. Nuns (sisters) are equivalent to monks (brothers). But different orders of nuns are active or contemplative. Monks typically are contemplative, and diocesan priests are active.

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      • Burt, I think it depends on who you ask. I know a number of people who consider themselves Catholic you don’t hear a lot of Catholic pr and believe in transubstantiation only as a beautiful metaphor.

        Others may differ as to the degree to which they are meaningfully Catholic, but I don’t believe you hear a lot of sermons in Catholic churches on the topic of “If you don’t believe in the literal transubstantiation, you will find a Baptist church conveniently located two blocks thataway. I hope to see at least a few of you next Sunday.”

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      • (apologies for the first half of my post being fully incoherent. That should have read:)

        , I think it depends on who you ask. I know a number of people who consider themselves Catholic and believe in transubstantiation only as a beautiful metaphor.

        Others may differ as to the degree to which they are meaningfully Catholic, but I don’t believe you hear a lot of sermons in Catholic churches on the topic of “If you don’t believe in the literal transubstantiation, you will find a Baptist church conveniently located two blocks thataway. I hope to see at least a few of you next Sunday.”

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  1. If President Carter is correct that the institution of the all-male priesthood contributes to sexism and the abuse of women, then it behooves the church, if not to change its doctrine on the priesthood, at least to acknowledge this unintended effect and work diligently to counter it.

    While I whole-heartedly agree with the notion that the Catholic Church should change it’s policies on allowing women into the priesthood (leadership), I don’t agree that it should be done just because of the potential for sexism and abuse. If women become priests, it won’t stop sexism or abuse, and if that’s the measure of success for allowing women into leadership, it is bound to be a fail. Women should be allowed because they, too, are fully human, and subjugating them is evil.

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  2. It’s a dead end proposition for the Catholics and I don’t see how the church can hold on against the advancing tide of women’s equality. Vocation is instilled in children by their parents. I cannot see how a modern Catholic woman having been told her daughters are not allowed to become Catholic Clergy would have much drive to instill the desire to become Catholic Clergy on their sons.

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  3. What leadership roles are open, within the church hierarchy, to someone who is not ordained, whether male or female? Does the church have any prominent positions that a woman could conceivably fulfill?

    Defense of doctrine appears to me to be something a theologian, a lawyer, or a philosopher could do. Must the people who publicly explain, proselytize, and apologize for doctrine be ordained? Yet. The only people I have seen doing these things in an official capacity are ordained men — bishops or cardinals, typically.

    I’ve only been to Mass for things like weddings and funerals in several years so my knowledge base is limited. When I have gone, I’ve seen that women do serve as lay ministers, wear vestments, and dispense the consecrated host at some churches I have seen, and there seem to be as many altar girls as altar boys, but this doesn’t seem to happen all that prominently. Particularly with the kids helping out by carrying the implements of the ritual, I suppose the ritual itself is more important than the participants. But I compare this to the military — dress uniforms are created that keep the look and professionalism of the service but work with the female form and dress conventions, so you look at a soldier and know that she is both a woman and a soldier at the same time. Clerical vestments are enveloping, shapeless robes draped over the celebrant. Maybe a sartorial shift and we can get a better sense that hey, there’s women up there doing the ceremony?

    Alsotoo, women can serve as administrators of church affairs, including managing the assets or business dealings of a particular diocese. But that doesn’t seem to actually happen all that much. Seems that sort of thing is reserved for bishops and the cadre of diocesan priests they have cultivated as their political supporters.

    Protestant churches often have governing councils who work with their ministers to run the affairs of the church. Do Catholic parishes have anything similar? I understand that typically a parish ultimately reports back to its diocese and it’s bishop, but still, a measure of devolution might create roles for women who are, after all, at least one-half of the flock and who present a legitimate-seeming gripe that they are underrepresented in the leadership of the institution that they care about so much.

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    • “What leadership roles are open, within the church hierarchy, to someone who is not ordained, whether male or female? Does the church have any prominent positions that a woman could conceivably fulfill?”

      As a practical matter, the day to day affairs of most churches and dioceses are run by women. It’s kind of like an army where there only male officers (priests and bishops) but a majority of NCOs (the lay staff, like the administration manager, music director, etc).

      Active participation in the Catholic Church (even if limited to just going to Mass each week) quite famously skews female.

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      • Interestingly on this point gender attendance ratios in churches changed to favor women at the time of the reformation, and has been that way since. I agree that in most churchs if the women refused to do the low level work for free the church would fall apart very rapidly. It appears that to many women in the church the issue is not one they are willing to stage what amounts to a strike refusing to do the volunteer work until things change. That of course is the only way things will change (Part of the change till now has it appears been due to the shortage of priests, but others were able to step in, if the source of those volunteers disappeared the problem would become acute)

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  4. Maybe Carter doesn’t understand the doctrine of the all-male priesthood, but whether he’s exactly right about the doctrine isn’t the question. The issue is whether he’s right or wrong about the real world consequences of the doctrine and the institution.

    This bores down to the core issue I have with a lot of the Church teachings, actually.

    The Church teaches (foo). The theological argument behind (foo) involves (not blah, not bar).

    In the real world, (foo) leads to (bar and/or blah).

    People point to the teaching and say, “but bar!”

    Church defenders refute with, “but the theological argument is not bar, so this isn’t relevant!”

    This applies to birth control, same sex marriage, female clergy. It’s the reason why the sex scandal became so pervasive, too.

    The Church is woefully bad at using real world consequences as a metric for change.

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    • Paraphrase – The Church is bad at change with respect to real world consequences.

      That’s in part because it is supposed to be bad at change. They’re supposed to be trying to follow the everlasting word of an everlasting God who is wiser that all humanity. Why should a little thing like human suffering get in the way of that?

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  5. Regardless of whether its right or wrong for the Catholic Church to have an all-male priesthood and hierarchy, reforming the Church is not going to be easy. The Catholic Church has about a billion or so members of varying levels of devotion across the globe. Many Catholics might deeply desire a more liberal church with married clergy of both genders. Many other Catholics like things the way they are or want to go to back to the pre-Vatican II days.

    The Pope and Catholic leadership can’t simply ignore the different desires of the Catholic laity on this for a variety of reasons. They don’t want to splinter the Church for one thing. No organization will willingly seek its own suicide especially if its a very old institution like the Catholic Church. The other thing is that reform in such a large and complex institution takes time. It has to go through various committees.

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  6. Jimmy Carter is the master of moral equivalence. He could never understand the difference between degree and kind. The man who equated Brooklyn and Yugoslavia equates Catholicism and Islam, the priesthood with honor killing.

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    • On behalf of the muslim people who aren’t on this board?
      Fuck you.
      Honor Killing is not a part of Islam, though some Islamic people do practice it. It is something that the Koran would (and does) condemn. People are not to be killed without trial and witnesses!

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      • I wonder if the Muslim people who are not on this board are particularly happy with you representing them with a “fuck you,” Kim.

        Seriously, you should give yourself a 5 minute rule. When you want to comment, think about it for 5 minutes before actually putting fingers to keyboard. This will hopefully prevent the various types of mouth farts that comprise the bulk of what you say here.

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  7. When I married into a catholic family, I got all the info on the family member’s disagreements with catholic teachings. After one long period of time I asked, “if you don’t like it, why don’t you just leave?”

    Oh, the horrors. That same individual now self identifies as “atheist” so…. My Episcopal priest friend tells me he gets a lot of ex Catholics. Let the church have their doctrine. People can come and go as they like. Their actions to stay or remain will be the true test of the faith.

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    • In the US, in most communities, this is true.

      But Catholicism is global, and in many places around it isn’t true; there’s extreme social pressure to conform with the religious norms with the community.

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      • This really diminished the agency of people who just happen to be from lesser-developed countries. Go to Central America and you’ll find a proliferation of Evangelical Christian churches in what used to be an almost entirely Catholic part of the world.

        When the church isn’t giving people what they want, they leave and go elsewhere.

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    • I know a woman whose father was an Episcopalian priest who became a Catholic priest. Apparently the Catholic Church decided to allow Episcopal priest to keep their families and non-celibacy in order to boost the priesthood.

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      • My former pastor, kicked out of TEC for immortal behavior, is a Catholic priest now. It should be noted that while he is married he gets to stay married, but if she died or leaves him, he cannot remarry.

        (which is not different from what you said, but a lot of people don’t know that)

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      • 1) Is “pastor” even the right term for ECUSA (TEC) priest?
        2) Of course the RCC’s doctrine of clerical celibacy is a matter of church discipline, not dogma. They accept as valid (though not necessarily licit) ordinations from any church they (the RCC) consider as Apostolic (e.g. Anglicans, Old Catholics, most [Eastern] Orthodox, …).
        3) What exactly did your pastor do? Wear white shoes after Labor Day? Vocally oppose SSM? And what exactly does “kicked out” mean, and did the cause of the kicking out not bother the receiving (RCC) bishop? IIRC, a RCC priest can be laicized but retains the indelible priestly character, so I suppose the Anglican equivalent of laicization, whatever exactly that turns out to be, would not affect the validity of his ordination in the eyes of the RCC.

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      • 1) I will blame autocorrect on that one! Though the correct term is minister or priest, we (my family my family) have typically gone with “pastor.” Not sure why.

        2) I’ve head that they accept from other similar denominations, though never confirmed that.

        3) He slept with a parishioner. It is possible that it would have been forgiven and such, but it was the end of a long and problematic relationship. He was spectacular behind the podium (I still remember, and recite, some of his sermons) but he wasn’t a particularly good person. Very self-interested and self-promoting. an empire-builder who left the church crushed in debt when he decided to go into the construction business (which didn’t pan out, he left and re-entered a couple of times before getting caught and fired).

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      • As I recall there is a provision for groups within the Catholic Church to have non-celibate priests on condition they are already married at the time of ordination. It is mainly used for Eastern Catholics, relatively small groups that follow Orthodox liturgy and discipline but accept the authority of the Pope, but more recently similar organisations (or possibly just one I’m not sure) have been created for Anglicans who want to cross over.

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  8. As a Catholic who doesn’t have a major problem with the Church’s position on this matter, my question is this: What role do certain women want to play in the Church that cannot be satisfied by becoming a nun? I guess what I am wondering is, how many women are out there saying, “I would feel so dissatisfied with being a nun, but being a priest? I would love doing that.”

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    • The Catholic Church is always hosting convocations to decide issues/directions etc. within the church. The people who vote in these convocations are priests. Being a nun does not allow you access.

      So women are 100% left out of this whole governing process; and women’s issues that the church takes a stand on are always represented through the lens of how men perceive these issues.

      Now just imagine the inverse, a governing body that determines moral direction, completely composed of women, no men allowed. The presumption is that women are fully capable of representing the views of men.

      Would you be okay with that? I wouldn’t.

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      • The voting on Church leadership is the most persuasive argument I have heard. But I don’t know that many men aspire to be Cardinals for that reason. I guess I’m thinking more directly about the priesthood at its most basic level.

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      • Well, would you be comfortable with your church if all people eligible to lead, to make decisions, to hear confession, to offer sacrament were women? If men were not allowed to do any of these activities based on the notion that men are subjugated?

        There’s a lot I like about the Catholic Church; it’s work on behalf of the poor, it’s embrace of education.

        But it’s stance on women is barbaric; to this atheist’s eyes, it loses all it’s grace there.

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      • I’ll push back a bit here, Mike. (And to be clear upfront I’m not arguing that the Catholic Church should be forced against its will to change.)

        But I would argue contra Dan Miller, this really is different than a private golf club that you can voluntarily join or not. It’s a religion; further, it’s one that children of both sexes are raised in — even in places where the concept of the equality of women is not nearly as assumed as it is here. Being a girl raised for birth to believe that because of your sex you are rightly limited to X — or for that matter, being raised as a boy that your sisters should be rightly limited to X, and that this limiting is what God deems moral — has to have profound consequences that I don’t think can be wiped away by “they can always leave the church.”

        At the risk of offending many here, I think it’s worth noting that even in our “morally advanced” country, the strongest resistance to women’s equity issues — including not just stuff like equal pay and priesthood, but the right to vote, the right not to be raped by a husband, the right to bring charges against a rapist where no third party was witness, the right to physical safety from husbands, etc. — have come from our various houses of worship. And this certainly includes the Catholic Church.

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      • “Well, would you be comfortable with your church if all people eligible to lead, to make decisions, to hear confession, to offer sacrament were women? If men were not allowed to do any of these activities based on the notion that men are subjugated?”

        I wouldn’t be comfortable with it if it were based on the notion that men are subjugated. If it were based on other reasons, and those made sense to me, then I’d have no problem with it. I’m never going to become a priest, which means that I’m never going to be eligible to perform any sacrament but baptism. I’m ok with that. I don’t feel like I’m being excluded from anything.

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      • when I say it’s barbaric, I don’t necessarily mean here, the church you see in the US.

        When I was a child, Catholic families with 10 or 12 children were common; now, having more then 3 kids seems unusual, more then 4 highly uncommon. So despite the church’s resistance to contraception, it’s obvious that pregnancies are, for most Catholics, planned.

        But if you go to parts of Central or South America that are still highly Catholic, you’ll see women who have a toddler, a baby, and are pregnant, often with older children in tow. That’s brutal. One of the essential things we need in this world is to empower women to plan — meaning space — pregnancy to give their bodies time to recover. And this is without getting into the economic arguments, maternal death rates from pregnancies, etc.

        Now I don’t know the cause of the higher birth rate in these countries; if it’s lack of access to contraception, unwillingness to use it, lack of authority to deny a husband sex when one is fertile, lack of marital rape standards. But whatever they may be, they combine to a brutal use of women’s reproductive organs without necessarily recognizing her agency to have say over those organs. But I suspect those foundational quotes Kyle used above, in the gatherings of the faithful, women should learn in silence and with all submissiveness, never teaching or having authority over men. Aquinas added, “Since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order.” are central to that brutality.

        At risk of repeating myself, it’s not wise to talk about the Catholic Church, a global entity, in terms of the US Catholic Church. They are truly not the same thing.

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      • , don’t think that the large catholic families aren’t planned either: My mom is one of seven, and her youngest two siblings were adopted b/c my grandmother couldn’t have any more kids naturally. It’s not just a matter of doctrine re: birth control. It’s a culture that values large families.

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    • What role to certain men want to play in the Church that cannot be satisfied by becoming a brother?

      Brothers are a closer analog to nuns that priests are.

      So, given that there are men who want to become brothers and men who want to become priests – because of the differences between those two roles, it’s fairly trivial to imagine that there are probably women who want to become priests who have no analogous role.

      Or, put another way, you have Anglican deacons and Anglican priests, and women choose to become both.

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    • My first thought would have to do with electing leadership. Only Cardinals can participate in selecting the Pope. Cardinals come from the ranks of the priesthood.

      While outsiders might see the Pope as largely a figurehead (correctly or not), I assume people of such faith who would want to participate in the Church as a nun would see the position as holding such reverence that participating in the selection would be very appealing.

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    • If you believe in Catholicism, hearing confession is pretty darned important. Nuns can’t do that.

      It is as if God has a special relationship with priests. They act in “Christi Capitis,” in the person of Christ. Women are said not to be able to do that. God doesn’t think they can because of their vaginas, I guess.

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    • “What role do certain women want to play in the Church that cannot be satisfied by becoming a nun? ”

      Wow. I’m having a 70’s flashback to the Mormon Church’s prohibition on non-white priests.

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  9. There is a consequentialist argument here, yes. Sexism in the chirch inspires sexism elsewhere.

    But even if sexism in the church didn’t do that, there are grounds to say that sexism is intrinsically wrong. The whole claim that men can have spiritual relationship X (with God or with other people) that women can’t is wrong because it sexist. I suppose it is also pernicious, but that isn’t the only way it is horrid.

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  10. “Nowadays the church’s most common refrain is that it hasn’t the authority to ordain women because Jesus Christ didn’t give it that authority: it’s not the limits of women, but the limits of the ordained men that prevent women serving as priests. This line of reasoning works to maintain the exclusiveness of its priesthood while evading the charge of sexism.”

    It’s a really bad argument. I’m honestly asking – where do that they get evidence for those limits?

    For example, Christ (IIRC) didn’t select any non-Jews as apostles; that didn’t stop either Paul or the rest of the Church from accepting non-Jews as Christians. It was recently pointed out on another blog that when Philip baptized the eunich, he was violating the literal word of God. There are several examples where Paul mentions women acting with authority, and not in a bad manner.

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    • For example, Christ (IIRC) didn’t select any non-Jews as apostles; that didn’t stop either Paul or the rest of the Church from accepting non-Jews as Christians.

      It was incredibly controversial in the early church, though, and required literal voice-of-God instruction followed by a major church council (see Acts 10-11) for that change to be accepted.

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    • Barry, you’re right that women have roles in the New Testament. But they are notably absent from the two moments that seem to establish the priesthood – “this is my body” and “whose sins you forgive are forgiven”. The apostles were ok with non-Jews as Christians, once they worked it out, and they were ok with women and non-Jews in prominent roles. There’s no sign that they saw women as potential priests, though.

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      • I think one of us is misunderstanding Barry’s point, and on the off chance it isn’t me I’ll rephrase:

        The Church today is filled with Dogma based on things Jesus never specifically advocates in Scripture. At best, much of it is based on what someone once successfully argued Jesus probably meant/would have thought of X.

        It’s therefore odd to see an argument that the Church can’t allow female priests because Jesus himself never specifically said you had to — because the entire foundation of Catholicism and it’s hierarchy is based on such things.

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      • Tod – Catholics have never believed in sola scriptura. We believe that the Holy Spirit guides the Church. Not in everything – Catholics can be bad and/or wrong – but in matters of universal teaching. For the pope to say something with the authority of the successor to Peter, or for something to be held at all times in all places as true, those things carry a lot of weight. It may seem historically interesting to an outsider that the Church Fathers didn’t ordain women, or that the gnostics did, but to Catholics those facts are an indication that the male priesthood is more than just a historical practice. It is in that sense deeply philosophically conservative. There’s room for the development of doctrine (for example, just war, or non-usurious interest), and there are very few things that are held as unchangeable, but those things are taken seriously.

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  11. Chris

    “I wonder if the Muslim people who are not on this board are particularly happy with you representing them with a “fuck you,” Kim. ”

    I think that you misspelled ‘Pinky’.

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  12. I wonder about things.

    Can a post surgery FTM transsexual be a priest?

    What about someone who was born with male sex organs but is actually XX chromosomally?

    Or someone who has XY chromosomes but born wothout male sex organs.

    What about someone who is XXY? Or someone with both sex organs.

    Why does God care about the nature of your junk and your chromosomes?

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    • A priest has to have sex organs. That’s because a person shouldn’t become a priest just because he can’t get married. This came up a lot with eunuchs and castrati. There’s never been a requirement for genetic testing for the priesthood.

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      • ?

        Couldn’t someone with no sex organs (or nonfunctional ones)

        a.) Want to be a priest for the same reasons that people with sex organs want to be priests?

        b.) Want to and succeed at getting married, just like people with sex organs?

        The whole thing is just makin stuff up out of the blue to justify and maintain some antiquainted sexism.

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      • “The whole thing is just makin stuff up out of the blue to justify and maintain some antiquainted sexism.”

        No. If it were made up on the spot, maybe you could argue that. But since it’s 2000 years older than the contemporary understanding of the sexes, you can’t argue that it’s an addition to justify old-fashioned thinking.

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      • A male has to be fully intact and fully capable of reproductive function to become a priest. I don’t believe that any testing is done besides a physical inspection.

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      • So I’d have to show them my junk. Heh. Some gross old dude peeking up my skirt. But then, I guess it would be no worse than I get on the dance floor at the gay club, where at least once a night some rando has to cop a feel.

        You know, just to confirm.

        (They reach the wrong conclusion sometimes, which is amuses me to no end.)

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      • Really?

        X had male genitalia and then had them transformed to female.

        Y had female genitalia and then had them transformed to male.

        Can X or Y or both be a Catholic priest?

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      • Just to bring this conversation into reality, most transsexuals do not get genital surgery. It is expensive, painful, and risky. Most, however, do get hormone replacement therapy (HRT) — although even that is not universal.

        In most cases HRT renders the patient sterile. For trans women, it blocks the creation of sperm. For trans men, it stops ovulation. (Actually I’m fuzzy on the details for trans men. Google if you want the full story.)

        However, it is not guaranteed to do these things. Trans gals should still wear condoms. Trans men still care personally about reproductive health. In fact, a pre/non-surgical trans woman is probably as fertile as an older man, statistically speaking.

        Can any of these people become priests?

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  13. There’s something about this argument that bothers me. As a fellow Christian, I also affirm women clergy. What is bothering me is the tone from Carter and others, that the Church has to follow the world. There’s no hard or fast rule about this, but I think that as Christians we have to be careful to not do something because the wider society is doing. For denominations that are discerning this issue, you have to ask why is this important and how can it be supported according in this case Christianity.

    Second, I can attest that allowing women clergy is not going to lead to no more violence against women. Women aren’t being violated because the Pope won’t allow women to be priests. Women suffer because men who beat them (and the issues the men deal with.). Just because a group forbids women clergy that doesn’t mean men have the green light to beat their wives.

    Finally, I’ve been following Carter for years have loved his weaving of evangelical faith and social concern. That said, these days it seems that he become more a scold. I the simple man from Plains.

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    • Yes, I agree that you guys (Christians) ought to be following reason, not “what everyone else is doing just because.” [and yes, your reason ought to be motivated and in the spirit of your faith].

      More conservative religions do seem to cause more cases of incest, though — it has to do with privileging a brother’s ability to fornicate over a sister’s right to not be raped. [perhaps a better word than conservative would be Authoritarian]

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    • I don’t think that anyone is claiming that this will solve all problems of gender discrimination. Just because a group forbids women clergy that doesn’t mean men have the green light to beat their wives. But it seems naive to me to not see priesthood-banning and wife-beating as two symptoms of the same immoral attitudes–albeit granting that one is a much more extreme problem. The root lies in the idea that women aren’t equal to men, an idea that (as points out above) is particularly deeply rooted in the most religious sectors of society, although it can flourish anywhere.

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    • It’s not that the church should follow the world, exactly. The church should follow our advancing understanding of morality, something that religion tends to resist instead of champion. People claim that they value religion because it teaches morality, but in reality, it’s just teaching adherence to tradition.

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  14. I think a better (and easier) ‘reformation’ would be to drop the ‘not-married’ requirement of the priesthood, which was just a turn of the (2nd) millennium tool to avoid claimant heirs and dilution of land holdings. (individual orders could still have the celibacy vow, just like the poverty vow currently varies by order)

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      • Frankly, because most of these calls for women priests are coming from outside the Church. Not that I’m really a member in good standing anymore, but people should try minding their own business from time to time. You want to fight against the abuse of women? Fine. You want to bring criminal charges against people conducting physical and/or sexual assault (and the people covering it up?) double plus good.

        But complaining about the standards and practices of an organization you’re not a part of and have no desire to be a part of is just rude.

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      • I disagree. I celebrate when a state I’ve never been to passes gay marriage, or when the Boy Scouts allow gay leaders even though I’m a straight guy with no desire to be a scout leader. Part of engaging in a society is thinking about things that don’t directly affect you. If everyone were only interested in personal gain, nobody would bother voting or volunteering at homeless shelters or even running for public office (at the local level anyway).

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    • Actually the celibacy directive appeared in the Western Rite churchs as a result of the council of Trent, i.e. counterreformation. Before then lots of priests were married and fathered children.It should be noted that some of the eastern rite churches in the Catholic church to allowed married clergy, but divide their priesthood into the monastic and non-monastic clergy: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Catholic_Churches. The monastic clergy do take a vow of celibacy but the non-monastic do not. Bishops tend to come from the monastic branch. However none currently ordain women as priests although some do as deacons. So given how badly womens ordination has split the Anglican church, and that in addition to it not being a part of either the western or eastern rite roman tradition, it is not part of the eastern orthdox tradition, meaning that for the Roman church to change its view would increase the width of the split that started in 1054.

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  15. Women were the first to see the risen Christ; women are mentioned several times in the Acts and in Paul’s letters as heads of local groups of Christians. And of course, Mary Magdalene.

    There are many references in the New Testament to women being important to the survival of the early Church. Beggars can’t be choosers, of course, so the early Church fathers couldn’t be too high-and-mighty about who they let in. And several of those women were wealthy widows who put their money into practical support of local ministries.

    So it would not be a matter of adjusting to the modern world but rather going back to pre-Constantine traditions. That does not seem too onerous to me.

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  16. I would have no problem with all-female clergy either if that were Church tradition. And that’s a key point here. There are no other institutions that hold as tightly to tradition as religions, for better or for worse. It’s very important that the Church not seem at the mercy of public opinion. Dennis says it perfectly above:

    “What is bothering me is the tone from Carter and others, that the Church has to follow the world. There’s no hard or fast rule about this, but I think that as Christians we have to be careful to not do something because the wider society is doing.”

    There’s a good reason why there have only been four Ecumenical councils in the last 500 years. Growing up in the 1980s we were nearly 20 years out from Vatican II and it still divided the Church in many ways. Older nuns were still clinging to their pre-Vatican ways and dress. The younger nuns were wearing ‘civilian’ clothes and integrating more with the laity. Some of the priests still mourned the loss of the Latin mass. Etc. It was a time of change and as a kid I didn’t appreciate it because I was born after all of those changes were made.

    Vatican II was called primarily to address the Church’s relationship with the modern world. It accomplished a lot in that sense. To say, 50 years later, that the Church needs to keep modernizing and make its most radical change to date, is to say that it is now subservient to culture. That contradicts basic principles that the Church must lead, not follow.

    I would also disagree with any implication that the third world Church is more oppressive. I think people are just generally more conservative in those places. Yes, women are often treated poorly but it isn’t that simple. It is a global church and I don’t think that they have a duty to bring women into the priesthood just because America says so.

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  17. Good post Kyle. It seems there’s two options for the Church here: get right with God or engage in more apologetics. I don’t envy the position you find yourself in when it comes to this and similar issues.

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  18. Pingback: Thursday Highlights | Pseudo-Polymath

  19. I think in order for people to understand why women cannot become priests, it requires a more symbolic answer. To say God is the same yesterday, today, and forever….is a basic answer. While it does answer it in a face value kind of way, it does not give you the deeper meaning.

    I am a Youth Minister, Married to my beautiful wife, and in the formation process of becoming a Deacon in the Catholic Church. So, I will lay out a disclaimer here….I am in no way a bonafide Catholic Theologian, but I do have something for you to consider.

    Think of the idea of marriage. There is a bride and a bridegroom (groom). Jesus is considered the bridegroom, and the Church is His bride. (Revelation 19:7-9, and Revelation 21:2)

    Jesus is also considered the High Priest, and the first priest of His Church. Jesus sacrifices His life for his bride, with everything, even unto death. (Hebrew 4:14-15, and Ephesians 5:25-27)

    A man who becomes a priest is considered a bridegroom, and the church his bride. He gives himself entirely to his bride, the Church.

    In regards to changing doctrine for the sake of women becoming priests, it’s not possible. The confines of the marriage covenant will never change from a religious stand point. There is a bride, and a groom. Until that changes from a groom and a groom, or a bride, and a bride….there will never be women priests.

    Because Jesus said, in Matthew 19:5, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

    It’s a spiritual marriage that happens, when a man becomes a priest.

    I hope that can help answer some of those questions….

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      • Technically yes. But, there would be no way that the Church would make same-sex marriage sacramental.

        The Church cannot change what God institutes. God’s commands are absolutes, they cannot be changed, by the Church.

        Because the ordination of Priests is a marriage. It is a marriage between a Priest, and the Church. The Church is in essence the Bride, and the Priest, is the groom.

        Therefore, since God institutes marriage between only a man and a woman, an ordination of a women priest cannot be valid in regards to a covenant marriage.

        Until God changes what He instituted, we cannot change it ourselves.

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  20. The Catholic Church has existed for almost two millennia and has a strong presence around the world. That kind of success depends on a willingness to be flexible and open to social and cultural change. If 100 years from now there are women priests, then I guarantee there will be a substantial dogma backing up the decision and gently explaining how earlier generations were mistaken in their interpretations although well-intentioned in their views. A cursory look at European history from the Dark Ages on will show how the Church adjusted when it had to.

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      • God didn’t institute any dogma or doctrine: people institute dogma and doctrine based on their interpretation of God’s directives. This makes it easier to change when the time comes. There’s been all kinds of wiggle room found over the centuries on issues like baptism (dive or sprinkle?), communion (share the wine or not?), marriage outside the Faith (big no-no!) and the possible salvation of non-Catholics (fat chance before Vat-2). I’m a Catholic too and I know the history. When the time comes – and that may be much farther away than any of us will live to see – there will be women priests and there will be sound dogmatic reasons for it.

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    • This is partly why married male clergy will be easier than women priests, first it exists in parts of the non latin catholic rites. Second the rule is only about 500 years old. (Before then if there was a rule it was not enforced). So since no married clergy does not run in all branches of the church it is not a dogma from god but rather a tradition. Women clergy don’t exist in any of the rites of the church that look to the pope nor in the orthodox tradition, so it is far closer to dogma.

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  21. I agree with you that dogma and doctrine are made by the Church, in light of God’s revelation to man. Things like baptism, communion, are instituted by Christ. They are called Sacraments.

    Jesus didn’t say you need to do baptism like this, or take communion like this.

    He did however say in Matt 19:4-6, ‘Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being shall separate.’

    Those are Jesus’ words. We cannot change them to fit our needs. This is an command, not a symbolic gesture for people to change into what society deems fit. Look at our bodies, a man and woman become one in the very act of intercourse, when a man and woman consummate their marriage.

    No matter how you look at it, a man and another man, cannot become one. A woman and another woman cannot become one. Our bodies were not created for that. So, we cannot change what God ordains through the covenant of marriage.

    I can guarantee you, that this will never change. Unless Jesus would come down here again, and tell us, oh I meant it that a man (woman) and another man (woman), can do the same….we cannot change what God makes absolute.

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    • Well, it’s a commandment against divorce, not same-sex marriage. And the Church has managed to live with divorce and even facilitate it over the centuries when the price was right.

      I suggest we don’t go down this path, Michael. Your respect for the official teachings of the Church does not resonate with me so we’d just be killing pixels to no account.

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  22. I’ve never said, that men who are leading the Catholic Church are perfect. They have flaws just like you and me, but to change something that cannot be changed, just because someone feels differently isn’t going to happen.

    It sounds like you have no open mind to the other side of the coin, just what you “feel” should be changed with regards to the teachings of the Church. You can’t pick and choose what you want….

    It sounds like you subscribe to the church of me, rather than the truth.

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      • Sure. I apologize for offending you. But you have to understand that I will always defend the Catholic Church. They are too many people out there who don’t know how to defend their faith, and make people like me look uneducated.

        Again, I apologize.

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