The Catholic Church Hates Women? (Ordination of Women)

Yesterday I spoke about how some people view the Church as being anti-women, and I focused on their charge that the Church’s ban on birth control was somehow aimed at the oppression of women. In other words, this is a two part article, so if you want to read the first, Click Here.

Moving on, the second great issue for those who hold this view, is that since the Church “refuses” to ordain women to the priesthood, it is clearly sexist, chauvinistic, and morally corrupt.

At first blush, I can see their point. It does strike one as odd doesn’t it, that the Church would decide somehow that women are not fit to the task? I think a dang good answer as to why this is the Church’s teaching is in order, and it better be a really, really good answer. Anything less would seem to prove their point entirely. In fact, I almost wonder if there IS an answer good enough to do this accusation justice. Those opposed to the Church have raised a truly dangerous issue, and we had better not shirk it if we are to keep our dignity not only as religious, but as egalitarian, freedom loving human beings.

Let me spell out their position as I see it, and I must admit, it is not an unfair assessment. It is not just about women having the ability to preside at Sacraments, although that is certainly part of it. It is really about authority. How can the Church completely deny women leadership in the Church? Look at Vatican II, and what you see is a room full of men. Sure, they might have had a few prominent women in the background as advisers, but let’s face it, Vatican II and every council before it has been dominated by men. Every diocese is headed by a man, every parish by a man. Sure you may have women here and there in leadership roles, but they all answer directly to a man.

A couple of hundred years ago, this might have seemed entirely natural, but in the modern world, the Church is the most patriarchal institution in existence. Sure, I know there have been women who have really shaken things up, Teresa of Avila, Catherine of Sienna, Joan of Arc and Therese of Lisieux come to mind, but in honesty, these women were flashes of femininity in a masculine world. They are by no means the norm.

Holy Spirit guide me, as I am walking on shaky ground.

I cannot pretend to have all the answers here. I cannot even promise that I will give good answers. All I can do is share what I have found to be true, and hope that it all makes sense when put together. I see three main issues with the ordination of women; complementarity, sociology, and divine mandate.

What the heck is complementarity? Is that even a word? Well, let me try to say what I mean. Men and women are different. Well, not just that, I also mean we are the same. That makes no sense, I know, but bear with me. Men and women are equal in dignity, but different in nature or kind. We are totally equal, men are not better then women, and women (excluding my wife) are not better than men. We are completely equal. All of our traits have value that the world cannot live without. We are not however, the same. (surprise, right?)

Let me explain. When my first daughter was born, I was downright jealous. The whole pregnancy I just felt uninvolved. Yes, I helped pick the crib, and painted the nursury till the odd hours of the morning. Yes, I would sit there while my wife was sleeping and feel my baby kick inside her, and would sing her my favorite jazz standards in hopes that she would know my voice. In the end though, it was all her. I had no hormones to help me along, I just felt isolated. I am glad to be a man, but I would have loved to have had that closeness to my child.

It got no better when she was born. My wife loved her immediately, like she knew her. All I could see was a slimy blueish purple thing. I cooed and tickled and held my child all night, but it was never the same as when my wife would hold my child to her breast and feed her. I wanted that, but that’s just not what I am. I’m not a mother. I can’t be, I have other roles I must fill.

I have little doubt that my wife feels the same when I throw my kids in the air, and tickle them till they can’t stand it. When I pick them up and throw them in the pool, she knows that’s just not who she is. That’s my job. I know my wife knows the difference, as she often tells my children, “You just wait till your father gets home!”

We are different, and this difference carries on throughout our lives. We have natural roles we fill, and while they are not the same, they complement each other. Yes, they overlap. I can be nurturing, and she can be firm. I can wash dishes, and she can bring home the bacon. But the biology is ever present.

That brings me to sociology. Most women don’t want to be the leader, it’s not really all that feminine. I can feel you getting your rotten eggs and tomatoes ready to throw at me, but hear me out, I swear it’s true. I’m not saying that women aren’t leaders, they often are in many areas of their lives, but in the end, a woman feels safest and most secure with a man who values her person and opinion in charge.

Again, my marriage. My wife is extremely capable. She doesn’t need me any more than she needs her computer. Sure, it’s nice to have around, but it isn’t necessary. A little extra cash is hardly worth the trouble of putting up with a stinky, hairy man. She can hold a job, take care of the kids, cross stitch a masterpiece and cook dinner all at the same time. A man like me must seem like a useless appendage. Except I’m not. Not only that, but she defers to me. Don’t get me wrong, she makes most of the day to day decisions, but when the going gets tough, she wants me to listen, be the one to make the choice, and take the responsibility. It’s just more comfortable for her.

This is natural femininity. I’m sorry, but you just don’t see this kind of femininity present in female CEOs or world leaders. I’m not saying they are not competent, I’m just saying they are not a fair representation of what the normal, feminine woman is. In fact, you will often see these women dehumanized in the media for this very reason, their femininity is outside normal levels. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t vote for them, I have, and if they are the best candidate, I will again. All I’m saying is that is not the norm. If you need proof, walk into any non-Catholic church, and you will probably see a man as pastor, because that is just comfortable socially. I can think of very few female pastored churches with a sizable congregation, it just isn’t as comfortable for the normal human being.

Let me repeat, I am not saying that women are incompetent, or should stay at home barefoot and pregnant. I am simply saying that natural femininity is fundamentally giving and nurturing, and that is by nature most important in a more private sphere, within a community and most importantly, a family. This is a great thing. We have this really nasty tendency as humans to think that the guy up front is the most important, the one who has the greatest impact on the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. The values instilled one on one are always greater than a speech given to many. Men are designed to affect many people in a small way, women are design to affect a few people in a way so massive, that it reaches down through the generations. Femininity may be more behind the scenes, but it’s also way more powerful.

I am getting long winded, forgive me, but I want to do this justice.

Lastly, and most important, we have a divine mandate. We often think that the Church just made up this idea that we should not have women priests, and that is that. We couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Church is stuck with what it is given. Some belief systems can change with the times, the Mormons for example decided that they can no longer have polygamous marriages, so voila, now it is so, and multiple wives are out of the question. For Catholics, we received what we call a “deposit of faith” from the apostles, and those things cannot be changed. Now not all of our practices are part of the deposit of faith, a celibate priesthood is not, for example. The core teachings of Jesus that he taught the apostles are to be held dear though, and at all costs. We can never back down from this wellspring that is our faith. To back down on one singular teaching is to back down on them all, and means complete separation from our roots. Trees without roots are dead, and praise the Lord, we are still alive.

One of these teachings, albeit minor in comparison to something like the Trinity, is the reality of a male priesthood. Jesus was revolutionary towards women. He treated them differently then any man before Him. He treated them with honor and respect at all times, even if the woman He was speaking to was a prostitute or a Samaritan. Christ brought along the first feminist revolution, and it rocked the world. In fact, many of the early churches were houses, funded, and primarily occupied with women. Many of Jesus’ closest and dearest friends were women. His own ministry was entirely funded by woman, and you better believe feeding twelve grown men for three years wasn’t cheap. Heck, the most important woman ever to grace the planet was His own mother. He knew her as no other did, walked by her side, and knew she would not only outlive Him, but would personally mother the entire Church as it grew.

But he did not make any one of them apostles, even His most perfect mother. It was simply not something He decided to do. I don’t know why, I’m not Jesus. I would guess all the reasons I have written above, but I’m not really sure. Maybe he felt women were too holy to be bishops? After all, in His kingdom, “the last shall be first and the first shall be last.” Maybe He was elevating them in some way, I have no idea.

That is however, what He did, and we can’t change that just because times have changed. If He who had the ultimate foresight chose not to do so, then neither can we. All of our reasons pale in comparison to this basic fact.

If Jesus didn’t do it, then we can’t argue.

So we are left with a challenge. In this male run Church Christ gave us, how can we ever bring the feminine perspective to the fore? How can we make sure that the feminine, nurturing, holistic values of women are ever present in our faith and its teaching? Well, I have to openly admit that many leaders in the Church through the centuries have not always met this task well, there is little doubt that the Church is an imperfect, human institution. I will also say that through the grace of the Holy Spirit, it has continued to  make these feminine values a core part of its teaching despite its male structure.

There is a reason that it is called Mother Church!

I have one last thought. There is one woman who can model all of this in a way that is absolutely perfect. The Blessed Virgin was not boastful, never got on a soapbox, never tried to change the world. She did just what she was made for, and that was to teach her Son, to love him, and to support Him throughout His life with her love and her fidelity. All of her life she lived to do one thing, and that was point to her Son. Because of this perfection, she is Mary most Holy, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, the one true and perfect thing that God ever made. It is she who is the Queen of Heaven, and Mother of the Church. No one can teach mankind how to love better than a woman, and there is nothing more important to learn. It is not taught best from a pulpit, it is taught best in the loving itself.

Femininity is very powerful indeed.

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8 thoughts on “The Catholic Church Hates Women? (Ordination of Women)”

  1. Dance,

    You did a wonderful job providing some answers to the age old question!

    I’m not sure if ANY answer will satisfy all who question this doctrine – but you certainly provided some ideas that make sense and are reasonable.

    I COMPLETELY agree that the female sex is definitely the stronger one. I also see the importance of the nurturing side and what a truly different culture/society/country this would be if all (men and women) simply took honest stock of their gifts and talents and utilized such for the good of the Kingdom rather than the good of the individual person.

    If its all about ME, then it can’t be about HIM or US!

  2. Hi – I’m going to put it out there first and foremost that I am not Catholic, and I disagree with you entirely on the sociology point because you do not address why ‘femininity’ is the way it is. It is not inherent that women be more uncomfortable with leadership; it is taught and I believe it is an injustice that holds women back. The words ‘nurture’ and ‘authority’ do not imply inherently one gender or the other. If we could teach our children that caring for children and the home has value, as does being the economic provider and disciplinarian, without gender association, they could choose for themselves which role to take. I do not think that, as a woman, I will ever be persuaded that my sociological status is somehow determined and that if I choose to act outside of it I fail a ‘femininity’ test.

    I do, however, have a genuine question for you on the idea of a divine mandate. I wonder why the Catholic Church identifies gender as the distinguishing feature of the Apostles? Presumably, the Catholic Church would recognise that as they were Jesus’ chosen disciples, he would have chosen the most intelligent, gifted people among his society – why is meritocracy not a basis for determining who can provide the sacraments? Perhaps, even though some of them were fishermen, they were also the mostly highly educated among his flock. Certainly the inclusion of Jewish converts suggests that had been to Schul, which the women would not have been allowed to attend. Perhaps Jesus intended to award a mandate to the most educated of his followers. On the other hand, as far as we are aware all of the disciples were originally Jewish or from within the bounds of what was then Israel, almost exclusively with connections to Galilee. Certainly they all spoke the same language and had to be given the languages of the world at Pentecost because they did not know them. Why do we not restrict the mandate to those from that area of the world or with a Hebraic language background? These are genuine questions; and if you have one, I would love an explanation for why it is specifically genitalia (as education or ability are no longer considered gender-specific) that governs who holds the mandate.

    1. Thank you so much for the deep thought you put into your comment. I hope I can do it justice.

      First, on sociology. Maybe you are right. Maybe femininity is not what I say it is. I certainly wasn’t trying to put together a femininity test, I believe the human race is far too diverse to do that. But you say something interesting that I am just not sure is true. You say,

      “If we could teach our children that caring for children and the home has value, as does being the economic provider and disciplinarian, without gender association, they could choose for themselves which role to take.”

      I just don’t think that most women would really like the situation you describe. Women want a man stronger than themselves. If a woman has a high paying job, and the man is a “stay at home” dad, the woman will feel like she is being dealt a bad hand. Let me put it differently, women have tendencies to date their bosses, not their employees. I have yet to see a business woman marry a waiter she met, but it happens the other way around all the time. Or another way, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard women talking among themselves about how a particular woman lords over her husband. Even among women, a woman does not truly seem comfortable in a relationship with a man that is her inferior. For some women, this may be perfectly acceptable and just the way they like it, but it cannot be called a norm by any means. What is true in relation to one man and one woman is also true to some extent in larger society. Notice I am not saying that woman cannot lead, they can, and very effectively. I am merely saying that in nearly every culture on the planet, men naturally have the leadership role. This may be due to the way we are raised, but that is exactly what sociology is all about. Not about what might exist, but what actually does exist.

      I would also disagree that this holds women back. It certainly has held them back historically, when women were often considered to be children. In our current age however, I see far more backlash against women who choose to hold to the role of homemaker than women doctors or corporate assistants. I would say the pendulum has swung so far as to make homemaking taboo, and our children, our most important asset, are paying the price. Raising children is the single most important task we have in this life, and it has traditionally been left to those most capable, women.

      Now, onto your second question. You have a couple of misconceptions that might not be so obvious for a non-Catholic. First, Jesus didn’t pick his disciples because they were intelligent or gifted in some way. His choices were not on merit at all. The Gospels constantly show how stupid the apostles are, pointing out again and again how they just didn’t get it. Heck, one of them was even the cause of his death, Judas. In all honesty. I have no idea why he chose whom he chose, there seems to be no real common thread among them. He did choose them however, and they in turn lived their lives dedicated to the spreading of His message, even to their painful deaths.

      What we have is what they did. They knew the Lord, and lived with Him for three years. They saw him risen in glory. For some reason they only appointed men to succeed them, just as they were chosen. I don’t know why, but that is what they did. Maybe that’s what Jesus told them to do, maybe they only ordained men through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but there it is. They saw fit to ordain Greeks, Indians and Africans, but for some reason they did not ordain women, even though women held positions of high esteem and leadership right from the beginning. The early christian Church was one of the first organized societies that truly valued women, it’s rather ironic that it is often viewed as the reverse.

      One more point on merit before I close. Nobody, male or female, brilliant or fool, can merit ordination. Holy Orders is a gift given by Christ to His Church, an unmerited grace. Well, actually, that is not true. There was one person who could be said to have the merit. The only person on earth besides Jesus Himself who lived an entire lifetime without sin.

      Mary. Mary Most Holy. So perfect was she that even the angel Gabriel deigned to call her, “Full of Grace”. No other ever born could have that said to them with any honesty. She is a light in our dim world, a woman who held the mystery of God close to her heart, who fed the Lord from her own breast. All that is human in Jesus comes from this simple woman from Galilee, a brilliant, thoughtful and eminently humble woman, yet Jesus did not choose her to be His priestess. Clearly, priesthood has nothing to do with merit, or Peter would have been out of a job. Motherhood is far more exalted a position in the heavenly kingdom than most people can ever realize. In fact, if there was ever a measure of femininity, she would be the yardstick.

      I hope that helps, and I pray God’s blessing be upon you and your family.

      1. “Women want a man stronger than themselves. If a woman has a high paying job, and the man is a “stay at home” dad, the woman will feel like she is being dealt a bad hand.”

        I am a woman, I am feminine, and I want a man who can be my equal. I’m not looking for a big man to take care of me, and there are more and more women who, after being oppressed for so may years, realize they, too, can have a “man’s” strength.

        I’m sorry, but while I do understand your points in this attempt at an answer, they are biased points made inside of a structured faith. The answer I synthesized from this was the age-old answer parents give to their children a least fifty times in their lives, “Because I said so.”

        1. I entirely agree with you, Sasha and Alice. Thank you so much for providing articulate responses to a narrow-minded man’s desire to justify a situation from which he is benefitting.

          Mr. Farrell, I can only assume you have met a very narrow range of women in order to have formulated such ideas about “femininity”.

          As a woman, I don’t want to be idealized and venerated for my reproductive abilities but rather appreciated for the much more important aspects of me such as my character and skills.

          Also, no woman wants to be held up to the impossible standard of being both a virgin and a mother.

  3. Jesus was killed because he questioned everything, including the crushing patriarchy of his time. Holding on to traditions just because they’re old, even thousands of years old is not Christ-like. It is his message of equality and human dignity that should be the constant, not the rituals, artifice and exclusionary principles that are descended more from Ancient Rome than the practices of early Christianity. Maybe you can explain away you religion’s medieval mindset to yourself, but you can’t to the rest of the world, and that’s why your religion is dying.

    Just because men can’t have children doesn’t mean you have to create arbitrary restrictions for women to make yourselves feel useful. And really that’s what it’s about.

  4. When I was growing up, I was initially in favor of the church allowing women to be priests, but now I am not so sure. I now think having a co-ed priesthood is one of those things like the whole shared chalice bit, that sounded like a good idea in theory, but could really have serious problems in implementation. It always seemed strange to me that a religion so big on celibacy should make body parts matter so much. One of the explanations for the male-only priesthood floating around on the internet is that Jesus specifically chose only men. He also chose fishermen, and a tax collector, and He himself had been trained as a carpenter. Modern priests come from all sorts of professions, including the more modern ones (I know of one who came from data processing). And strangely enough, seminaries don’t have shop class. And certainly not all of the men who have been legitimate priests could have been called perfect men, physically or otherwise. (Plato would be theoretically in favor of the co-ed priesthood idea, seeing as how he classified women as ‘imperfectly formed’ men.) Suffice it to say that men who have had embarrassing medical conditions, met with Darwin Award-winning accidents, and were eunuchs like in the Bible, all qualified for the priesthood. And I don’t think all of the present-day priests or potential priests have been spared the mumps. One of the better explanations which I heard before the internet was available, was that women don’t have the “character of the soul” that men do, being in many cases of necessity, focused on the providing of the material things of this world while men could mentally live more in the abstract, and were more inclined to clear reasoning. Such a trait varies from individual to individual and circumstance to circumstance, rather than being strictly gender-based. Women have been saints and martyrs with the best of ’em. And as for chastity, there are a number of women saints who have the title “Virgin and Martyr” but none of the men saints do, including those who were clearly underage when they died! Suffice to say that while women having the necessary mental and spiritual state may be rare, I know they exist, even if they are the theological equivalent of the proverbial white crow. May I suggest that there are also thus relatively few men fitted with the necessary characteristics to live up to the ideals of the priesthood? How much more common are _they_ than the white crow? But implementation, there’s the rub. Separate rectories, perhaps? Throughout the history of the church, traditionally men and in some cases priests, have been put in situations with more physical hardship and less protection than they would normally put women in, and that includes women religious. Father Damien of Molokai initially spent his time there sleeping under a tree! For reasons of both safety and propriety, I think the church tries to protect women to a degree that they do not do for men and would not normally expect women, even the most religious, to do the same, even though it seems to be making them second-class citizens, it is a matter of recognizing the reality of who is more physically and reputationally vulnerable. That said, all bets can be off in an emergency situation.

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