Wednesday, August 10, 2011


In this past Sunday’s Cleveland Plain Dealer there was a huge brouhaha over whether women should become priests. There are some points in this debate that might be worth discussing but unfortunately none of these were brought up. Unhelpful arguments arose but it gives us a chance to look at common assumptions and misleading arguments might be addressed by the thinking Catholic.

Mr. Craig Miller wrote in his letter what he believes is “the hallmark of an enlightened society” and then beat up the Church for not agreeing with him. “Diversity of opinion” is the pinnacle of enlightenment for him. I would disagree somewhat. Diversity is great and should be celebrated when appropriate. If Fr. Pfeiffer thinks that the common room should be blue instead of the wonderful green color that I (and all truly enlightened people) think it should be; so be it. Let Diversity reign! But when it comes to 2 + 2 diversity of opinion becomes foolish.  Diversity in and of itself is not necessarily a good.  Besides, if he completely agreed with his own argument, he might have not written at all.  He would have looked at the argument against women priests and said, "Well that's his opinion and must be true for him.  I hold his opinion as valuable as mine."

Now, according to Mr. Miller’s enlightened society we should put everything in the Church up for grabs for personal interpretation. That is simply not who we are. We believe that there is truth and we are all asked to give assent to it. Blessed John Paul brought the discussion of women priests to an end because we were spending so much time and resources on talking about something that Catholics will not change while other things that need LOTS of time and attention were left orphaned.

Mr. Miller further states that there were no Catholic priests during Christ’s lifetime and therefore no definitive statement by Christ was made. Not exactly true but an interesting argument. Actually it was sometime after Christ that the term “Catholic” was coined. But He did hand over the keys, gave directions for celebrating the sacraments, breathed on them (very important) and then sealed them with the Holy Spirit. Tradition holds this as the beginning of the priesthood. If you want to say otherwise, you have to come with a theory as to why Christ did all these things to the Apostles. Unfortunately you have the weight of Sacred Tradition with which to contend.

He also makes the startling statement that Jesus Himself was not a Catholic and that He was in fact Jewish. Interesting. But it is about as interesting as saying that St. Francis was not a Franciscan because they did not give his order that name until after his death. Jesus was CLEARLY moving somewhere and doing something new.

Mr. Miller also makes the claim that since his adversary opined that “since Jesus did not ordain women then we cannot” similar logic means since Jesus did not sire children neither should Catholics. Actually I like this bit of reasoning. It is an interesting point. But it falls short. Jesus (and, in fact God from the beginning) supported and taught about marriage and being fruitful even raising it to the level of a sacrament. We changed nothing. Because Jesus could not bear children in His own womb does not mean that women cannot do it. But part of the Church’s teaching is that Jesus could have easily and freely chosen to ordain otherwise and was in fact quite countercultural in such things but chose not to and did not teach otherwise.

Finally, and most sadly of all, he states that we should have more of an open mind on Catholic doctrine because, after all, ideas such as the Immaculate Conception and Transubstantiation have no foundation in Scripture. Here we have another case of someone stating as fact something that is in fact not true (and I wonder how many people eat it up without doing one lick of research.) Now it may be true that there are different legitimate ways of understanding something like transubstantiation but not the point it is trying to get across – namely that the bread and wine has ceased to exist and it its place is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. That is not open to opinion in Catholic circles. And this is in fact what we find in John 6.

I take what I said in the last paragraph back. Here is the finally: He makes the unreasonable comment so common even among intellectuals that there is something horrible about something simply because it comes to us from another century. “13th century dogma” he reports, is stagnant and repressive. Really? Why? If there is “truth” it is true in the 1st century, the 10th century, and the 21st century. As Chesterton puts it, saying that something is not worthy of attention because it comes from, say, the Middle Ages is like saying that it is not worthy of belief because that is what we believed on Tuesday and after all now it is Wednesday. If it is true, it is as true in April as it is in May. Time alone is no indication whatsoever that anything is good or bad.


ck said...

Very nice!

I saw a guy on TV point out that when Mary Magdalene tried to touch Jesus after his resurrection he told her not to touch him because he had not yet ascended to his Father. But a couple scenes later he invites Thomas to put his fingers in his hands and side. The guy on TV pointed out that, in the Old Testament, only a priest was allowed to touch the sacrifice until it was consumed. The inference being, Thomas could touch the sacrifice because he was a priest.

Anonymous said...

I do agree with you, Father! I believe men should only be priests! However, I do share some confusion with Mr. Miller over how the priesthood of today seems to differ from the priesthood presented in the Bible.

The "apostles" of the Bible seemed to be in effect missionary priests (which allowed for celibacy--Paul was celibate), completely separate from "pastors" of a church, who St. Paul said in II Timothy ought to be married (otherwise how will you know if they can run a church well if they can't run their families well). If it was good enough for St. Paul, why the change?

Also, if priests are said to be "other Christs" and Christ is our Brother, why do we not call you Brother instead of Father? Or is it a reference to spiritual fatherhood?

With utmost respect,
A confused baby Catholic

P.S. I will admit you do a fine job of running St. Sebastian! :)

Anonymous said...

*I apologize! Should be I Timothy.

Anonymous said...


If I may propose a response to your questions (good ones, by the way): the apostles were "missionaries" but not in the more restricted way we think of missionaries today. They were "sent" (translation of "apostle") to spread the Kingdom of God. Then it was in its infancy, and through centuries of development we have the more "job specific" priests today. But they all share in the sacrament of Holy Orders to teach, govern, and sanctify.

Celibacy came along early in the Church's history as a laudable practice for Her priest and was made mandatory for the Latin Rite 1000 years ago. Again there was Spirit led development here. And also, priests are called to follow Christ in a specific way. Christ was celibate, so why not also His priests. But this is a discipline of the Church, not mandatory to the essence of the sacramental priesthood.

I think you answered part of your last question: "spiritual fatherhood." All Christians are meant to be "other Christs." But a priest shares "in persona Christi capitis" which means sharing in the person of Christ the Head - different in essence from those a part of His Body. A little long, but I hope this helps. God bless!

Anonymous said...

I read this excellent blog post today after reading an old New Yorker article at the doctor's office on women priests in the Anglican church and the controversy over whether or not to allow women bishops. I don't know if I'm right or wrong in feeling this way, and you can correct me if I'm wrong. I'm a woman and I tire of all this dispute and controversy over women priests. It acts like the priesthood is the same as voting or running for office, in short, like it's a right. Something you can say so and so should or shouldn't have or be. The priesthood is a privilege, and with privileges there is no *should.* I think the best I can do as a Catholic on the issue of women priests is to know why women *aren't* priests and why men *are*. I certainly can't say that they *should* be. I can probably say they *shouldn't* be. In both cases, the "they" is men and women. It's not the case, I don't think, that men *should* be able to be priests. In fact, no one should. Who *should* be able to consecrate the precious Host? Is any human worthy? Not a one. Men *are* priests, because Jesus gave men that privilege, establishing the priesthood through them. And if God should decide in some future date that women *will be* priests, that's for Him to decide and accomplish through His Church, because the priesthood exists for the Church. Campaigning or arguing for women priests and against the Church makes very little sense to me.

Beate said...

A nicely articulated post - thanks Father :-)

second pew said...

I dug up Sunday's paper to re-read Mr. Miller's letter. I think you were a bit too hard on him, Father.

Reading diverse opinions allows us to re-examine and test our own beliefs. "Enlightened" persons are willing to change their minds accordingly.

On the subject of priests, can't we agree that Jesus selected Jewish males as his only pragmatic option? No, He did not choose women, but neither did He choose Gentiles or slaves. To do otherwise would have doomed his efforts from the start.

Women, most certainly, were considered inferior in Christ's day, in a state of continuing Earthly punishment for their Original sin (see 1 Timothy 2,8-15). Is such the case today?

Jesus went out on a limb to welcome women into his public ministry at all. The Apostles were often horrified, but they got the message. Throughout the New Testament the Apostles and Paul mention many women who share in their ministry: Phoebe, Prisca, Aquila, Mary, Tryphanaea, Trypphos, Persis, Eudoria and Syntyche. There was also the enigmatic Junia.

Absent the word "ordination" in the New Testament, the principle of Apostolic Succession logically places these women in the class considered "clergy." Many women were, in fact, deacons from the third to the eighth centuries.

I find it completely illogical that the discriminations and injustices meant to be wiped out by Christ's death on the cross should be perpetuated in a discriminatory priesthood.

Fr. V said...

You might be right about me being rough on the guy. My point was to address his argumentation which varied from untrue to unhelpful in the argument. Diverse opinions are one thing – untruths or poor arguments are anther.
You, however bring up some interesting points. The weakest one but one that has merit is the not choosing of gentiles or slaves. However, those are not about what a person is but about what they do or what they believe or what happens to them.

Yes, it was dicey that Jesus welcomed women at all. But he did. I have a difficult time however (and here we get into opinion I suppose) thinking that IF Jesus thought it sinful not to empower women that he would have perpetuated the sin. If He did and it is in fact NOT sinful to keep women from that position when it is not a societal norm, then could refuse ordination in countries where it would still be thought so even if we did it in others? And what if the tides should change – could we take it away again – OR take it away from men? How can we both uphold the sinlessness of Jesus’ action AND allow us to make changes today without the changes being arbitrary according to custom and beliefs of each people? Very tricky.

Now the ordination thing – there’s something to build on. Part of the problem there is finding proof that these position were actually ordinations and not just ministries with a name that sounds like it. If we could find that proof – THAT would be an interesting avenue to look down. But the problem is in not finding that proof.

These points are far more helpful. Thanks for writing and for doing some research and presenting points that were more fun to debate because we were dealing with more relevant issues.