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A Hidden Injustice
Your muscles ache. A single drop of sweat slumps from your throbbing head. No sound can come forth from your throat other than a cry of exhaustion as you continue rolling the black, cumbersome rock up the hill. Every sting of pain turns to a relieved fatigue as you reach the top of what seems to be the summit. Suddenly, an unseen wall emerges from the crumbling dirt, knocking the weight you’ve carried with a forceful blow. All you can do is gaze at the sight in weary frustration as you watch the mound roll down the heap of land once again. Such are the emotions of many Catholic women who find themselves hindered from pursuing their desired vocation, becoming a Roman Catholic priest. Events such as the formation of the National American Woman Suffrage Association and the inclusion of women in all—no—most career paths force many women to throw their arms up in victory because they feel that equality has finally been won. Women, however, have been deceived. The female population has, for centuries, strived to gain equality in society, and society is now at a point where female CEO’s, vice presidential, and even presidential candidates are accepted. But what about the women who want to work not for the government, not for some prestigious company but for God, Himself? Is a vocational calling to the Roman Catholic priesthood any less important than a job at an acclaimed company and not equally required to abide by the social and moral codes that we, as a society, follow? Indeed, a religious calling is just as essential as any other occupation, but, nevertheless, women are excluded from the Catholic priesthood. Furthermore, if article 808 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church recognizes the Church as the “Bride of Christ” and the “mother for all God’s children”, why, then, are women not dominant or even simply included? And if women were included, would it not help to end the suffering of the Catholic Church caused by the lack of priestly vocations, or is excluding half of the population not a factor in the scarcity of vocations? As the need for vocations becomes progressively apparent, the Roman Catholic Church is obligated to recognize the fallacies of the all male tradition, recognize the important role Mary plays as a priestly role model, and renew the number of vocations by allowing women to practice equality.
Nearly every Sunday at Mass, the Catholic congregation hears about God’s call to the religious life and lay ministry and how all of God’s children must be constantly listening to receive a calling. When a woman in the Catholic Church, however, hears a calling to the priesthood, she is denied because of “tradition”. But how long does a routine have to continue in order for it to be considered “tradition”? One thousand years? One hundred? Just one? When talking about the “tradition” of ordaining only men, the Catholic Church fails to define the term, leaving many people questioning the validity of this supposed tradition. In fact, there have been not only female priests but also female bishops throughout history. Brigid of Ireland was a fifth century bishop; Hilda of Whitby led a religious community and trained five future bishops during the seventh century; Bishop Theodora is depicted in a ninth century mosaic, and the list goes on (McIntosh 62). Going back even further into history, the words of the Bible prove that God intended for men and women to be equal and have equal dominion over God’s people. Believers in a male-only priesthood often argue that God intended for man to rule over woman because of the command, “your husband…shall rule over you” in Genesis 3:16. His curse, however, “is not God’s will but evidence of humanity’s fall into the sinful state” (Ostling 3). In stating that man will rule over woman, God does not give man dominion over woman as a punishment; He predicts the occurrence of sexism and recognizes that sexism was not a part of His original plan and that sexism is a sin caused by Original Sin. “Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard or how long we may try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is always immoral” says Reverend Roy Bourgeois, a priest who will be excommunicated for advocating and ordaining women to the Catholic Church (Nolan). Some traditionalists argue that the first woman was created from man and for man. God, however, created Eve to be Adam’s helper—not his servant, and God even stated that it is not good for man to be alone. Man needs woman and vice versa. The first woman was, indeed, crafted from the ribs of the first man, but how does that piece of information give man dominion over woman? Since woman was created from the ribs of man, could we not infer that man was a tool to make woman, and is, therefore, of no higher authority than woman? Also, could one not argue that both genders are of the same substance and therefore are of equal importance? When looking at the creation story, we can conclude that God wanted to say that real humanity consists of an equal coordination between man and woman, but our society consists of a fractured humanity, one that does not fully recognize the complete and equal union of men and women (Carmody 13). A traditionalist might argue, however, that there have been other scripture passages that explicitly state that women must be subordinate to men, but the Bible also contains passages that advocate slavery and polygamy. These practices, however, are now frowned upon and even outlawed. Female subordination, like slavery and polygamy, was a part of the society that Jesus lived in, and the lifestyle of people in Jesus’ time is reflected in the pages of the Bible. But as cultural biases change, shouldn’t the laws that support them also change? Furthermore, at the Last Supper, where both men and women were present, Jesus “ordained them by word alone” (Pell 78). Scholars have debated, however, as to whether or not women were actually seated at the table and sharing the meal. We must remember that the Last Supper was also a Passover celebration, and by Passover laws, the meal had to be eaten by the entire family, women included (UaConaill). It is more than slightly probable, then, that women did share the Passover meal with Jesus and were ordained by word and called to spread the word of God just as the men at the meal were called to do. Thus, authority figures of the Church claim that they do not have the power to ordain women to the priesthood, but, in reality, they have been given the power because they act as representatives for Christ who ordained women Himself.
Though Jesus is the ultimate role model for all Christians, the idea that priests represent Jesus is severely flawed. Many Catholic authority figures argue that the Catholic Church does not have the power to ordain women because Jesus was a man, and, therefore, only men can represent Him. But does this also mean that all priests have to be Jews? Do all priests have to be from the Middle East? Why, then, are men of different races allowed to represent Jesus (Meacham 5)? True, Jesus was a man, but Christ, as a divine being, was void of gender, and it is Christ’s virtues, not the body He came in, that priests must emulate. Christ came, not as man, but as human, a part of all of mankind. Had Christ assumed a female form, He would have immediately been shunned or even put to death for speaking out because of the low social status of women during Jesus’ time, and even today, women are persecuted and shunned by means of excommunication for speaking out to try to reform the priesthood. Moreover, if Christ had come to earth in a society like ours where women are equal to men in a vast majority of areas, it is very possible that Christ could actually come in the form of a woman. Christ, however, is not the only role model for priests. The life of Mary, the mother of God, parallels the aspects of the Holy priesthood. She has been depicted as wearing a bishop’s pallium, she offered up the body and blood of her son, Jesus, just as priests remember Jesus’ sacrifice at every Eucharistic celebration, and she lived a life of humility, purity, and reverence. Since Mary possessed these priestly virtues, today’s priests must be able to look at Mary as a role model and guide. Because priests have both a male and female role model to look to for guidance, the Church must have both male and female representatives of the genderless God that members of the congregation can look to for guidance. If the Church did have both male and female priests, priests would be better able to relate to both genders in the congregation and be more able to provide understanding and counsel to both male and female Catholics. Furthermore, the inclusion of women would help simplify the mixed messages Catholics, especially Catholic children, receive about equality and about their ability to achieve any goal they set forth.
When someone asks a little girl what she wants to be when she grows up, the most common answers would probably be “princess”, “pony”, or the occasional “president”, and her answer is usually met with an amused chuckle. But what about one little girl, who, when asked what she wanted to be, answered with a definitive “priest”. Her answer was met with scolding, and the little girl was quickly silenced. “Little girls in the United States today are told that they can grow up to ‘be whatever they want’. We have learned that women are just as capable of men in working in every profession, and I think that most people today have difficulty seeing how this could apply to all areas except for ordained ministry,” states Reverend Giulianna Gray, a Episcopalian woman priest. She explains that the qualifications that are important to becoming a priest include “a sense of a call to priesthood, a love and reverence for the One Holy and Living God, humility, personal integrity, a genuine desire to care for God’s people, and a rule of life in which prayer and study of scripture is a daily priority” (Gray). When looking through the list, it is hard to imagine that many women cannot possess some or even all of these qualities. The fact is, men and women are no different in their ability to feel love and care for the Church, but to start, the Church must begin taking care of itself. The number of Catholic priests will only continue to diminish if the Church does not take action because, apparently, the current system is not working. “It's like the joke about the man who has been notified that his house is going to be flooded and he needs to get out of the house. He says ‘no I don't have to, God is going to take care of me’. Then the flood starts to rise and a sheriff comes along and tells him to get out. The man says ‘no, God is going to save me’. So, the floods continue to rise, and he climbs on top of the house. A boat comes along and he's told to climb into the boat. He says, ‘no, no, God is going to save me’. Finally, a helicopter comes along and they lower the net to rescue him. The man says, ‘no, no, God is going to save me!’ Well, the man drowns and goes to heaven. When he gets to heaven he says to God, "why didn't you save me?" God says, "I sent the sheriff, I sent a boat, I sent a helicopter, what more did you want me to do?"(Schuller). The Church cannot continue to wait for a burning bush or booming voice to make Catholic authority figures change their minds. God has sent plenty of signs through those who have been persecuted and even excommunicated for trying to sway the minds of those who preside in Rome. Only together can men and women lead men and women, and only with an open mind can the Church ever hope to replenish the number of vocations. Though the Vatican is, understandably, fearful of such a change, every great accomplishment begins with a simple proposal of a way to make things better. We are at a time when the idea of including women in the Catholic priesthood is still in its infancy, but equality can eventually be achieved through openness and careful meditation on God’s plan for mankind to work as one unit.
We hear about the decreasing number of priestly vocations and the hardships the Catholic Church faces because of the lack of ministers almost as often as we see the newest commercial advancements advertised on television. At the same time, we are bombarded with society’s feminist message: “if men can do it, so can we.” Many people find themselves lost between the two messages and thinking “If men can do it, then women can, but then why don’t I ever see any female Catholic priests?” Well, that’s a good question, one that the Vatican is often reluctant to answer. Evidence of past female priests and bishops dating back to the time of Jesus combined with the equality message of the creation story prove that, throughout the history of the world, God has intended for men and women to serve Him equally. What women like myself ask of the male members of the Church is not an easy thing for them to give, but is also not an impossible goal to achieve. Supporters of women priests ask only for the chance to heal, guide, minister to, and, most importantly, serve every member of the Catholic congregation. Hopefully, women will one day be able to practice what they have striven for, what they have too often been denied, what they have earned—equality.
Carmody, Denise Lardner. Biblical Women: Contemporary Reflections on Scriptural Texts. New York: Crossword Pub. Co., 1988. 13.
Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1994. 360.
Gray, Giulianna, personal interview, 22 November 2008.
McIntosh, Kenneth. Women & Religion: Reinterpereting Scripture to Find the Sacred Feminine. Broomall, PA: Mason Crest Publishers, 2005. 62.
Meacham, Jon. “Sex and the Church: A Case for Change.” Newsweek 6 May 2002: pp. 5. SIRS Researcher. SIRS Knowledge Source. Mount Carmel Academy library, 7027 Milne Blvd. New Orleans, LA 70124. 22 October 2008
Nolan, Bruce. “Vatican Might Expel Activist Priest.” The Times Picayune 12 November 2008: A4.
Ostling, Richard N. “The Second Reformation.” Time 23 November 1992: 3. SIRS Researcher. SIRS Knowledge Source. Mount Carmel Academy library, 7027 Milne Blvd. New Orleans, LA 70124. 22 October 2008
Pell, George. Issues of Faith and Morals. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996. 78.
Schuller, Robert, Dr. and DiSiena, Douglas, Dr."Possibility Living: Add Years to Your Life and Life to Your Years with God’s Health Plan — 2." Possibility Living 4 December 2008
UaConaill, Diarmuid. "Bohdan Piasecki's Painting of the Last Supper." 5 June 2002. Brothers and Sisters in Christ. 4 December 2008