Monday, March 4, 2024

Why the Catholic Church Cannot Ordain Women

Why the Catholic Church can't ordain women

The question of whether women can be ordained as priests in the Catholic Church has been debated for a long time, but the Church's official teaching is clear and definitive: women cannot be ordained to the sacred priesthood. This is not a matter of discrimination or inequality but of fidelity to the will of Christ and the tradition of the apostles.

The main reason why the Church does not ordain women is because Christ did not include women among the select group of the Twelve to whom He gave the sacramental powers, which included ordination. After His Resurrection, Christ appeared to the apostles in the upper room and said to them, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so, I send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:21-23). This was one of the moments when Christ instituted the sacrament of holy orders and conferred it on his chosen apostles, who were all men.

The apostles, in turn, passed on this sacrament to their successors, the bishops, who also ordained other men as priests and deacons. There is no evidence in the New Testament or in the early Church history that any woman was ever ordained by an apostle or a bishop. The Church has always understood that Christ's choice of men for the priesthood was not arbitrary or cultural, but intentional and permanent. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible" (CCC 1577).

This teaching was reaffirmed by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), where he declared: "In order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32) I declare that **the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women** and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful" (OS 4). This declaration was confirmed by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as an infallible teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium of the Church (Responsum ad dubium, 1995).

Some people may wonder why Christ did not choose women for the priesthood since he clearly valued and respected women and had many female disciples and friends. In fact, His own mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary would have made the best priest, bishop, deacon, or pope!  The answer is not that Christ was influenced by the patriarchal culture of his time or that he considered women inferior or unworthy. On the contrary, Christ elevated the dignity and vocation of women by his words and deeds and entrusted them with important missions in his ministry. For example, he revealed himself as the Messiah to a Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-42), he defended a woman caught in adultery from being stoned (John 8:1-11), he praised a poor widow who gave all she had to the temple (Luke 21:1-4), he raised a young girl from death and restored her to her parents (Mark 5:35-43), he cured a woman who suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years (Mark 5:25-34), he allowed a sinful woman to anoint his feet with perfume and forgave her sins (Luke 7:36-50), he appeared first to Mary Magdalene after His Resurrection and sent her to announce the good news to his apostles (John 20:11-18).  In a word, Jesus was a feminist.  He saw and treated women in ways that were "beyond His time," to use typical jargon or figure of speech that we use today to describe someone who is a progressive. 

Christ did not choose women for the priesthood because he wanted to express a profound truth about his own identity and mission as the Son of God and the bridegroom of the Church. The priest acts in persona Christi capitis, in the person of Christ the head, when he celebrates the sacraments, especially the Eucharist. The priest represents Christ who offers himself as a sacrifice for his bride, the Church, and who nourishes her with his body and blood. The priest also acts as a spiritual father who guides and cares for his flock. These roles require a natural resemblance between Christ and his ministers, which is found only in men. As Pope John Paul II explained: "The fact that Christ is a man has an ontological significance . . . it affects all human beings - men and women alike - at their very roots . . . The sacramental priesthood . . . is necessarily reserved to men alone" (Mulieris Dignitatem 26).  This is why the matter for the Sacrament of Holy Orders has to be a male person or body while the laying of hands is the form or how the Sacrament of Holy Orders is conferred on the male candidate (deacon/priest).  

This does not mean that women have no role or function in the Church. On the contrary, women have a vital and irreplaceable contribution to the life and mission of the Church, as Pope Francis has emphasized: "The way is not only [ordained] ministry. The Church is woman. The Church is a spouse. We have not developed a theology of women that reflects this . . . The Petrine principle is that of ministry. But there is another principle that is still more important, about which we do not speak, that is the Marian principle, which is the principle of femininity in the Church, of the woman in the Church, where the Church sees a mirror of herself because she is a woman and a spouse" (Interview with America Magazine, 2022). 

Women are called to imitate Mary, the mother of God and the model of discipleship, who cooperated with God's plan of salvation with her faith, obedience, and love. Women are also called to exercise their baptismal priesthood by offering their lives as a spiritual sacrifice, participating in the liturgy and the sacraments, praying and interceding for others, proclaiming and witnessing to the gospel, serving and caring for the poor and the needy, by educating and forming the young and the old, by leading and organizing various ministries and apostolates in the Church. In fact, in probably every parish around the world it is the women who run the show, so to speak. They care for the property, often cook for priests, volunteer to run groups, teach catechism, read at Mass or help give out Holy Communion. Let us not forget our women religious who do almost everything in the Church. Parishes and dioceses would be in trouble if women were not present. This is a hard fact!  

In conclusion, the Catholic Church cannot ordain women because she is faithful to Christ's will and example, to the apostolic tradition, and to the constant teaching of her magisterium. This teaching is not a matter of opinion or preference but of divine revelation and infallible doctrine. The Church does not discriminate or oppress women, but honors and respects them as equal in dignity and different in vocation. 

Women are more than capable of being priests per se and hypothetically speaking, they tend to be more mature than men, can connect emotionally with people, and have an intuitive sense and attentiveness that almost makes them superior to men. We all know how great our mothers, our grandmothers, and so on are. We consider them the best in the world. So we know the power and capabilities of women (we, meaning us males).  In fact, we learn how to be men; and how to be human from these great women! 

However, we must follow how God wanted things.  God is immutable. He is Truth and the Truth cannot contradict itself. So we cannot change anything in regards to the priesthood. This is something that comes to us directly from God, Jesus Christ. Who are we to overrule Jesus? We simply cannot!  Those who push for women's ordination simply do not understand the theology and philosophy behind the priesthood. They see it as a career or a competition ladder. This is not what the priesthood is about. It is not like getting the right to vote or the right to own property. The priesthood is beyond us and our social norms and customs.  Being a priest does not make him superior to women or other men. The priest simply has a different role in the Church.  We are all equals in the Church but with different roles and degrees of function.  The Church invites women to embrace their unique and indispensable role in the Church and in the world, following the example of Mary, who is blessed among all women.

What do you think? Post your comment below on Disqus. Be sure to follow the rules so your comment can be posted.  


- Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC),

- Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (OS),

- Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Responsum ad dubium,

- Pope John Paul II, Mulieris Dignitatem (MD),

- Pope Francis, Interview with America Magazine (AM),

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