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"All the faithful, both clerical and lay, should be accorded a lawful freedom of research, freedom of thought and freedom of expression."

Gaudium et Spes, no 62.

research area:

Can women be priests in the Catholic Church?


Lines of research as follows:

the findings are preliminary


5.0.1 What has been the position of women in the Church over the past two millennia?

FINDING. The position of women was greatly influenced by the cultures of the societies in which Christianity was established. Cultural prejudices became part of the presumed 'Christian tradition' and so continued to affect women. We provide a timeline of the past 20 centuries.

5.0.2 What ministries have women actually exercised in the Church?

FINDING. Although women were by and large excluded from the sacramental priesthood, they took part in six recognisable ministries.
____________Sacramentally ordained women deacons (ca 50 - 1000 AD).
____________Ministering widows in North Africa, Italy and Gaul (ca 100 - 600 AD).
____________Women Presbyters in the South of Italy and Sicily (ca 100 - 800 AD).
____________Pastoral Assistants in Celtic Britain and Ireland (ca 100 - 400 AD).
____________Freilas in Basque territories of Spain and Gaul (ca 400 - 1400 AD).
____________Abbesses who were 'Sacerdos' in Germanic lands (600 - 1300 AD).

5.0.3 Has Catholic scholarship examined the question of the ordination of women?

FINDING. It has. We provide a survey of online texts by scholars for and against the ordination of women.

PART ONE. Sacred Scripture

5.1.1 Has modern scholarship established norms for the correct interpretation of Scripture?

FINDING. Yes, it has.
____________Ten principles should be kept in mind when interpreting any text of Scripture.
____________They mainly concern the 'literal sense', 'literary form', intended scope and rationalization.

5.1.2 Jesus chose only men for his band of apostles. Did he thereby rule for all time to come that women cannot be priests?

FINDING. The omission of women from the apostolic twelve does not prove that women were excluded from the priesthood for all time:
____________The Gospel texts do in no way imply a permanent exclusion.
____________Women receive equal baptism which implies openness to sacramental priesthood.
____________Also women were empowered by Jesus to enact the eucharist in his memory.
____________Jesus chose only men because men were socially predominant at the time.
____________Jesus' words and deeds require a dynamic unfolding as time progresses.

5.1.3 What about the belief that Jesus as 'God Incarnate' knew everything and therefore, with full intent, excluded women from the priesthood for all time to come?

FINDING. Such beliefs rest on a misunderstanding of the incarnation. They ignore the true humanity of Jesus.
____________Jesus was truly human.
____________He grew in wisdom.
____________He did not know everything.
____________He left important decisions to the later Church.
____________Jesus was open to women.
____________He established a radically new priesthood in which women have equal part.

5.1.4 Does the Apostle Paul not impose restrictions on women, for instance by insisting that they wear a veil in the Christian assembly?

FINDING. On the contrary. Paul emphatically underscores the equality of women.
____________He sees women and men as truly equal in Christ.
____________He recognises the diaconate status of Phoebe of Cenchreae.
____________His suggestion about the veil concerns cultural propriety

5.1.5 Do the Pauline Letters not forbid women to be in charge of men, or to teach in the assembly?

FINDING. The Pastoral Letters, written by disciples of Paul, seem more hostile to women. On inspection they contain no ground for excluding women from ministry.
____________1 Timothy 2,11-15 should be understood within its anti-Gnostic context.
____________1 Cor 14,34-35 is an interpolation with a similar background.

5.1.6 What about Old Testament texts excluding women from exercising authority?

FINDING. In Old Testament times women were considered subject to men. This should not affect their status in our time.
____________Male dominance is a social fact presumed throughout the Old Testament.
____________The creation stories need careful interpretation.
____________Sirach 25,13 - 16,18 reflects the typical Old Testament bias against women.

PART TWO. Tradition

5.2.1 What kind of tradition in the Church can be a norm for establishing the content of the Deposit of Faith?

FINDING. The tradition must be biblical and informed. It may be latent, and is open to dynamic growth in the course of time.

5.2.2 What is the origin of the 'tradition' of not ordaining women as priests?

FINDING. An analysis of the available sources shows a systematic cultural prejudice against women in especially three areas:
____________Women were considered to be inferior to men both by nature and in law.
____________Women were held to be in a permanent state of punishment.
____________Women were deemd 'unclean' because of menstruation.

5.2.3 What do the Fathers of the Church say about women and ministry?

FINDING. The Fathers of the Church take for granted that women should not be ordained priests. They generally base this on women's presumed inferiority and sinful state.
____________St. Ignatius of Antioch
____________St. Irenaeus
____________St. Clement
____________St. John Chrystostom
____________St. Jerome
____________St. Augustine
____________St. Isidore

5.2.4 Were rules about women laid down in local church synods?

FINDING. Rules about women in local synods reflect the acceptance of women's subject status and reveal preoccupation with their presumed 'unclean' condition.
____________Didascalia Apostolorum
____________Canons of Dionysius
____________Local Council of Gangra
____________Synod of Laodicea
____________Canons of St. Basil
____________Apostolic Constitutions
____________Apost. Constit. Book VIII
____________Council of Carthage
____________Synod of Orange
____________Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua
____________Synod of Epaon
____________Synod of Auxerre
____________Synod of Rouen
____________Canons of Bishop Timothy
____________Penitentiary of Theodore
____________Capitulary of Theodulf

5.2.5 What did theologians think about the ordination of women during the Middle Ages?

FINDING. The medieval theologians exclude women from priestly ordination. They too subscribe to women's subject status and adduce spurious reasons to explain why women may not be priests.
____________Rolandus Bandinelli
____________Sicardus of Cremona
____________Johannes Teutonicus
____________ALBERT THE GREAT
____________THOMAS AQUINAS
____________Richard Fishacre
____________St. Bonaventure
____________William of Rothwell
____________Henricus de Sergusio
____________Henry of Ghent
____________Gertrude of Helfta
____________William of Rubio
____________Richard of Middleton
____________John Duns Scotus
____________Antonio Andreas
____________Francis of Meyronnis
____________Durandus a Saint-Pourçain
____________Guido de Baysius
____________Joannes Andreae
____________John of Bassolis
____________Peter de la Palude
____________Thomas of Strasbourg
____________Antonius de Butrio
____________Thomas Netter of Walden
____________Dennis the Carthusian

5.2.6 Was the exclusion of women from the sacramental priesthood incorporated in church law?

FINDING. The ancient prejudices became part of the church's official code of law.
____________Decree of Gratian
____________Corpus Iuris Canonici
____________Codex 1917
____________Codex 1983

5.2.7 What about the post-scholastic theologians?

FINDING. They just repeated the ancient prejudices against women - at times to excess.
____________H.Kramer and J.Sprenger
____________John Knox
____________Robert Bellarmine
____________Cornelius a Lapide
____________Anonymous Author: "Are women human beings?"

5.2.8 Have there been indications in tradition that women should be considered for priesthood?

FINDING. Yes, there have been of various kinds, namely:
____________ the practice of ordaining women as priests in some regions;
____________Mary Magdalen was seen as a woman minister;
____________ Mary, the mother of Jesus, was perceived as having ‘priestly’ functions.

5.2.9 What kind of priesthood was attributed to Mary, the mother of Jesus?

FINDING. According to this tradition, Mary took part in Jesus' own sacrificial priesthood.
____________Jesus' priesthood is given in tradition as the reason for hailing Mary as a priest.
____________ Mary participated in Jesus’ sacrifice, even on Calvary.
____________ Priests looked upon Mary as their model especially regarding the Eucharist.
____________Traditional prayers to Mary Priest express it all.
____________ In traditional art Mary was presented as an ordained priest.

5.2.10 Was the devotion to Mary Priest widespread?

FINDING. We find it from early times to well into the 20th century.
____________(633 - 733) St. Germanus of Constantinople
____________(660 - 740) St. Andrew of Crete
____________(690 - 750) John of Damascus
____________(650 - 750) Epiphanius II
____________(826) Theodore the Studite
____________(400 - 1000) The Fathers on Mary’s priestly dignity
____________(1090 - 1153) St. Bernard of Clairvaux
____________(1200 - 1280) St. Albert the Great
____________(1225) Ubertinus of Casalis
____________(1250 - 1331) Engelbert of Admont
____________(1389 - 1459) St. Antoninus of Florence
____________(died 1501) Jan Mombaer
____________(1492 - 1540) Francis of Osuna
____________(1486 - 1555) St. Thomas of Villanova
____________(1491 - 1556) St. Ignatius of Loyola
____________(died 1610) Jacques le Vasseur
____________(1615) Juan de Cartagena
____________(died 1628) Christopher of Avendaño
____________(died 1637) Charles de Condren
____________(died 1643) J. Duvergier de Hauranne
____________(1575 - 1646) Ferdinand Chirino de Salazar
____________(1608 - 1657) Jean-Jacques Olier
____________(1585 - 1662) F. Bourgoing
____________(died 1666) Jacques Biroat
____________(died 1671) Joseph Oudeau
____________(1604 - 1675) Ippolito Marracci
____________(1599 - 1676) Jean de Machaut
____________(died 1676) Félix Ceuillens
____________(died 1692) Lazare Dassier
____________(died 1694) Nicolas de Dijon
____________(1608 - 1697) Antonio Vieira
____________(1633 - 1715) Julien Loriot
____________(died 1754) Sébastien Dutreuil
____________(1684 - 1759) Francesco Pepe
____________(1696 - 1787) St. Alphonsus of Liguori
____________(died 1796) C.L.Richard
____________(1780) Jean Puy
____________(1790) Pierre Claude Frey de Neuville
____________(1800 - 1823) Pope Pius VII
____________(1806) M.J.Scheeben
____________(1822) C.E.Berseaux
____________(1843) F.Ambrosj
____________(1843) J.M.Raynaud
____________(1850) H.Oswald
____________(1850?) P. J. de Clorivière
____________(1852) F. Coulin
____________(1857) F.W.Faber
____________(1858) Auguste Nicolas
____________(1792 - 1861) Joachim Ventura
____________(1861) Philpin de Rivière
____________(1861) Hubert Lebon
____________(1866) F. Maupied
____________(1866) Cardinal Wiseman
____________(1867) J.B. Lemarchal
____________(1807 - 1870) St. Antonio María Claret
____________(1846 - 1878) Pope Pius IX
____________(1875) Cardinal Pius
____________(1876) H. Perreyve
____________(1876) J.B. Petitalot
____________(died 1876) Gaetano Guida
____________(1884) J.B. Causette
____________(1884) Sp. Marmien
____________(1884) Cardinal C.L.Place
____________(1884) J. de Ravignan
____________(1804 - 1891) P. Jeanjaquot
____________(1891) Cardinal Maury
____________(1878 - 1903) Pope Leo XIII
____________(1903) Cardinal C.Gennari
____________(1904) Cardinal Vannutelli
____________(1905) Cardinal Vivés y Tuto
____________(1911) Bishop J. L. Morelle
____________(1903 - 1914) Pope Pius X
____________(1914) Bishop J. Nazlian
____________(1914 - 1922) Pope Benedict XIV
____________(1925) Cardinal Mercier
____________(1922 - 1939) Pope Pius XI

PART THREE. Theology

5.3.1 What is the main theological reason why women are held to be incapable of priestly ordination?

FINDING. The main theological reason given is that the priest acts "in the person of Christ". Since Christ was a man, it is argued, only a male priest can signify Christ at the Eucharist.

5.3.2 What is the history of the argument that only men can act "in the person of Christ"?

FINDING. The argument derives from a wrong biological understanding. Following Aristotle, the Fathers of the Church and medieval theologians believed that only the male contributed a 'seed' at conception. A pregnant woman was no more than a field nurturing the seed.
____________This is why Thomas Aquinas, for instance, excluded women from the priesthood, because women cannot express 'eminence of degree'.

5.3.3 Can women represent Christ in the administration of the sacraments, and particularly the Eucharist?

FINDING. Women surely can. The quality signified by the priest is not Christ's maleness, but his role as mediator. This can be signified also by women who are priests.
____________Women receive an equal baptism which implies openness to all sacraments.
____________Women are equal in Christ.
____________Women too bear Christ’s image.
____________Women already are ‘another Christ’ when administering baptism and marriage.
____________Women reflect better Christ’s feminine traits.
____________Women too can represent Christ’s love which is the essence of his priesthood.

5.3.4 What about the argument that, in the symbolism of salvation, Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church is his Bride -- and therefore only a man should represent Christ in the priestly ministry?

FINDING. The argument has no validity.
____________The nuptial imagery does not extend to the sacramental priesthood.
____________Christ as the groom in the Eucharist leads to absurd implications.
____________At the Eucharist the priest acts also in the person of the Church.

5.3.5 Since no one can claim priestly ordination as a right, can the Church not exclude women without infringing human rights?

FINDING. Though no individual has a right to be ordained, excluding a whole class of baptised persons from the priestly ministry constitutes real discrimination, especially since there are no valid arguments from Scripture and Tradition.

5.3.6 What is the significance of the fact that other Christian Churches have begun to ordain women to the priesthood?

FINDING. It is highly significant. Vatican II clearly stated that the Holy Spirit is also at work in other Christian Churches and the fact that so many, after carefully studying the sources of revelation, have decided to ordain women establishes a strong argument in its favour.

5.3.7 What to make of the Catholic women who feel themselves called to the priesthood?

FINDING. It is an indication that the Holy Spirit is at work in the Catholic community. There is no valid reason to consider a man's "inner call" of greater value than that of a woman.

PART FOUR. The Teaching Authority

5.4.1 Has the Magisterium of the Catholic Church spoken on women and priestly ordination?

FINDING. Yes, recent Popes and Vatican departments have, since 1976, repeatedly pronounced against the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood.
____________We provide the full texts of 26 relevant documents.
____________Once or twice these documents have asserted that the exclusion of women has been 'infallibly decided by the Universal Ordinary Magisterium', that is: by the bishops of the whole world.
____________On other occasion the formulation was that the matter has been 'definitively' decided.

5.4.2 Can the claim of an infallible decision in this matter by the Ordinary Universal Magisterium be substantiated?

FINDING. It cannot because the five conditions for such an infallible decision have not been met in the case of admitting women to the ordained priesthood.

5.4.3 What has been the reception by Catholic scholars of the claim that the matter has been decided 'infallibly' or 'definitively'?

FINDING. Catholic scholarship has rejected the claim. Samples of the assessment follow:
____________The Catholic Theological Society of America
____________Nicholas Lash, professor of divinity, Cambridge University, UK
____________Francis A. Sullivan SJ, emeritus professor Gregorian University Rome
____________Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., professor of theology at Fordham University, New York
____________Gisbert Greshake, professor of theology at the University of Freiburg, Germany
____________Ann O'Hara Graff, professor of theology at Seattle University, Washington
____________Peter Hünermann, professor of theology at Tübingen University, Germany
____________Sidney Cornelia Callahan, pastoral theologian, USA
____________David Knight, pastoral theologian, Memphis, USA
____________Richard Gaillardetz, associate professor, University of St. Thomas, Houseton, USA
____________Klaus Nientiedt, in Herder Korrespondenz 9 (1996) pp. 461-466.
____________John H. Wright, in America 171 (July 30-Aug. 6, 1994) pp. 16-19.
____________Fourteen Indian Religious Sisters, theologians and academics.
____________Fr. Joseph Moingt SJ, editor of Recherches de Science Religieuse.
____________Hugh O'Regan, editor of the on-line magazine, San Fransico Bay Catholic.
____________The commission on "Woman and the Church" of the Belgian Bishops' Conference.

5.4.4 How have the ordinary faithful received the claim that women cannot be ordained priests?

FINDING. Statistics through the decades show that in countries with a high level of education, the sensus fidelium overwhelmingly rejects such a claim. In spite of official church teaching, up to two-thirds of Catholics believe women can be ordained.

5.4.5 But what about the claim that the Teaching Authority can never err?

FINDING. It simply is not true. The teaching authority has often failed in the past. Examples follow.
____________The condemnation of taking interest on capital loans.
____________19 centuries of the teaching authority condoning the practice of slavery.
____________The teaching authority asserting that there is no salvation outside the church.
____________65 questions on which the teaching authority changed its position.

5.3.6 Is the Teaching Authority gradually changing its position regarding women?

FINDING. During the past century we have witnessed a gradual crumbling of official church prejudices against women.
____________There have been improvements in church law.
____________The admission of women to church choirs is an instructive example.
____________The toleration of women as mass servers presents a similar tale.

5.3.7 What is the correct Catholic response to a teaching authority that errs?

FINDING. Theologians and the faithful have a duty in conscience to voice their disagreement when the Teaching Authority fails.
____________This is the teaching of Vatican II.
____________It was the conviction of theologians like Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope.
____________It is the conviction of many responsible Catholics.

We welcome any contributions to our lines of inquiry, whether in the form of observations, critiques, submission of new material or the suggestion of other topics for research.





UK editionUK edition THE ORDINATION OF WOMEN IN THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. Unmasking a Cuckoo's Egg Tradition by John Wijngaards, Darton, Longman & Todd, London 2001, 204 pages; also published in the USA (Continuum 2001), India (Media House 2002);
Het Niet-wijden van Vrouwen in de R.-K. Kerk. Een koekoeksjong in het katholieke nest, Narratio, Gorcum 2002;
Nè Eva, Nemmeno Maria, L’ordinazione sacerdotale delle donne nella Chiesa cattolica, Meridiana, Molfetta 2002;

Japanese Edition, Akashi Shoten, Tokyo 2006;
L'Ordination des Femmes dans l'Église Catholique, Chrétiens Autrement, Paris 2006.

UK editionUK editionUK edition
  DID CHRIST RULE OUT WOMEN PRIESTS? by John Wijngaards, McCrimmons, Great Wakering 1977 (2nd edition in 1986), 104 pgs; Indian edition, ATC, Bangalore 1978; Dutch edition, KBS, Brugge 1979. UK edition