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Praying and Working for the Ordination of Women in the Roman Catholic Church

Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church

Women - Called to be Priests

7 Questions for reflection, discussion and discernment

The call to ministerial priesthood comes from God and is a call to loving service

Q.1. Did Jesus ordain only men?

There is no reference in scripture to Jesus ordaining anyone, male or female. In 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission set up by Paul VI to examine the scriptural evidence for the possibility of admitting women to the priesthood reported that there are no scriptural obstacles to the ordination of women.

It is important to know that "Apostle" in its New Testament usage meant one who was a commissioned messenger. St. Paul was not one of the twelve, yet he clearly was an apostle, as was Barnabas. Romans 16 refers to a woman apostle, Junias. The twelve selected by Jesus are a prophetic sign of the new Israel, and are a clear reference to the twelve tribes from the twelve sons of Jacob in the Old Testament. There is no evidence that these twelve were the only ones present at the Last Supper. It is not unlikely that several of the women who had followed Jesus from Gallilee were also present at the Last Supper, when Jesus asked His friends to celebrate His memory in the breaking of the Bread.

Q.2. Were women involved in the ministry of Jesus?

Yes, Jesus called both men and women to follow Him.

One of the deepest theological dialogues in the New Testament occurs in John 4: 1-42 where Jesus has a conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well and chooses to reveal Himself to her as the Messiah. Luke mentions Mary, Joanna, Suzanna "and some others who provided for them out of their own funds". Martha professed Jesus as the Christ and her sister Mary sat at His feet to be instructed. It was a woman who anointed Jesus before His passion. Women were the ones who remained at the foot of the cross. Mary Magdalene was sent by the risen Christ to announce the news of His resurrection to the other disciples, '1 have seen the Lord, and this is what He said to me" (John 2O:18). The Church honours her as "the apostle to the apostles". And at Pentecost the Holy Spirit filled both the women and the men disciples (Acts 2).

Q.3. Did Women exercise leadership in the early New Testament communities?

Yes. the New Testament reveals that women had leadership roles in the early church.

Phoebe is a deacon and patron of the church at Cenchreae (Romans 16:1-2) Chloe is the church leader at Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:11), Paul's co-workers are Mary, Tryphaena and Tryphosa (Romans 16:12) and Priscilla is a teacher, missionary and church leader (Acts 18:26, 1 Corinthians 16:19, Romans 16:3).These women exercised ministry, they spread the good news, brought Christ to a wider community in exactly the same way as the men.

Q.4. How did the practice of excluding women from leadership in the Church develop?

After an initial period of equality the Church adopted the patriarchal structures of the world.

As the earliest Christian assemblies in house churches expanded, the contemporary models of male public leadership gradually took over.

The presiding elders (presbyteroi) or leaders came to be under-stood as being the exclusive representations of Christ, while before all the baptized were. Women were considered unable to be a sacramental sign of Christ and unfit for ordination. Yet in scripture we read that both men and women are created in the divine image (Gen. 1: 27), that there is no difference between men and women who are both baptised into Christ (Rm 8: 29, Cor. 15: 4; Col 3, 1O:1 John 3:2) and that the Holy Spirit indwells all the disciples of Christ. Christian tradition, as well as society at large up to recent times, simply assumed the natural inferiority of women and therefore their incapacity for leadership. However with Vatican II the Church acknowledged the equality of men and women. In its 1973 Decree "Mysterium Ecclesiae", the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explicitly recognised the historical conditioning and therefore inherent limitations in the formation of church dogma, at any given period in history. May one not assume that past customs and usages which are today experienced as an obstruction to the Gospel Message, are subject to the same criteria?

Q.5. Are there women who feel called to serve as priests?

Yes, there are many women in Ireland and throughout the world who believe that this is their vocation.

They are from all walks of life, and all ages. Some are married and some are single, some are religious. They are ordinary Christian women who have discovered in themselves a God-given desire to serve the Christian community in this way. In many cases this desire came as a disturbing surprise and they have struggled with it before welcoming it as "good news" in their life and the life of the Church. Each has travelled a unique faith journey and brings unique gifts and experiences but all have in common a love for God and the Church. This desire to be ordained is often dismissed as an individualistic quest for power rather than as a faithful response to God's initiative. St. Thérèse of Lisieux can hardly be accused of such motives. Yet she felt deeply both the desire to be a priest and the pain of being denied ordination. A hundred years after her death Catholic women who live with the same desire and the same pain pray, work and hope that it may at last become possible.

Q.6. Does the Church need women priests?

Yes, the Church needs women as priests, as it needs them in all areas of life, and it will be enriched by their presence and their gifts. Women image God and minister God's love in a way that a male-only priesthood cannot bear witness to.

While women are not to be ordained as an expedient to remedy the shortfall in male celibate vocations to the priesthood, the shortage of priests throughout the world is helping us to discover what God is doing in and through women. It is estimated that there are 400 million Catholics who are deprived of a regular celebration of the Eucharist. When they fail to recognize and affirm the many priestly vocations of women in their midst, Church leaders are creating a Eucharistic famine where God has provided in abundance.

Q.7. The Pope has declared that "the Church does not have the authority to confer priestly ordination on women" and The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith claims that this is an infallible statement. What is the point then of further discussion?

The Church's teaching and practice guided by the Holy Spirit have always remained open to further development in line with the criteria laid down in the Decree "Mysterium Ecclesiae" see Q.4 above). And in this case theologians have pointed out that the Pope's statement does not meet the Church's own strict criteria for infallibility.

No consultation has taken place with all the bishops of the Church. An increasing number of the lay faithful believe that women should be ordained. The Holy Spirit is prompting people to continue to discuss and to debate the issue. Are we to refuse to interpret and live the Gospel according to the "signs of the times"? In conscience we cannot do so. What is urgently needed is for all Church members to engage in prayerful dialogue, confident that the Spirit will lead us to the Truth.

What can I do to help women be ordained priests in the Roman Catholic Church?

7 suggestions:
  1. Pray for Church leaders and for ourselves that we may be fully attuned to the work of the Holy Sprit in the Church and in the world.
  2. Pray for the women who are called to be priests. If you know any personally, let them know of your support for their vocation.
  3. Write to your priests and bishop expressing your concerns and your hopes.
  4. Read further on the issue (a full bibliography and more information is available from BASIC) and speak about it to family, friends, colleagues.
  5. Sign the BASIC petition. Over 20,000 people have already signed it.
  6. Become a member of BASIC and/or support our work with a donation - no matter how small.
  7. Call for the introduction of women deacons.

All ministry is by God's grace

"The following stress in the documents of Vatican II is consistently maintained. The call to ministry is ultimately not from a Church official but from the Lord himself The Church officials must, of course, discern in faith whether the Lord is actually calling an individual or not, but the call and the commission is in the last analysis from the Lord. In today's world, it wouid seem, the Lord might indeed be calling a woman to priestly ordination. In other words, if the call is not directly from the bishop or some other Church official, but from the Lord himself, and even the commissioning is from the Sacrament, not from delegation, and therefore, again, from the Lord himself, then great care must be exercised by all Church officials in their discernment of Christ's call and commissioning. This is not to downplay the role of the Church in the selection and ordination of ministers but it is rather a caution, based on the very theology of Vatican II, not to absolutize historical data."
- Kenan B. Osborne OFM, "Priesthood - A History of the Ordained Ministry in the Roman Catholic Church" (Paulist Press New York/Mahwah, 1988) p. 354

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