Avery Dulles on women and the priesthood (from 1996)

Candidates for the priesthood lie on the floor as Pope Francis celebrates an ordination Mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican May 12, 2019. The pope ordained 19 new priests. (CNS photo/Yara Nardi, Reuters)

Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of the release of the Apostolic Letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” on May 22, 1994. The following essay, titled “Gender and Priesthood: Examining the Teaching,” appeared in Origins (Vol. 25, No. 45, dated May 2, 1996), and is reprinted with permission.

In comparing the grounds for church teaching on the inadmissibility of women to the ministerial priesthood “with the evidence given for Catholic doctrines such as the immaculate conception, the assumption and papal infallibility, the biblical and traditional basis for the nonordination of women would seem to be firmer,” Jesuit Father Avery Dulles said in an April 10 lecture at Fordham University. The theologian, professor of religion and society at Fordham, examined 10 objections raised to the teaching, commenting that critics of the teaching “include theologians of acknowledged professional competence” and that “the objections they have raised ... cannot be written off as merely flippant.” Dulles concluded that “in view of the force of the convergent argument and the authority of the papal office, Catholics can and should give the full assent that the pope has called for.” But Dulles also said that “because the official teaching runs against the prevailing climate of opinion and because plausible objections have been widely publicized, it is inevitable that a significant number of Catholics ... will fail to assent.” He recommended that “the pastoral leadership of the church, recognizing the complexity of the theological issues and the inevitability of dissenting views, should be patient with Catholics who feel unable to accept the approved position. While assuring the integrity of Catholic doctrine, the bishops should show understanding for dissenters who exhibit good will and avoid disruptive behavior.” Dulles said that on this teaching “the pope and the cardinal have not called for an act of divine or theological faith but simply for a firm assent. But inasmuch as this assent is to be given to a teaching contained in the deposit of faith, it seems hardly distinguishable from an act of faith. The ‘de fide’ status of the doctrine, however, has not been so clearly taught that one may accuse those who fail to accept it of heresy.” The text of his address follows.

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The most controversial statement that has come from the Holy See during the present pontificate is in all probability that which has to do with the priestly ordination of women. On Pentecost Sunday 1994, Pope John Paul II issued a brief letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” which concluded with the words: “In order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter which pertains to the church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk. 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.” (See note 1 below.)

On Oct. 28, 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in a document approved by the pope, responded to a question put to it about whether the teaching of “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” was to be understood as belonging to the deposit of the faith. After replying in the affirmative, the congregation added that the doctrine, founded on the written word of God, had been constantly held in the tradition of the church and has been infallibly set forth by the ordinary and universal magisterium. In his apostolic letter, therefore, the pope was not making the teaching infallible but confirming a teaching that was already infallible for the reasons stated.

Dulles: "The case against women’s ordination is made under four principal headings: Bible, tradition, theological reasoning and magisterial authority. These components are not to be taken in isolation but in convergence, since none of them is an independent authority." 

“Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” is the culmination of a long series of documents issued under Paul VI and John Paul II since 1975. In these documents the case against women’s ordination is made under four principal headings: Bible, tradition, theological reasoning and magisterial authority. These components are not to be taken in isolation but in convergence, since none of them is an independent authority. According to Vatican II, “Sacred tradition, sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the church, in accord with God’s most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, contribute effectively to the salvation of souls” (“Dei Verbum,” 10).

The biblical component in the argument is twofold: first, that Christ did not call women to the apostolic ministry, since he selected only men as members of the Twelve; and second, that the apostles themselves, faithful to the practice of Christ, chose only men for priestly offices, those of bishop, presbyter and their equivalents.

The argument from tradition is that the Catholic bishops have always observed the norm of conferring sacred orders only on men and that sects which ordained women to the priesthood or permitted them to perform priestly functions have been denounced as heretical. The fathers of the early centuries and the theologians of the Middle Ages regarded the question as settled. (See note 2 below.) Since the 16th century Catholic theologians have regularly characterized the church’s practice as grounded in divine law and have judged the opposed position as heretical or at least verging on heresy. (See note 3 below.)

The theological reasoning is to the effect that the ministerial priest shares in a representative way in the office of Christ as bridegroom of the church, and must therefore be, like Christ, of the male sex. A woman could not suitably represent Christ in this particular capacity.

The teaching of the magisterium, as the fourth component, has likewise been constant. In the early centuries many bishops and a few popes spoke to the question, and over the past 20 years or more, explicit statements from the Holy See have made it clear that the hierarchical magisterium is unwavering in holding that the ministerial priesthood cannot be exercised by women.

Dulles: "Although many of the faithful have been convinced by the official pronouncements of recent years, others have responded negatively. The critics include theologians of acknowledged professional competence." 

Impressive though this convergent argument is, it has not dispelled all doubt. Since about 1970 a number of voices have been raised, even in the Catholic Church, favoring the admission of women to priestly orders. Although many of the faithful have been convinced by the official pronouncements of recent years, others have responded negatively. The critics include theologians of acknowledged professional competence. The objections they have raised to the standard arguments cannot be written off as merely flippant. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has itself acknowledged, in another context, that the difficulties raised against magisterial teaching can sometimes “contribute to real doctrinal progress and provide a stimulus to the magisterium to propose the teaching of the church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments.” (See note 4 below.) With this thought in mind, I shall here explore 10 of the principal objections that are commonly raised.

1. With regard to the practice of Christ, a double objection is raised: first, that Jesus did not ordain anyone to the priesthood, and second, that there is no evidence that he intended his decision to call only men as members of the Twelve to be binding on all future generations.

To the first part of this objection it must be answered that according to Catholic teaching, Christ did confer the ministerial priesthood on his apostles. Although the exact moment when he did so is not important for our present question, it may be recalled that according to the Council of Trent he bestowed priestly powers on the Twelve at the Last Supper when he commissioned them to celebrate the eucharist. (See note 5 below.) This assertion of the Council of Trent, which represents a reading of Scripture in light of Catholic tradition, still remains the authoritative teaching of the church, as can be seen from many documents issued in recent years. In the Roman Missal of Paul VI (1970), the chrism Mass of Holy Thursday commemorates the institution of the priesthood at the Last Supper. John Paul II, in his letter to bishops on Holy Thursday 1980, “Dominicae Cenae,” asserts that the priesthood came into being together with the eucharist at the Last Supper. (See note 6 below.)

The question whether Christ’s choice of a male priesthood is permanently normative for the church raises issues about the very nature of sacraments. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes the point that sacraments “are principally meant to link the person of every period to the supreme event of the history of salvation.” (See note 7 below.) The present case is similar to that of the institution of the eucharist, in which Christ’s choice of bread and wine, although it may not have been the only possibility open to him, is viewed as establishing the elements to be used in celebrating Mass. In ordaining priests, as in celebrating the eucharist, the church is conscious of doing what Christ did and of having no power to alter this. The claim of abiding force for Christ’s own practice, supported as it is by the biblical data, is powerfully confirmed by the other three arguments—from tradition, theological reasoning and magisterial teaching—which are still to be considered in this paper.

2. The evidence concerning the practice of the apostolic church has also been contested. Many today call attention to the 1975 study of the Pontifical Biblical Commission which, it is sometimes alleged, found no difficulty against the ordination of women. Even if the biblical commission had so concluded, the objection would have little force, since this commission is not an organ of the magisterium, but a purely advisory body. In fact, however, the report of the commission clearly stated that Christ chose only men for apostolic leadership and that the first communities, as we know them from the Acts and the Pauline letters, “were always directed by men exercising the apostolic power.... The masculine character of the hierarchical order which has structured the church since its beginning thus seems attested in an undeniable way.” The commission added, however, that according to the majority of the members “it does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.” (See note 8 below.) This conclusion is fair enough. The recent documents do not claim that the question can be definitively settled by Scripture alone, but only that the New Testament supports the tradition of the church. All the biblical evidence we have about priestly office in the primitive church tends to confirm its exclusively masculine character. (See note 9 below.)

3. Challenging the argument from tradition, some authors maintain that the question of women’s ordination is a new one for the church and that more time is needed for dialogue and reflection before the magisterium can properly decide the matter. As a matter of fact, however, the question is almost as old as Christianity itself. In the early centuries heretical sects, including Gnostics, Montanists, Priscillianists and Collyridians, introduced a female priesthood in various parts of the Christian world, but their initiatives were rejected by Catholic bishops and theologians such as Irenaeus, Epiphanius, John Chrysostom and Pope Gelasius I. (See note 10 below.)

The question arose again in the Middle Ages because of the practices of the Cathari and the Waldensians. Once again the Catholic authorities denied that the pastoral office or priesthood could be conferred on women. The great theologians of high Scholasticism, including Bonaventure, Thomas Aquinas, Duns Scotus and Durandus, were unanimous in holding that the church had no power to ordain women. (See note 11 below.) In this opinion they were joined by an outstanding medieval feminist, Hildegard of Bingen, who was adamant in opposing a feminine priesthood. (See note 12 below.)

The issue of priesthood for women was again raised in Germany after the First World War, but leaders of the Catholic feminist movement themselves rejected the idea. Edith Stein, among others, considered carefully whether women could be priests, but on the basis of her study concluded in the negative. (See note 13 below.)

Admittedly the question has taken on new urgency since World War II, at which time many mainline Protestant and Anglican churches began ordaining women to pastoral office, including the episcopate. Partly for this reason a flurry of new studies began to appear in the early to middle ’70s. Pope Paul VI spoke frequently to the question. In an address of April 1975, occasioned by the International Women’s Year sponsored by the United Nations, he insisted that while the role of women should be vigorously promoted, the church had no power to change the behavior of Christ and his call to women, which did not include apostleship or ordained ministry. (See note 14 below.) In a letter to the archbishop of Canterbury of Nov. 30, 1975, Paul VI stated very clearly that the Catholic church “holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons.” He added: “These reasons include: the example recorded in the sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority, which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his church.” (See note 15 below.)

The most complete official study of our question remains to this day the declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith “Inter Insigniores,” issued with the approval of Paul VI over the signature of Cardinal Franjo Seper Oct. 15, 1976, the feast of St. Teresa of Avila. This document proposed the various arguments I have mentioned and concluded that the practice of the church, based as it is on Christ’s example, conforms to God’s plan for his church.

Before issuing the brief declaration mentioned at the opening of this paper, John Paul II treated the question at greater length in several important documents such as his apostolic exhortation on the laity “Christifideles Laici” and his apostolic letter on women “Mulieris Dignitatem” (both issued in 1988). On the precise question of ordination he has strongly reaffirmed the positions of Paul VI, who stood in solidarity with the immemorial tradition of the church. These considerations should make it evident that we are not dealing with a new and unprecedented question.

Dulles: "On the precise question of ordination [Pope John Paul II] has strongly reaffirmed the positions of Paul VI, who stood in solidarity with the immemorial tradition of the church."

4. It is still objected in some quarters, however, that the tradition of the church and likewise the practice of Christ and the apostles have been socially and culturally conditioned. Some argue that women were in a position of social inferiority and were therefore not considered eligible for anything resembling priestly office. But the evidence does not support this objection. Whatever the social inferiority of women may or may not have been, priestesses were common in pagan religions throughout the Greco-Roman world. They were a familiar institution among the Babylonians and the Assyrians, the Egyptians and the Greeks. If Christ followed the practice of the Jews in this regard, that practice was itself shaped by divine revelation and stood in contrast with that practice of the surrounding peoples such as the Canaanites. Nor was the practice of Judaism by itself determinative for Christ. Where his mission required, he showed an astonishing independence from Jewish customs.

Notwithstanding their exclusion from priestly office, women played a prominent part in salvation history, both in the Old Testament and in the New. Figures such as Deborah and Esther were celebrated in the Hebrew Scriptures, as were the Blessed Virgin Mary, Elizabeth, Anna, Mary Magdalen, Martha and other holy women in the Gospels. In the Acts and the letters of Paul, mention is made of many women who were prominent in the early church. Some, such as the daughters of Philip the Evangelist, were prophetesses. But no women were members of the Twelve nor, it would seem, were they bishops or presbyters. (See note 16 below.) In excluding women from these offices but not from other ministries, the church was presumably guided by its understanding of the will of Christ in establishing the apostolic office.

Christians should exercise great care in invoking arguments from social conditioning. Such arguments can easily be used to evacuate the contents of revelation and call into question almost any moral teaching, including the Ten Commandments. While conceding the existence of certain socially conditioned customs, Christians are convinced that the Jews of old and the Christians under the guidance of Christ and the Holy Spirit were able to discern God’s will concerning the fundamental relations between the sexes, including institutions such as monogamous heterosexual marriage. As we shall see, the divine order regarding marital relations is intimately bound up with the symbolism surrounding priesthood.

5. Yet another objection arises because of the state of biological science in the early centuries. The church’s tradition regarding priesthood is held to have been shaped by the opinion of Aristotle and other ancient authors that women were genetically inferior. This opinion, which is now recognized to be false, was occasionally alluded to by theologians in their discussion of women’s position in the church. Thomas Aquinas accepted Aristotle’s faulty biology, but when he comes to an explicit consideration of the reasons why women cannot be ordained, he does not argue that women are weaker in mind or in body. In fact he acknowledges that some women have greater spiritual and intellectual qualities than men. He remarks that they can be rulers in civil society, that they can receive the charism of prophecy and they can serve as religious superiors and abbesses in the church. But he holds that a woman cannot be an apt subject for receiving the sacrament of orders for symbolic reasons, namely the lack of natural resemblance between them and what holy orders must signify. (See note 17 below.)

In medieval Catholicism Mary was generally regarded as the greatest of all the saints, but this eminence did not qualify her for ordination. In the words of Pope Innocent III, “Although the Blessed Virgin Mary was of higher dignity and excellence than all the apostles, it was to them, not her, that the Lord entrusted the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” (See note 18 below.)

Dulles: "Christians should exercise great care in invoking arguments from social conditioning. Such arguments can easily be used to evacuate the contents of revelation and call into question almost any moral teaching, including the Ten Commandments."

6. With respect to the theological reasoning, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and the popes have appealed to the so-called “iconic” argument to suggest reasons why Christ chose to reserve the priesthood to men. The argument is that the ministerial priest has to represent Christ, especially in the eucharist, which is the sacrament that pre-eminently “expresses the redemptive act of Christ, the bridegroom, toward the church.” (See note 19 below.) The words of institution are no mere narrative about the past; they are performative speech acts whereby Christ himself, through the priest, accomplishes the sacramental sacrifice. The shift to the present tense and the first person singular are therefore essential. Uttering the words, “This is my body ... ; this is my blood,” the priest puts on the very person of Christ. In order for him to be identified with Christ as bridegroom, it is fitting for the priest to be of the male sex. This argument is much used in Eastern Orthodox theology and has been prominent in the West at least since the times of Hildegard and Bonaventure.

To this it is sometimes objected that representation, according to the biblical concept, is simply an authorization to speak in the name of another and that the messenger need not bear a natural resemblance to the person represented. The objection would hold if the priest were simply a messenger, passing on a verbal report, but in fact the priest is a symbolic figure, who serves as both a sign and an instrument in performing the very action of Christ as bridegroom. This symbolic argument does not prove that Christ could not have called women to the priesthood, but it helps us to see that his decision in the matter was not arbitrary. In order for Christ himself to be the bridegroom of the church, as God had been bridegroom of Israel, he had to be a man. For similar reasons it was highly suitable that those who were called to put on the person of Christ in sacramental actions such as presiding at the Lord’s Supper should also be of the male sex.

7. An additional line of attack on the rationale for the existing order is that it is an injustice toward women to exclude them as a class. Some compare this exclusion to racial discrimination, which has at times been practiced even in the church. But the church cannot be guilty of discrimination in this matter because it is unconditionally bound to follow what it understands to be Christ’s will in the matter. In providing for distinct roles for men and women in the church, Christ did not violate the order of justice any more than God was unjust in giving women alone the power to bear children.

The ministerial priesthood is not a mark of personal superiority, but a humble service to be used for the sake of the whole people of God. Although they cannot exercise this particular calling, women are not excluded from the full benefits of the redemption and from other forms of ministry. They can rise to the highest degree of sanctity, as is clear in the case of Mary. As religious superiors they can govern large communities. They can exercise the charisms of prophecy, knowledge and wisdom; they can be teachers, spiritual directors and the like. Two woman saints, Catherine of Siena and Teresa of Avila, have been designated as doctors of the church. In the church as in civil society, the role of women has been rapidly advancing in recent years. John Paul II has branded the marginalization of women as an evil, due in part to cultural conditioning, and has repeatedly called for the elimination of all discrimination against women in the church and in society. (See note 20 below.) He does not condone injustice toward women.

Dulles: "If the Catholic Church were to ordain women, a new barrier would be created between it and the ancient churches of the East."

8. Some object that the reservation of ordination to men in the Catholic Church is unecumenical, since it puts a barrier between Catholics and most other Christians, at least in the Western world. The recent popes have been acutely conscious of this obstacle, as attested by the pleas of Paul VI to Archbishop Coggan (See note 21 below.) and of John Paul II to Archbishop Runcie (See note 22 below.) not to authorize female ordinations in the Church of England. But ecumenism must surely include the churches of the East, which do not ordain women, as well as conservative Protestant groups, which adhere strictly to the biblical practice. The ecumenical argument therefore cuts both ways. If the Catholic Church were to ordain women, a new barrier would be created between it and the ancient churches of the East. The Orthodox would be convinced that Rome had capitulated to the liberal Protestant view of ministry. Besides, it must be said that authentic ecumenism does not permit the churches to depart from the order prescribed by Christ in their effort to promote external unity. As Cardinal Ratzinger points out, one of the fundamental issues between the Catholic Church and those sprung from the Reformation has always been “what priesthood is, whether a sacrament or ultimately a service to be regulated in its ordering by the community itself.” (See note 23 below.)

9. Regarding the argument from magisterial teaching, some maintain that in spite of the recent emphatic statements of John Paul II and Cardinal Ratzinger, the question remains an open one for Catholics. To this it must be answered that the highest doctrinal authorities in the church, the pope and the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, have made it clear that in their judgment the question is irrevocably settled. As I have mentioned, the pope, invoking his authority as successor of Peter, declared 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 faithful. The term “definitively held,” as used in the documents of Vatican II and in several official statements of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is reserved to the kind of assent to be given to infallible teaching. (See note 24 below.) Any doubt about the equivalence of the two terms is removed by the response of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which explained the pope’s term “definitively held” as implying infallibility.

10. A final objection, somewhat technical in character, has to do with Cardinal Ratzinger’s appeal to the ordinary and universal magisterium as the basis for infallibility. According to Vatican II, the college of bishops is not infallible in its day-to-day teaching except when the bishops unanimously hold that the faithful are obliged to give definitive assent to a particular doctrine. Has this unanimity been established in the present case? So far as appears, the bishops have not been polled by questionnaires such as those circulated by Popes Pius IX and Pius XII respectively preceding their definitions of the dogmas of the immaculate conception and the assumption.

In answer we may say, first of all, that the consensus of the present-day episcopate is not adduced as the sole ground for infallibility in the present case. The certainty and irreversibility derive from the biblical, traditional and theological data in combination with the consensus of the contemporary magisterium. Regarding this last component, we must recognize that the Holy See has taken soundings and is better positioned to know the mind of the worldwide episcopate than are the theologians who have raised critical questions. Finally, it should be noted that the teaching of the pope is a decisive ingredient in the universal and ordinary magisterium. Speaking for the episcopal college as its head, the successor of Peter can solidify the consensus by his own authoritative interpretation of it, somewhat as Peter gave conceptual and verbal solidity to the faith of the Twelve when he spoke for them in his confession at Caesarea Philippi.

Whether the decision of “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” is to be accepted on a motive of faith can still be legitimately discussed. The pope and the cardinal have not called for an act of divine or theological faith, but simply for a firm assent. But inasmuch as this assent is to be given to a teaching contained in the deposit of faith, it seems hardly distinguishable from an act of faith. The de fide status of the doctrine, however, has not been so clearly taught that one may accuse those who fail to accept it of heresy. As yet no canonical penalties have been applied against dissenters, but if they “pertinaciously reject” the teaching, they would no doubt make themselves liable to a “just penalty” by virtue of canon law (Canon 1371.1).

Dulles: "According to the first and second Vatican Councils, Christ equipped the church with a Petrine office precisely in order to prevent the people of God or the episcopate from falling into discord."

If one compares the grounds for this teaching with the evidence given for Catholic doctrines such as the immaculate conception, the assumption and papal infallibility, the biblical and traditional basis for the nonordination of women would seem to be firmer. This doctrine is solidly grounded in Scripture. From the earliest centuries it has been in peaceful possession throughout Catholic Christianity; it has been constantly observed in the practice of the church, confirmed by canon law and by the virtually unanimous agreement of the fathers and doctors who have dealt with the question.

Whether one accepts the recent pronouncements of the Holy See on this question depends in great measure on the extent to which one trusts the authoritative teaching office. It is my judgment that in matters such as this, where plausible arguments can be made for contrary views, it is imperative to have a doctrinal authority capable of settling the matter. According to the first and second Vatican Councils, Christ equipped the church with a Petrine office precisely in order to prevent the people of God or the episcopate from falling into discord.

The decision of certain Anglican churches to admit women to the priesthood functioned as a catalyst, giving new urgency to the question within Roman Catholicism. Many Catholics and non-Catholics were beginning to ask whether the Catholic Church might not follow suit. If the magisterium had remained silent, some bishop might have ventured to ordain a woman, claiming that the ordination was valid by divine law, as occurred in the Episcopal Church some 25 years ago. The issue had to be clarified, and no one but the pope, speaking in communion with the college of bishops, was in a position to speak with full authority.

Some Catholics are of the opinion that the authorities should not have spoken until a consensus emerged through free discussion in the church. The evidence does not, however, suggest that a longer period of unfettered debate would have brought about a consensus or furthered the interests of truth. Public opinion in the church can easily be swayed by secular trends and ideologies that are alien to the authentic Catholic heritage. As in matters of sexual ethics, so in the question of gender and priesthood, the contemporary climate of opinion is predominantly hostile to the biblical and Catholic heritage. If the church were to yield to the pressures of public opinion and political correctness, it would betray its mission and forfeit its capacity to speak prophetically to the world. Continuing to uphold the revelation given to it in Christ and the Scriptures, as handed down in sacred tradition, the church must be prepared to risk unpopularity and to become, if necessary, a “sign of contradiction.”

I do not mean to suggest that the church should embark on a course of anti-feminism. The recent popes, beginning with John XXIII, have reckoned the emancipation of women as one of the “signs of the times” through which God continues to speak to the church today. (See note 25 below.) But the signs of the times are to be discerned, according to Vatican II, in the light of the Gospel, as interpreted by the living church. (See note 26 below.)

Dulles: "While the equal dignity of men and women is clearly established in official teaching, it remains to be shown how the true worth and talents of women can be adequately respected and utilized if women are not eligible for priestly and episcopal orders. The question whether women can be ordained to the diaconate requires further exploration."

In the course of history, new and valid insights into social realities have frequently spawned radical movements that would subvert the values of Christian civilization. For example, the doctrine of human rights that surfaced in the 18th century gave rise to excesses such as the Jacobinism of the French Revolution. Such excesses, however, do not negate the truths that lie at the basis of the movements themselves. In the American Constitution and its Bill of Rights, we have a moderate assertion of human rights that can be reconciled with the Christian heritage. The present-day movement for an alteration of church teaching on women’s ordination is not necessarily a sign of radical feminism, since some radical feminists reject the whole idea of ordained priesthood, while others maintain that a church of women can ordain its own priests without regard for official doctrine. Moderate feminism, avoiding such extremes, can be a healthy and promising movement in the church. It can promote the dignity and status of women in fidelity to the Catholic tradition, with due regard to Scripture and due respect for the living magisterium, which speaks with the authority of Christ. In faith we may be confident that such a course will be the most fruitful in enabling both men and women to realize their highest potentialities.

Legitimate questions can still be raised. Because the biblical and historical evidence is complex and at some points obscure, doubts can arise about the meaning and force of certain texts from Scripture and the church fathers. The so-called “iconic” or “symbolic” argument, in the forms hitherto proposed, may be in need of refinement in order to increase its persuasive force. As for the teaching of the magisterium, it remains to be clarified whether the doctrine is to be believed by an act of divine and Catholic faith. It would be desirable if further information were offered regarding the thinking of the bishops throughout the world and the binding character that they attribute to the doctrine. While the equal dignity of men and women is clearly established in official teaching, it remains to be shown how the true worth and talents of women can be adequately respected and utilized if women are not eligible for priestly and episcopal orders. The question whether women can be ordained to the diaconate requires further exploration. Further study may be needed to determine whether women can hold jurisdiction, and if so, under what conditions. In my opinion a calm and open discussion of issues such as these is not only legitimate but, if conducted without acrimony, could clarify and advance the doctrine of the church.

The conclusions of this paper can be summarized in four brief statements:

1. In view of the force of the convergent argument and the authority of the papal office, Catholics can and should give the full assent that the pope has called for.

2. Because the official teaching runs against the prevailing climate of opinion and because plausible objections have been widely publicized, it is inevitable that a significant number of Catholics in a country such as our own will fail to assent.

3. Those who disagree with the approved teaching, while they are entitled to propose their difficulties, should refrain from treating the question as doctrinally undecided and should abstain from strident advocacy. Pressures for doctrinal change at this point would be futile and even detrimental since they would provoke countermeasures on the part of church authorities. The net result would be to divide the church against itself.

4. The pastoral leadership of the church, recognizing the complexity of the theological issues and the inevitability of dissenting views, should be patient with Catholics who feel unable to accept the approved position. While assuring the integrity of Catholic doctrine, the bishops should show understanding for dissenters who exhibit good will and avoid disruptive behavior. Such pastoral consideration, however, should not be taken as a license to contest or call into doubt the tradition of the church, confirmed as it is by recent pronouncements of exceptional weight.

Dulles: "The pastoral leadership of the church, recognizing the complexity of the theological issues and the inevitability of dissenting views, should be patient with Catholics who feel unable to accept the approved position."

Notes

(1) John Paul II, “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis”: Apostolic Letter on Ordination of Women, Origins 24 (June 9, 1994): 49-52; quotation from 51.

(2) See Emmanuel Doronzo, Tractatus Dogmaticus de Ordine 3 (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1962), 406-16; Haye van der Meer, Women Priests in the Catholic Church? (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1973), 46-99; Manfred Hauke, Women in the Priesthood? (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1986), 404-68.

(3) The period since the Reformation has not been extensively studied, but some indications are given in Ludwig Ott, Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte Vol. 4, Part 5, “Das Weihesakrament” (Freiburg: Herder, 1969), 165-66. See also Hauke, Women in the Priesthood? 468.

(4) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Donum Veritatis”: Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian, 30, Origins 20 (July 5, 1990): 117-26, at 123.

(5) Council of Trent, Sess. XXII, Decree on the Sacrifice of the Mass, Canon 2 (DS 1752); Sess. XXIII, Doctrine on the Sacrament of Order, Chap. 1 (DS 1764).

(6) John Paul II, “Dominicae Cenae”: Mystery and Worship of the Holy Eucharist, 2, Origins 9 (March 27, 1980): 653-66, at 655.

(7) Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Inter Insigniores”: On the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood, 4, Origins 6 (Feb. 3, 1977): 519-24, at 521. Cardinal Ratzinger emphatically makes the same point in his commentary on “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” “Grenzen Kirchlicher Vollmacht,” “Internationale Katholische Zeitshrift: Communio” 23 (1994): 337-45, esp. 340-41.

(8) Pontifical Biblical Commission, “Can Women Be Priests?” Origins 6 (July 1, 1976): 92-96; quotations from 95 and 96. According to an editor’s note, the members at the plenary session of the commission voted 12-5 that biblical grounds alone are not enough to preclude the possibility of ordaining women.

(9) In recent exegetical literature some argue that a woman named Junia is listed among the apostles in Romans 16:7. According to the Revised Standard Version the text reads: “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are men of note among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me.” Although the best Greek manuscripts give the name Junias in masculine form, it is possible to follow a minority reading, in which case Andronicus and Junia would probably be a husband-and-wife team. It is debatable whether they are being named as apostles or simply designated as enjoying a high reputation among the apostles. If they are themselves named as “apostles,” the term “apostle” is here being used not in the sense of those who had seen the Lord and been officially commissioned as witnesses of the Gospel, but in a broad sense of the term as itinerant missionaries. See Francis Martin, The Feminist Question (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 100, and Manfred Hauke, Forum Katholische Theologie 11 (1995): 270-98, at 287-88.

(10) The letter of Pope Gelasius does not deal directly with the ordination of women, but in the reasons it gives for rejecting the service of women at the altar it implicitly teaches that women cannot be priests. See van der Meer, Women Priests, 93; Hauke, Women in the Priesthood? 423.

(11) See Hauke, Women in the Priesthood?, 445-68; Joseph A. Wahl, “The Exclusion of Woman From Holy Orders,” STD dissertation abstract (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America, 1959), 45-58.

(12) See Augustine Thompson, “Hildegard of Bingen on Gender and the Priesthood,” Church History 63 (1994): 349-64.

(13) Edith Stein, Collected Works, Vol. 2, “Essays on Women” (Washington, D.C.: ICS Studies, 1987), esp. pp. 82-85. The historical context is well explained in Hilda C. Graef, The Scholar and the Cross: The Life and Work of Edith Stein (Westminster, Md.: Newman, 1955).

(14) Paul VI, “Women—Disciples and Co-Workers,” Origins 4 (May 1, 1975): 718-19.

(15) Paul VI, Letter to Archbishop Donald Coggan, Nov. 30, 1975; Origins 6 (Aug. 12, 1976): 131.

(16) Nor, would it seem, are women to be numbered among the “proistamenoi” (1 Thes. 5:12) and “hegoumenoi” (Heb. 13:7, 24). See Martin, Feminist Question, 111.

(17) Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theol., Suppl. 39.1.

(18) Innocent III, Letter of Dec. 11, 1210 to the bishops of Palencia and Burgos, included in “Corpus Iuris, Decret.” Lib. 5, Tit. 38, De Paenit., Ch. 10 Nova; ed. A. Friedberg, Vol. 2, Col. 886-87; quoted in “Inter Insigniores,” Note 11.

(19) John Paul II, “Mulieris Dignitatem”: On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, 26; Origins 18 (Oct. 6, 1988): 261-83, at 279.

(20) See especially his “Letter to Women” written in preparation for the U.N. World Conference on Women in September 1995; text in Origins 25 (July 27, 1995): 137-43.

(21) See Note 14 above.

(22) Text in Origins 19 (June 8, 1989): 64.

(23) Ratzinger, “Grenzen Kirchlicher Vollmacht,” 344-45.

(24) Vatican II, “Lumen Gentium” 25; profession of faith of 1989 (Origins 18 [March 16, 1989] 661, 663, at 663); “Donum Veritatis,” 16, p. 121.

(25) John XXIII, “Pacem in Terris,” 41; text in Joseph Gremillion, ed., The Gospel of Peace and Justice (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1976), 209-10.

(26) Vatican II, “Gaudium et Spes,” 4.

 

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A Fielder
1 month 4 weeks ago

It is insulting that Dulles whitewashes the work of Aquinas. In (5) above, he describes that [Aquinas] "holds that a woman cannot be an apt subject for receiving the sacrament of orders for symbolic reasons, namely the lack of natural resemblance between them and what holy orders must signify."

What Aquinas actually wrote is that "since it is not possible in the female sex to signify eminence of degree, for a woman is in the state of subjection, it follows that she cannot receive the sacrament of Order."

Aquinas opines that men are qualitative better; women are in a state of natural subjection, and so only men can be priests. Dulles shamefully tries to excuse what is clearly gender discrimination by obfuscation and denial.

If anything, Aquinas offers proof that the entire tradition is subject cultural norms which are grounded in gender discrimination.

Luis Gutierrez
1 month 4 weeks ago

Agree. The church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," but not necessarily patriarchal. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will liberate the church from patriarchal gender ideology (i.e., male headship, gender binary), which is not divine revelation.

Oz Jewel
1 month 4 weeks ago

Thomas Aquinas was a man who used his not inconsiderable natural intelligence to attempt the task of comparing the pagan writings of Plato and the pagan writings of Aristotle with the writings in the Judeo Christian institution of his day.
In the mystical experience towards the end of his life he had it revealed to him just how worthless all this scribbling had been, proclaimed it to be straw and left in his will that is be burned at his death. He, and we, were betrayed.

I remind everyone who participates in Aquinasolitary that he included in his groundless speculation that after the sperm had combined with an egg to make a male baby, the soul was put into it in about 40 days and after the combination had made a female baby, the soul was created and put into it at 70-80 days.

How do like that as gospel truth?

Nora Bolcon
1 month 3 weeks ago

I know but tell that to A pro lifer and they have a heart attack. We have been a church of changing beliefs and doctrines and laws and traditions throughout our history, and this ban against women was never claimed as ex cathedra, so it is not infallible and therefore it is completely changeable.

We as a church must repent our sins of misogyny before we become the church that hated itself to death.

Also, this cardinal's nonsense that there was agreement among the bishops on the belief women could not be ordained the same as men is total bull. Several bishops throughout our history and even up to now ordained women to priesthood because they believed so strongly against this ban against women. These priests were later invalidated by popes but the fact that official bishops of the church ordained them proves disagreement on the subject. Also the only way to prove you have voluntary agreement of all bishops on any dogma, as infallible, is by an official vote. This is what is required to make an infallible dogma:. Proof there exists voluntary agreement, and not commanded or ordered agreement from any pope, of all bishops, from all over the world, for a long period of time like at least 50 years of agreement, continuously. There has never been a vote as to whether women should be ordained priests in our entire history and it is highly unlikely that, in any generation or age of the church, agreement could have been procured against women's same ordination as men, from all the bishops of the world voluntarily, and it absolutely could not be obtained now.

The other dogmas this cardinal compared thus argument to don't qualify as accurate comparisons because the ones about Mary were ex cathedra, as made by a Pope, and the other ones regarding Trinity etc. have really had no disagreement in the past or present by bishops but there has always been some bishops who believed women could be ordained priests. It is also quite likely in the first hundred or so years of the church that we did ordain women both priests and bishops. There is some evidence we may have and no proof we definitely did not. An absence of concrete evidence on any subject from two thousand years ago does not equate to that something not having existed. We must remember we don't actually have concrete evidence that Jesus Christ actually existed and that he isn't just a story. Faith comes into play here along with evidence surrounding the events, at the time, that we do still have. There was no reason the hierarchy would not have ordained women priests back when they first started ordaining presbyters to priesthood since there were women presbyters in the church at that time, and long after it.

Vince Killoran
1 month 4 weeks ago

This is a very thin argument, i.e., "tradition" and the old boys club.

This line, in particular, caught my eye: "If the church were to yield to the pressures of public opinion and political correctness, it would betray its mission and forfeit its capacity to speak prophetically to the world." How sad that the late Cardinal chalked the case for women's ordination to public opinion and PC. When church leaders fold their arms and refuse to engage with "the sign of the times" they are far from speaking prophetically.

J. Calpezzo
1 month 4 weeks ago

A load of crap.

Nora Bolcon
1 month 4 weeks ago

Exactly! Thank you!

This is what happens when old cardinals get scared, one paranoid lie after another spouts forth from their mouths.

First off, founded in scripture actually means that the words have to actually be plainly stated in the scripture, not interpreted to whatever ridiculous lengths the pope, any pope(s) may want to stretch them in any age.

I have to question why America Magazine is throwing this dead cardinal's nonsense ridden, scripturally ignorant, argument at us, as though we would have any respect for it. However, I will debate this nonsense since ignorance loves to find its fuel from nonsense put forth as rational and honest discussion in our religion.

The Truth (since we clearly can't count on our cardinals to stand up for what is actually written in scripture and in the gospels which we used to consider dogma, as it was written, in Catholicism):.

No where in the entire new testament is there any word or action that can be accurately described as ordination done by Christ or the apostles. This is fact not opinion. Also, there are Female deacons and presbyters and even apostles described in the book of Acts. So again the fact that the most recent popes, being personally afflicted with the spiritual malady of misogyny (based on their writings and statements) having decided to interpret the scriptures in a way which discounts only the sections which disprove their case tells us only that they are not an unbiased source for scripture understanding.

More truth:. Never did the Apostle Peter or any other of the original twelve ever write or state according to all scriptures that he or any of the original twelve were belonging to any priesthood other than the royal priesthood which he, The Apostle Peter, professed all other believers in Christ equally belonged.

More truth:. There is no gospel that explicitly states that women and other disciples of Christ were not at the Last Supper and John actually has us believing all the disciples (which accurately translates to any follower male or female) as not only being there but fully participating in all rituals such as the foot washing and assumed First Holy Eucharist.

The Gospels are written in the Jewish perspective which included the knowledge that all Seder Meals (which is what is taking place at the last supper a Great Seder Passover Meal) are meals that by Mosaic Laws must include all family and close friends. This includes women and children. For St. Mary, the mother of Christ and St. Mary Magdalene to be able to take part in the traditional, and obligatory, Seder Meal, and be present at the foot of the cross the next afternoon, they would have had to stay in Jerusalem that night before. For Jesus to follow Mosaic instructions written in Exodus demanding all members of the family take part in sharing the sacrificial lamb, he would have had to invite his Mother and his constant companion Mary Magdalene. A Messiah who rejects his family at Passover would be proving himself a fraud by doing so which is why we know they were there and why the writers of the gospels felt no need to spell it out. Seder Meals are always family meals. Let us remember, since all disciples male and female would have shared in the Passover sacrificial meal, then when Christ says to them all, male and female, "Do this in memory of me", he is telling this to the women as well as the men.

Judaism does not outright state that a Levite woman could not be a priest as long as she followed the blood laws. However, these laws would have hindered the amount of times any child bearing woman could have served as a priest greatly. Since service was done according to lottery, even for male Levites, and this meant that not even every Levite born male may necessarily get the opportunity to serve in their lifetime, they probably figured they may as well just leave it to the males and obviously there is sexism present even in Jewish culture some too.

Jesus picked the twelve male apostles, according to two different Gospels, and stated by Jesus in both, not as priests, but only as judges for the twelve tribes of Israel to Judge along side him. Why? Because males only can pass down their rights to inherit by blood lineage. In this way the promise made to Abraham that his descendants would be limitless is fulfilled. The Jews inherit the church Of Christ thru blood, by the twelve containing both the blood of Abraham and The Holy Spirit of God through their faith in Christ, and through partaking in the blood of lamb, which is the blood of God because Jesus has only his father's blood which is not the blood of Abraham. Jesus is a descendant thru his mother's flesh and blood but she can't pass down lineage. A Gentile of any origin could never have been one of the original apostles because they have the wrong blood so this argument for keeping women from priesthood because they do not fit the qualifications of one of the original 12 equally disqualifies almost all of our present and past clergy and our current and all past popes except Peter as invalidly ordained priests.

In Matt 7:12 Christ clearly commands all apostles and disciples as to how they must treat each other to be valid followers of Him "So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up all the law and the prophets". Notice there are no exceptions written here. There is left no room for any form of discrimination, not by gender, race, ethnicity, none. That is the truth, and for any shepherd, of the people of Christ, to interpret that command as allowing any flesh based discrimination for any reason, including sacramental reasons, risks enraging the Lord Jesus, Himself, as this is a complete nullification of what Christ clearly stated.

For the record, heresy is forgivable in Christ, if it upholds justice and truth. However, blasphemy and the intentional twisting of Gospel truth for one's own misogynistic agenda may not be. This is true whether one is a Pope anointed by God, (note King Saul was anointed by God but still turned to evil and caused his own destruction.) or not. God takes no one's free will away from them and the wages of unrepentant sin remain upon the sinner until he repents and changes his way.

I and many will never assent to coerced misogyny but will continue to aggressively to fight against this abuse of women in our church until we are fully rid of all bias against women for all ordained and other ministries afforded to our brothers. Sexism which includes all forms of discrimination against women is sexual abuse and no amount of nonsense is going to distract us from that truth.

arthur mccaffrey
1 month 4 weeks ago

a beautifully written, clear and concise expose of the Church's position on the issue. Nevertheless, the word that springs to mind at the end is "tautology"- e.g "the Church has traditionally stated that ordination of women is impossible"--why is that? because of the tradition!
If the Church gets to make the rules of the discourse, as well as the content of the discourse, we will just go round in circles. Reminds me of a parent saying to a child who questions parental discipline with a stubborn 'Why?'--"Because I say so!"

Tondalaya Gillespie
1 month 4 weeks ago

Tradition is often morally wrong and. I cannot fathom how intelligent men can ascribe to this particular one, it is so denigrating to women. And papal infallibility is such a canard. It was a political fiat given because the pope thought he was losing the papal states (ie his authority). God has given us a brain when we try to use it the church reaches into some kind of cauldron of thought control, to keep the flock in lockstep. The catechism ask why did God make you, He made you to be thinking human beings. The age of Galileo lives on!

Bruce Byrolly
1 month 3 weeks ago

Ms. Gillespie,

I am entirely in favor of women priests now.

Theology must be part of the discussion, or it will never happen.

We have to speak to the opponents in terms they can understand.

It's going to take 75 years.

Meanwhile, I have to get out there and console and heal our world.

Bruce Byrolly
Cambridge MD

bruce.byrolly.32@gmail.com

Linda Rooney
1 month 4 weeks ago

My first reaction is "why the heck is this being reprinted 22 yrs. later?" Is it to show that nothing has changed? Is it to remind all thinking Catholics that with regard to our religion we are to reject our minds? Is it to challenge theologically educated men and women that their educations are in vain? Is it to shore up a faltering Jesuit magazine? Why the heck are we listening to the misogynist convert, Dulles, on this topic? Shame on you America.

Oz Jewel
1 month 4 weeks ago

Well, with your infallible mind, explain for us the mystery of the Trinity. Give us a glimpse of your genius and make it plain just how someone can be 100% human and 100% divine, the incarnate second person of the Trinity.
Tell us clearly, so we dullards can understand, how it could just as well have been a female sex person that Our Lady produced as her virginally conceived child.

We are save as a result of a historically actual series of events - the reports of them are necessarily in language, pictures or performance and lack more than they contain of the original event and person.

In many ways, theology is bunk.

J Jones
1 month 4 weeks ago

Linda, my first thought was the same question. My second thought was this possible answer: was it published as an assurance from these Jesuits that they are benevolet patriarchs who will be "patient with dissenters who demonstrate good faith and are not disruptive" through "strident advocacy".

The most powerful Jesuit in the world is also the most powerful Roman Catholic in the world.

The most powerful Jesuit/Catholic in the world just said women cannot be deacons and told 300 of the most powerful Catholic women in the world that, if they didn't like it, they were free to leave the Church.

It is not a small detail that America Magazine was quick to offer "the fact" that Francis was joking. I have no doubt that many of the women present and many US readers in this age of Trump's "jokes" recognized the dynamic of aides who mute the volume on leaders who overtly remind others of the power the penultimate leader/institution/lesser leaders wield.

The magazine and website published by the religious community of the most powerful Catholic in the world has just published 669 words on legislation that determines at what point in time and under what conditions the State will compel females of all ages to remain pregnant and no more than 2 of those 669 words were "woman", all 668 words written in a call to strip girls and their parents, teenage girls and women of their Constitutional right to make their own decisions in the safety and privacy of licensed healthcare settings about what will happen inside their bodies.

Rather than feeling reassured that the editors of the magazine published an article by a Jesuit encouraging his fellow hierarchs to "be patient with dissenters of good faith who are not disruptive", I wonder if it isn't also a warning shot across the bow of the ship captained exclusively by men who, by virtue of the arbitrariness of fetal development of male genitalia, are not subject to these edicts of theirs. (Again, the editors who published THIS piece at this MOMENT are the same editors who just wrote an article in support of the State compelling women to remain pregnant and they used the word "woman" only and exactly two times out 669 total words. These are casually, corrosively, consciously sexist leaders.)

I know I find it significantly easier to announce, under penalty of consequences I will mete out, a demand for calm and cooperative responses when I am not one of the persons impacted.

Marina Bacchetti
1 month 4 weeks ago

I trust the authority of the Word, the Gospel, of the Son of the Living God. He chose the most unlikely of men for his apostles. He lived, worked, taught, and socialized with the marginalized. Point is Jesus was not about splitting theological or legal hairs, not about exclusion but inclusion. If we only follow Him, we will open our eyes, minds, and hearts to change the priesthood from an exclusive club of men to an inclusive and diverse group of ministers who serve and lead our church and our Catholic faith. No where in the gospels does Jesus exclude women, no where in them do we find a strict directive from Him in this regard. He must be quite amused with our prelates getting all hot and bothered over the possibility of ordaining women priests.

Michael Bindner
1 month 4 weeks ago

According to the Apostle Paul, all who saw the Risen Lord and shared that witness had the title of Apostle. Mary Magdalene was first, Junia and Priscilla were specifically mentioned by Paul and that witnesses came in married pairs, so half were women. Priscilla co-founded the Roman community (Paul did not mention Cephas) and was regarded by history as a Presbyter. When her husband was tasked with pastoring another gathering, she did not accompany him, leaving her as sole bishop in her own right.

The Mass is modeled after both Seder and Shabbat, which are home centered, not assembly centered. Women certainly can say the blessing now. If the source of the tradition evolved, so can we.

I will not argue that tradition excluded, but a traditional error is still an error. Theological reasoning must consider the fact that there is no natural difference between male and female souls. Male jealousy of procreation is envy, not reasoning. Magisterial simply means from the throne. The throne can and will change its mind. Also, arguing from authority is a logical fallacy.

Later Avery Cardinal Dulles was good to raise the issue, but his loyalty beat out both his fortitude and live for his sister's. Presbyter Priscilla undoubtedly had a few words with him in Heaven.

Now, for the ten points.

Michael Bindner
1 month 4 weeks ago

1. Arguing from authority proves nothing. Jesus did not make up the rituals of bread and wine. They pre-existed in Seder and Shabbat. His sacrifice added new meaning to these practices, transforming his flesh and blood into real food.
2. St. Priscilla cannot be defrocked almost 20 centuries later.
3. Victor's justice goes both ways. In 1922, the superior Oecumenical Patriarch and the Great Synod recognized Anglican orders, which makes them an Autocephalus Great Church competent to regulate its own orders within Catholicism. Rome is only the Western Patriarchy. New Rome has been over all since Constantine. Arguing toward a predetermined result is good Scholasticism, nut not good reason.
4. The divine order in marriage is a social phenomenon, not an essential. In modern marriage, gay or straight, parties are equal and the old analogy falls. To claim the past shows God's will is superstition. So is the Charleton Heston version of the Ten Commandments. We now know that all of the Torah was consolidated during the Exile.
5. The perpetual virginity of Mary was an artifact of the idealization of asexual idealism in the classical church. That it is based in make believe is demonstrated by the pious musings of St. Jerome regarding the Holy Family. The Latin Church traded Marcus Aurelius for Christ.
6. Women can preside at Seder and Shabbat, which prefigures the Mass. The symbolism around the required maleness of the priest is artifice. It was made up by men, not Christ. Mary Magdalene is also always considered the first Apostle and higher than the Twelve (who all had wives, as did Jesus).
7. Birth envy is no reason mot to ordain women.
8. Politics and Superstition. Since New Rome recognizes Canterbury, the argument on the East is shredded. Change will come to all in a global world. With God, all things are possible, especially ordaining women.
9. Arguing from authority is a surrender to illogic. Again, the primacy of Peter is in New Rome. While the Latin Patriarch can say mot now, he can never say never. As we say in American Government, one Congress can not bind another.
10. We do not need the clergy to do our thinking for us. Authority does not make error true. The sky is still blue. Also, our baptism is equal to the baptism of the clergy. They have no monopoly on either grace or truth. Like any government, they only have the authority we give them. Their money comes from us as well. It always has. That the authority of the Church has changed with time is evident in its journey from Gregory XV whining about democracy and Garibaldi to Poo No no on infallibility, the doctrinal oppression of Pius X in opposition to the spectre of modernism to the persecution of John Courtland Murray for proposing the freedom of conscience adopted (incompletely and grudgingly by some, including St. John Paul) at Vatican II in Dignitatis Humanae. The female deaconate is the next step. It cannot and will not be the last.

Michael Bindner
1 month 4 weeks ago

On the summary points, we reserve the right to think for ourselves, even as we surrendered it previously; official teaching can change as officials change; growth always is painful, which does not make it less necessary; and it is not the laity who should be worried once it has become woke.

J Jones
1 month 4 weeks ago

Michael, you are a fabulous resource. I look for your writings each time I come here.

Dinesh Martyn
1 month 3 weeks ago

Hi Michael, is it accepted now that Jesus had a wife? What is this based on?

David Madsen
1 month 4 weeks ago

It is ironic that this essay by Avery Dulles SJ arrived in my e-mail inbox just as I was finishing the article #MineToo by Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu in the April 29th issue of America. To be honest, Dulles' piece comes off as almost pharasaical--legally correct but soulless and ultimately judgmental. To quote the bracelets, "WWJD"? I suspect Jesus (and hopefully the Church someday) would line up with Gonzalez Andrieu. To continue the unjust and damaging marginalization of women will have lethal consequences for Catholicism.

Rhett Segall
1 month 4 weeks ago

Thank you for reprinting Fr. Dulles' still timely article. He maintains a creative tension with Scripture, Tradition, and the Magisterium, the Spirit's mode of revelation. Keeping bread and wine as the exclusive elements of the Eucharist, as Jesus did, is a valid analogy for keeping men for the priesthood. Some have felt those symbols were culturally bound and it would be valid to use saki and rice. But the Church has held this is not the Lord's intention. Also, the example of the exclusive role of women as child bearers is clarifying regarding God's assignment of gender tasks. I miss Fr. Dulles!

James M.
1 month 4 weeks ago

Arguments from “immemorial tradition” are absolutely worthless, because recent Popes have reversed “immemorial traditions” when they felt like doing so. If the death penalty, which the Church tolerated, practiced & defended for 1700 years, can be declared impermissible, even though it clearly falls under faith and morals; then it is useless to pretend that the Church (1) is infallible in teaching on faith and morals; (2) is trustworthy & reliable; (3) sincerely cares a straw about “immemorial custom”.

If one immemorial custom can be dropped, then all can. Which means that there is no reason to believe the Popes when they condemn homosexuality or abortion. They used to condemn religious liberty and usury. No longer. So there is no reason to suppose the current condemnations of abortion & homosexuality will not also be dropped. But if they may be dropped in time to come, there is no reason to respect them now.

Rhett Segall
1 month 3 weeks ago

James; self defense is at the root of the justification for capital punishment. Given the secure conditions of incarceration today that concern is ameliorated. If society was unable to control murderers than capital punishment would be morally permissible. Regarding usury, it is still immoral under the form of loan sharking. Your point on religious liberty is accurate. However I don't think it can be demonstrated that the various sources of Revelation always objected to it. Jesus, e.g., praised the faith of the Roman centurion, a pagan.

Todd Witherell
1 month 3 weeks ago

This is nothing more than sacralized misogyny. Shame on Cardinal Avery Dulles for writing it, and shame on you, America Magazine, for trying to resurrect it. Send it back to the trash heap where it belongs.

Todd Witherell
1 month 3 weeks ago

This is nothing more than sacralized misogyny. Shame on Cardinal Avery Dulles for writing it, and shame on you, America Magazine, for trying to resurrect it. Send it back to the trash heap where it belongs.

Franklin Uroda
1 month 3 weeks ago

In short: Men are, and will always be, the Chefs. Women are, and will always be the Waiters/Servers, or Extraordinary Ministers, although there is talk of "Men Only" here also.

James Riley
1 month 3 weeks ago

The refusal to ordain women to the priesthood is quite simply immoral; just as Gandhi noted the refusal to allow untouchable individuals into the Hindu temples was immoral

James Riley
1 month 3 weeks ago

The refusal to ordain women to the priesthood is quite simply immoral; just as Gandhi noted the refusal to allow untouchable individuals into the Hindu temples was immoral

James Riley
1 month 3 weeks ago

The refusal to ordain women to the priesthood is quite simply immoral; just as Gandhi noted the refusal to allow untouchable individuals into the Hindu temples was immoral

Bruce Gillette
1 month 3 weeks ago

Racism is discrimination based on the color of skin. Sexism is discrimination based on the shape of skin. Sexism found in the church's story (biblical and tradition) does not justify it continuation today.

Those who opposing women as priests misread not only the Bible, but also failed to read some top biblical scholars, including some top Roman Catholic scholars. *The Catholic Biblical Quarterly*, (CBQ) is the authoritative journal of the Catholic Biblical Association of America, the association of leading biblical scholars teaching in Catholic colleges, universities and seminaries. In the 1979, volume 41, *CBQ* included a report titled "Women and Priestly Ministry: The New Testament Evidence" by the Executive Board of Catholic Biblical Association's Task Force on the Role of Women in Early Christianity:

"An examination of the biblical evidence shows the following: that there is positive evidence in the New Testament that ministries were shared by various groups and that women did in fact exercise roles and functions later associated with priestly ministry; that the arguments against the admission of women to priestly ministry based on the praxis of Jesus and the apostles, disciplinary regulations, and the created order cannot be sustained. The conclusion we draw, then, is that the New Testament evidence, while not decisive by itself, points toward the admission of women to priestly ministry." (pp. 612-613).

Another quote from that same excellent Bible study: "The assertion that the attitude of Jesus and the apostles provides a permanent norm excluding women from ordained priestly ministry in the Church presents difficulties of both a theoretical and historical kind. The most serious logical difficulty lies in the claim that the source for such a norm is the intention of Jesus. Only a conscious theological decision could provide clear imperative; but it cannot be shown that a theological decision was made to exclude women from priestly ministry. All that is known is that there were no women, Gentiles, Samaritans, or, evidently, slaves among the Twelve; it is not possible to deduce from that a conscious intention rather than unconscious social and cultural motivation. That becomes clear when we pose the question whether choosing the Twelve Jesus intended to establish a criterion for office in respect to sex, but not in respect to race, ethnic identity, or social status... In historical roles which individual members of the Twelve exercised, during Jesus' ministry and in leadership positions of the earliest Church, they were always part of a wider circle not restricted to males. In Jesus' ministry, the Twelve were among the followers, or disciples, of Jesus who included both women and men (Mark 15:40-41; Luke 8:1-3) and who, after the resurrection, formed the nucleus of the primitive Church and provided its leadership" (pp. 610-611).

The World Communion of Reformed Churches' 2017 General Assembly adopted “The Declaration of Faith on the Ordination of Women." It makes for very good reading for those who are open the Holy Spirit working through others: http://wcrc.ch/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/DeclarationOfFaithOnWomensOrdination-EN.pdf

Jay Zamberlin
1 month 3 weeks ago

Thanks, Bruce, for reminding us about "experts" and those who would, like you, inform us about Jesus' sexism. Since you are so impressed with Reformed Churches, why not just join them??? I'm sure they'd love to have another man of insight and "progressive" sensiblities.

You must have a real problem with the God of the Old Testament. He/she not only did not allow women to be priests, one had to be not only Hebrew but of a certain tribe, that of Levi. What a sexist xenophobe racist bigot we serve. (well, we don't "serve" anyone in the modernist Church, we're there to be noticed, experiece our own wonderfulness, and discuss saving the world, in a PC self indulgent virtue signalling way, of course).

Jay Zamberlin
1 month 3 weeks ago

Let the carping, accompanied by profuse wringing of the hands, begin! After some are finished reminding us how unfair the Church is, how antiquated, how patriarchal (and, btw, thank God)......you can console yourselves with a really fine screed in this same edition regarding so-called Climate Change. That should warm your "progressive" cockles right up!! Don't dismay, all is not lost, you have a Jesuit as Pope now!!

Dr Robert Dyson
1 month 3 weeks ago

"As I have mentioned, the pope, invoking his authority as successor of Peter, declared 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 faithful."

Hmm. As I never tire of pointing out, Pope Boniface VIII (Unam sanctam; 1302) stated unequivocally and formally that it is absolutely necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff. His actual words are: " ... subesse Romano Pontifici omni humanae creaturae declaramus, dicimus, definimus, et pronunciamus omnino esse de necessitate salutis." There could hardly be a clearer and more authoritative papal definition - "declaramus, dicimus, definimus, et pronunciamus" - and no amount of weasel words will make it go away; yet since Vatican II the Church does not believe or teach it. Why mention it here? Because it seems that we believe in infallibility when it suits us and not when it doesn't. If the papal prohibition of female ordintion is infallible, then so is Unam Sanctam, and if we don't have to regard Unam Sanctam as infallible, then we do not have to regard the papal prohibition of female ordination as infallible either. You can't have it both ways.

The Boniface VIII example is only one of many, by the way.

Todd Witherell
1 month 3 weeks ago

Fr. Andrew Greeley liked to point out that one of the most remarkable aspects of the Gospel stories about Jesus is his easy companionship with women, especially considering the historical era in which he lived. This also is different than the stories about both Socrates and the Buddha. Jesus is not afraid of women touching him, not afraid of women “with blood coming out of their wherever”, not afraid of whores, not afraid of women who have been married multiple times, not afraid of women who aren’t Jewish, not afraid of women who are caught in adultery, not afraid to have female friends and followers. As Fr. Greeley said, Jesus was a radical feminist given his time period.

And, as Dave Matthews sings in A Christmas Song,

Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried
Always out on his own
He met another Mary
Who for a reasonable fee
Less than reputable was known to be

His heart was full of love, love, love
love, love, love was all around

Avery Dulles was afraid of women.
Jesus was not.

Marina Bacchetti
1 month 3 weeks ago

Spot on and well said!

Todd Witherell
1 month 3 weeks ago

Fr. Andrew Greeley liked to point out that one of the most remarkable aspects of the Gospel stories about Jesus is his easy companionship with women, especially considering the historical era in which he lived. This also is different than the stories about both Socrates and the Buddha. Jesus is not afraid of women touching him, not afraid of women “with blood coming out of their wherever”, not afraid of whores, not afraid of women who have been married multiple times, not afraid of women who aren’t Jewish, not afraid of women who are caught in adultery, not afraid to have female friends and followers. As Fr. Greeley said, Jesus was a radical feminist given his time period.

And, as Dave Matthews sings in A Christmas Song,

Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried
Always out on his own
He met another Mary
Who for a reasonable fee
Less than reputable was known to be

His heart was full of love, love, love
love, love, love was all around

Avery Dulles was afraid of women.
Jesus was not.

Todd Witherell
1 month 3 weeks ago

Fr. Andrew Greeley liked to point out that one of the most remarkable aspects of the Gospel stories about Jesus is his easy companionship with women, especially considering the historical era in which he lived. This also is different than the stories about both Socrates and the Buddha. Jesus is not afraid of women touching him, not afraid of women “with blood coming out of their wherever”, not afraid of whores, not afraid of women who have been married multiple times, not afraid of women who aren’t Jewish, not afraid of women who are caught in adultery, not afraid to have female friends and followers. As Fr. Greeley said, Jesus was a radical feminist given his time period.

And, as Dave Matthews sings in A Christmas Song,

Not very much of his childhood was known
Kept his mother Mary worried
Always out on his own
He met another Mary
Who for a reasonable fee
Less than reputable was known to be

His heart was full of love, love, love
love, love, love was all around

Avery Dulles was afraid of women.
Jesus was not.

Patrick Nugent
1 month 3 weeks ago

If you’re looking for an instruction manual for driving thoughtful people out of the Catholic Church, you’ve struck gold.

Marina Bacchetti
1 month 3 weeks ago

Indeed. Perhaps that is what they (the prelates) really want. Because thinking Catholics are dangerous. Such radicals! And while they are at it they are showing the door to Jesus Himself, the ultimate radical. It makes me wonder what kind of understanding do they have of the gospel and, by the same token, what kind relationship do they have with Jesus. Because, by all appearances, it looks like they never made an effort to meet and know Him as well as to grow spiritually in their faith.

William McGovern
1 month 3 weeks ago

It seems the argument for male-only priests rests with the following:

1) the eleven disciples went to the mountain in Galilee when Jesus charged them to “Go, therefore, and make disciples disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” Since priests are charged as successors to these disciples and they were all male, Christ was sending a message that only males can be such disciples. This ignores the context of the time of a male-dominated culture and society.
2) Since this has remained tradition (although there may be some historical argument about it) for two thousand years, it must remain so. This despite a cultural change in which many recognize that including women in all aspects of church and sacramental life is the right thing to do in this day and age. That male-only clergy denies the Church of the gifts of half of the people to serve as ordained as well as denying women the opportunity to serve Christ in any capacity.
3). It is a settled, final matter that cannot be changed. This despite that many changes that have taken place over the last two thousand years (remember The ex-communication of Galileo or the change in the morality of the death penalty?)

Mark M
1 month 3 weeks ago

Thank you, Cardinal Dulles.
The clarity and precision and faith found in your writing is in stark contrast to the whining comments found here.
Big Yaawn.

Jay Zamberlin
1 month 3 weeks ago

Ha, you nailed it. People claiming they're heading for the door behind "no women" priests left a long time ago, or were never really Catholic in the first place. AmeriKa (the magazine) is the sine qua non of champions of "first world problems." Isn't it funny, the American woman enjoys the breadth of freedom above all of her sisters throughout the world, but studies sho she is the most unhappy, the most dissatisfied. Ponder that for a minute.

Jay Zamberlin
1 month 3 weeks ago

"Thinking Catholics" (so-called) - as some are referring to themselves here - left a long time ago, if not in body, in spirit. Maybe it is time to Catechize the faithful again, they don't seem to know what a priest is, i.e., we don't "offer sacrifice" any longer, we "sup at the table," so maybe, if that be the case, then you're right. 'Priest' is just Catholic-ese for "minister" and anyone can be a minister. Well, that would be in the altered Catholic universe so many find themselves in these days.

But per our traditions (which, aparently, so many of you despise) Christ is "the Great High Priest" accoriding to the order of Melchizedek. And the ordained the same, and they are called. Now, if one is a women of the Catholic Faith, and she is called but not ordained, then the whole Church, from the beginning, is a FRAUD. That would be the logical extension of your claim. God WOULD NOT call persons to the priesthood, only to frustrate them by way of their own church. It is funny, that none of the great female saints, and they were great, so many of them, NEVER bitched and moaned like this whiney and self involved generation of KATHLIKS...... sorry to be blunt.... but the truth should, one would hope, set one free. IOW, get over yourselves. Priesthood is service, and a service rendered in humble obedience to God's calling. Period.

Mister Mckee
1 month 3 weeks ago

Other Jesuit BIG GUNS =including my own thesis director- have also weighed in on the subject: with somewhat different conclusions
http://www.womenpriests.org/full-participation-of-women-in-the-life-of-the-catholic-church-by-edward-j-kilmartin-s-j-from-sexism-and-church-law-edited-by-james-a-coriden/

Mister Mckee
1 month 3 weeks ago

i.e. PHALLOCENTRIC CHRISTOMONISM is proving to be the downfall of the Roman Church.

Jay Zamberlin
1 month 3 weeks ago

Sure, that is why the Church has done so poorly over the last 2000 years. I mean, why do persons such as yourself, think the world revolves around you and your personal opinion. I mean, please, if you have the temerity and the mental acumen, how is it the Church has survived up to this point? Is the Church a supernatural or solely a man made institution would be a side question. Back up your statements with some intellectual firepower, aside from "woe are we" of the twenty first century. We suffer from "knowing too much" unlike our predecssors, poor slobs, who lived in "darkened" days. (you, know, ignorance, especially of that magnitude, is bliss) And, based on your theeries, so implied, people in a hundred years will view us, we could imaging, with equal lofted disdain or patronization. You talk big, and a little (unsuitably) "raw" -- now deal.

Patrick Nugent
1 month 3 weeks ago

Longevity proves nothing. Both Buddhism and Satan himself have lasted much longer. So have mosquitos, hemorrhoids, and prostitution. And in the unlikely event that the church does pass out of existence in another 2000 years, all those things, except possibly Buddhism, will still exist. (No disrespect to Buddhism—only referring to it here as an example of something to which this author might not want to apply the argument that longevity is a sign of divine authority.)

Jay Zamberlin
1 month 3 weeks ago

Listening to you wax philosophically demostrates, fully, this present generation's paucity of wisdom. Remarkably bereft of insight, respect or knowledge of history and the mission and character of the Church, and sorely lacking in prudence, you name it.
"Longevity" - first of all, is not, at all, the point. The point is the consistence and the homogeny of the Church regarding all of her doctrinal positions, aiding and abetting her triumph throughout those years. NOT stumbling over blocks. Triumph. The Church TRIUMPHANT. One billion Christians di not materialize out of thin air, nor by way of proper adherence by the Church to Politically Correct musings of resident twits.
Read about the Christians of the first centuries and the PRICE they paid, too often with their lives, often tortured, horrifically. Does one imagine that the gasping for air church of the Middle East of right now, or Nigeria, or China, or a dozen other places where people pay for their faith with their lives, Catholic or Orthodox, gives a scintilla of import or relevence to allusions to Buddishm and some of these false and empty cries about sexism (by others). Do you think the women of those churches waste one minute with these very void and self-involved lamentations. Is ANYONE, anyware impressed with someone's comparing the life and TRIUMPH of the Church through the centuries to the life of mosquitos, or prostitution. What sort of mind is so impressed with its own twaddle that they'd even dare mention the two in the same breath.

Patty Grant
1 month 3 weeks ago

For the second time in a few years, I have sat at a Mass while on vacation in another state barely understanding any words spoken by a foreign-born priest. Does the Catholic Church realize how insulting it is to a Catholic woman when the Church is basically saying any man, even one that the parishioners can not understand, is better than a woman to be a priest?

Mark M
1 month 3 weeks ago

An excellent case for the Latin Mass.
But really, if that insults you simply seek another church.

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