The topic of women's ordination has been highly contested in recent decades. Although Pope Saint John Paul II issued Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994 and gave the Catholic Church's final word on the matter, the debate
continues today among Christians of all denominations. Here, Annalise Deal, an Episcopalian, writes in favor of the practice. Gjergji Evangjeli, who is Greek Orthodox, writes against it.
I was fortunate enough to be raised in the Episcopal church, and mentored by clergy of both genders for as long as I can remember. When at age 16 I began feeling a strong call to ordained ministry, I was met with open arms and excitement by my parish and family. I have enjoyed this continued support over the course of the last 2 years, as I have delved deeper into my own process of discernment and conversation with God.
The Catholic Church has spoken definitively and clearly on women’s ordination, but given the resurgence of the topic in recent times, it would perhaps be useful for some non-Catholics to consider the issue. The following will show that the question of the ordination of women is not one that is strictly dependent on Catholic dogma, but that to accept the ordination of women would necessitate grave concessions in both Scripture and Tradition.
However, since arriving at Boston College, my excitement has been tempered. On September 11, as I sat in the mass of the Holy Spirit and watched 50+ men process to their seats in vestments, I was for the first time acutely aware of the Catholic church’s exclusion of women from the priesthood. Though I do not identify as Catholic, I feel called to priesthood nonetheless. With God’s help, I too will one day wear vestments and perform communion in a liturgy not unlike the one I practiced that day. Therefore, it is not only saddening but incredibly offensive that my call to priesthood is somehow less legitimate than my male counterparts in the eyes of the Church.
Though I don’t feel called to become a Jesuit, the idea that I cannot be one deeply bothers me. This is primarily because anyone who has undergone the process of discerning a call to ordained ministry will tell you that it is not a choice. I chose to pursue journalism in high school, and I could easily still be pursuing that. However I feel called to ministry, and not just to any type of ministry, but specifically ordained ministry. I feel deeply connected to sacraments, and know that every fiber of my being is being called by God to celebrate them and proclaim the Good News of Jesus. This vocation is exciting, but it is definitely not a choice.
Therefore if in the next four years I wanted to become Catholic, I would consciously have to silence the part of myself that is called to ordained ministry. Catholic woman do it all the time, and I cannot help but wonder what message this is sending to girls in our society.
It seems to me that the Catholic church is either telling women they don’t “actually” feel a divine call to priesthood, or else if they do feel one they should ignore it and do something else instead.
I would hate for this article to sound like an Episcopalian ranting on her disagreement with Catholic doctrine, because that is not my goal. In fact, every religious and experience I have had here in the two months has been incredibly positive. I have felt a constant and overwhelming sense of the Holy Spirit since I set foot here, and I could not be more grateful. This is truly a loving community that seeks to serve Christ and our neighbors here and everywhere, and that is precisely why I want to call attention to this discrepancy.
Boston College believes in its students. It is a place filled with people who want us to excel, and uncover our vocation. I fully intend to do both of those things in my time here, but as I begin that journey I cannot ignore my awareness that there may be a specific group of girls here now who cannot do that. They may love the church as much as the next male student, but they can never be ordained. I have a problem with this. I do not believe it is holy or righteous to limit people who want to make a lifelong commitment to ministry.
The Jesuit tradition teaches us to “seek God in all things,” but I simply cannot find God in this ideology. Where is God in woman consciously ignoring their vocation?
In the Old Testament, God institutes that only men from the tribe of Levi may be priests. While males and females from all the tribes may serve as Judges, Kings, and Prophets, the priesthood is reserved only for Levites. When men under the leadership of Korah tried to attain the priesthood, they were destroyed (cf. Numbers 16). In addition, the example of Uzzah shows that the things of God are not to be approached by unfit, albeit well intending, hands (cf. 2 Samuel 6: 1-11). In the New Testament, Our Lord picks twelve men to be His Apostles. Two of the three synoptic Gospels specifically point out that at the Last Supper, only the Twelve were present (Mat. 26:20; Mk 14:17). Additionally, Christ points out, “You did not choose Me but I chose you,” (Jn. 15:16) and “whoever listens to you listens to Me,” (Lk. 10:16). Jesus makes the explicit point that He has handed down His authority to these twelve men. In Acts, the Apostles decide to substitute Judas. After choosing Matthias over Joseph, the first explicit ordination in the New Testament ensues (Acts 1:12-16). The Eleven saw the maleness of the priest as a necessary condition to fulfill the duties of priesthood. The Church today also holds the same view.
The maleness of the priesthood is necessary to reflect the maleness of Christ, whose maleness, in turn, reflects the masculinity of the Father. God is always referred to in the masculine in the Bible. Some argue that this is due to the inherent sexism in society, but that interpretation implicitly denies the inerrancy of Scripture. While Scripture and Scriptural authors may be mistaken in numerous ways when it comes to factual issues, Scripture is not free to teach error when it comes to theology. If we allow the whole Tradition of the Church to have a voice, then the vast majority casts a vote against women’s ordination. The Church is meticulously careful to point to the proper matter for each of the Sacraments (wheat bread and grape wine for the Eucharist, water for Baptism, oil for Extreme Unction, etc.), since each of those substances denote that into which they are transformed through the power of the Holy Spirit. By the same logic, the matter for the Sacrament of Holy Orders should also be meticulously picked.
The Eastern Church has and still ordains women to the diaconate, but never to the priesthood. In earlier times, it was thought of as indecent for a male priest to touch a grown naked woman, so women were ordained who anointed grown women during Baptism. Today, in women’s monasteries, nuns are ordained to the diaconate in order to be able to lead daily services. Women can and do perform liturgical duties. They are chanters, (when need arises) altar servers, and in some circumstances deacons, but they cannot be part of the priesthood.
It is proper, however, to consider a seemingly sensible argument that a proponent of women’s ordination could make. Would it not be fair, the proponent might say, to make available to women as well as men leadership positions in the Church? Indeed, leadership positions should be made available to women. Recently, women were appointed to some of the top leadership positions in the Vatican, but the priesthood is not a leadership opportunity. One that advocates that view may find this problematic, “For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake,” (2 Cor. 4:5). Anyone who is unwilling to accept this as part of their job description cannot consider themselves called to the priesthood. Priests must be leaders, but anyone who seeks the priesthood as a vehicle for leadership does not truly understand the function of the priest. Priests are spiritual sewers for Christ. The priest must sacrifice himself totally, so as to truly be able to say, “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me,” (Gal. 2:20). Anyone, male or female, not ready to make that sacrifice cannot possibly entertain the idea to become a priest. Thus, this argument is ineffective.