Why Does the Church Not Ordain Women as Priests?

Here is another question that was sent to us via e-mail:

The Catholic Church does not ordain women as priests. Why is this so and how can the Church continue in a policy that seems so unfair and at variance with the fact that most other denominations now have women ministers?


This question is frequently asked today and seems more urgent when, as you note, other denominations have women ministers. There is also today a stronger sense that all opportunities should be available to everyone.


The most immediate answer as to why the Church does not ordain to the priesthood is that the Church cannot do so. Sometimes we think today that our Church is free to do whatever she wants. But the fact is that the Church is bound to hand on what she has received. When Jesus established the priesthood, he chose from among all his many disciples (which included many prominent women) twelve men whom he named “Apostles.” This call of the Apostles is the origin of the priesthood. Jesus called only men to this office. It is hard to argue, as some do, that Jesus had to comply with the norms of his day and thus had no real choice. The fact is that Jesus broke many conventions of his time and exhibited considerable freedom in interpreting the Law. He was more than willing to engage in controversy where necessary. Jesus himself established the priesthood calling only men and the Church has no authority to overrule Jesus, Sacred Scripture, or the established Apostolic Tradition in this regard. Both John Paul II and Paul VI indicated this very clearly. Here is What Pope John Paul wrote in 1994: “Therefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. 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.” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4).  Therefore, the Church must hand on what we have received from Christ and the Apostles even if this teaching is not currently popular or in conformity with other modern practices.

As to the question of fairness, I would point out that it is possible to observe differences in regard to roles in the Church without an indication of inequality. Whatever roles individuals fill in the Church, all are equally baptized, all are equally children of the Father, and all are equal in dignity. This is what Paul wrote in First Corinthians 12:

14Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body… 17If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be… 21The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”

Not long ago I was interviewed on CNN in a kind of debate with another priest who dissents from Church Teaching in this matter. If you wish, you can view the exchange here:



I encourage you to use the comments section if you would like further clarification of this teaching.


9 Replies to “Why Does the Church Not Ordain Women as Priests?”

  1. From a purely pragmatic and tongue-in-cheek perspective, we women should remember that God always selects the weakest vessels to remind us that it is he who acts through us that accomplishes all things in Christ, not us. So the fact that Jesus selected men means women are the stronger sex. We came second and are indeed the improved model: we need less food, we need less oxygen, we conserve (and store!) calories better, we live longer, we can multitask, and we can get men to take the garbage out and think it is a privilege! Beyond that think about this: the national productivity per person rose dramatically when women entered the work force. I suspect the real reason men objected was that they did not want us to find out how much work they were not doing 😉

    Given all this, I have no doubt that it was entirely intentional that the priesthood was reserved for men: it demonstrates the power of God that the church carries on despite those weak vessels being in charge. Further if we were in charge, I doubt many would show up at all. They’d be happy to go fishing on Sundays and leave the work to us.

    This just proves again that God knows us better than we know ourselves! 🙂

    1. Thanks Therese 🙂 I am well aware that as St. Paul says, I carry this treasure (of the priesthood) in an earthen vessel!
      Msgr. Pope

    2. Therese, I do not know you nor you I. I was a little confused by your remarks. They seemed to be passive aggressive in that you say you support men only as priests, but then you go on to extol all the virtues of women and then trash Christian men. Forgive me if you are just joking around, but your remarks reveal that you have some conflict on this issue.

  2. On Fr. Roy’s point that “..women were chosen by God to be the first to witness the resurrection and to bring the news to others…”. An often overlooked point is that back in those days, women were not ‘trusted’ as witnesses, and the fact that the Bible states this to be so, not only tells us the breaking of another ‘convention’ but even more importantly, that the resurrection truly occurred ! (otherwise, the author would have used men as witnesses in the telling of this story).

    As with many things in life, it is the heart and not the mind with which one argues.

    1. It remains true that Jesus broke many conventions of his Day. Thus, Had he wished to call women to be Apostles (priests) he surely could have, but the Bible says he did not. The position of the Church in not extending Ordination to women is ultimately a matter of humilty. THere are just some things the Church cannot do. THis is what recent popes have all said. We cannot simply over-rule Scripture. I am glad to belong to a Church that does not overstep. I don’t know if this is a matter of the heart or the mind. I hope it is both! 🙂

  3. “The most immediate answer as to why the Church does not ordain to the priesthood is that the Church cannot do so.” That really says it all. We must remain true to the apostolic tradition. Equality in grace and holiness does not oblige entry into holy orders. Baptismal priesthood and the ordained priesthood are different animals.

    There is no social justice issue because a vocation to the priesthood cannot be earned or merited. It is a gift from God. Just because a woman might think she should be a priest holds no weight whatsoever. Even most men are not called to the priesthood and some who think they are called may be found unfit and/or called to something else. The Church herself must authenticate the calling to the priesthood. It is a sacrament and the sacraments belong to the Church and are governed by the bishops and Pope.

    Gender is not an accidental but is a core element to our personhood. Those who deny this are falling into the old heresies against matter. The ancient Gnostics had women priests, but they were not Christian. The incarnation itself is threatened by such wrong-minded revisionists. They reduce our Lord to a myth and reimage him as a female upon the cross. The passion is likened to a rape and the Romans to the males in the Church who supposedly oppress them. It is all quite ludicrous.

    The priest stands at the altar as “another Christ” and he acts “in the person of Christ, head of the Church.” The priest signifies our Lord the bridegroom and the congregation stands as his bride, the Church. A woman priest (actually the word is “priestess,” a pagan designation) would breech this symbolism and it would illustrate a bizarre sacramental lesbianism of a bride to bride relationship. We really do not want to go there, and if anyone does, there is still the Episcopal community (Church?), although it is sinking fast.

    If the Church should ordain women and it is not the will of Christ, the heart of the Church would be destroyed. A false priest cannot consecrate the bread and wine. The sacrifice would be a sham. We would forfeit the Eucharist, Confession and Absolution, and the Priesthood. The stakes are too high. If there was the slightest uncertainty, we could not do it. As things stand, Pope John Paul II has spoken through his Magisterium and there can be no doubt. It is not the will of Christ that women be ordained priests. This is immutable.

    The priesthood serves men and women. All benefit from it. But only a very select few are called to be ordained.

    As for the allegation that priestesses would have forestalled the pedophile crisis, this is nonsense. Even convents with nuns have faced charges. Women may have a heightened capacity for holiness, but their potential for mischief and sin is no better than that of men. Remember, it was Eve who gave Adam the apple.

  4. I would like to compare this debate, with strong and firm views held on either side to consider the anology of Paul when he writes thus:

    ” I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; I did not mean at all the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters; for then you would have to go out of the world. But actuially I wrote you not to associate with any so called brother if he should be an immoral person or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviller or a drunkard, or a swindler – not even to eat with such one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves”

    Paul says we are to not associate with those who are inside the church who are immoral.. wow harsh.. not even to eat with them.I think we have a hard time understanding as we Christians are called to be IN the WORLD not OFF the world. In fact there are the 2 extremes. One, who get caught up on the ” NOT OFF” part.. and they cut themselves off, from the world. And then the others who get caught on being ” IN the WORLD” both are equally wrong. We are suppose to be different, set apart.. but still living in this world.

    SIMILARLY THERE ARE OTHER examples like this regarding the consumption of food.
    Now I do not partake of meat of the swines as the demons went to reside there, where as my daughter finds no fault in it and says ‘ what God has blessed and created do not call it unclean’

    So I am in the same boat as the church in finding out God’s will for mankind by assuming my concepts to be just.

    I surely know that I am in the realm of man’s wisdom. But what is God’s wisdom?

  5. Thank you Mgsr. Pope for the courage to defend the teachings of Christ and his Church. I particularly appreciate the fact that you told Fr. Roy, that he has a right to his counscience, but he has no right to lead the faithful astray. He was ordained a priest to preach the gospel of Christ and not to preach his own ideas and thoughts.

    The vast majority of Catholics, both men and women, understand the teachings of Christ and his church. I wonder how anyone, let alone a priest, can say that for 2000 years, the Church of Christ has been wrong in reserving priestly ordination to men. So many things have changed in the church and the church is in constant reformation. It is most mind borging that if this was an injustice, the first apostles did not realise it, niether Paul, all the great men and women of the church’s history never realised the injustice. It has only taken people like Fr. Roy and the distracted nuns to figure this out. If they so believe this, I believe that the most noble thing to do is to establish their own church, where they can preach and practice what they think is right.

    Talking about our Lord Jesus breaking the customs of his time, it is a known fact that there were many Greek and Roman$ priestesses during his time on earth. There were also Godesses. So it would never have been an issue if Christ really wanted to have women as priests in his new covenant community.

    Talkng about the women at the resurrection, this only proves the fact that Jesus did not mean to discriminate anyone. He showed himself to a woman and asked her to go and inform “his brothers” the priest of the new covenant-the twelve men he chose from among his man followers and disciples to be apostles. It is from this apostles that the church understands the origin of the priesthood.

    Fr. Roy wrongly says that the resurrection marked the origin of the priesthood, as a lay person in the church, I am seriously appauled to hear a priest say that. Where did he learn his theology. One does not even need to study theology to know that. Christ choose twelve men and at the last supper, he commissioned them to do this in memory of him.

    Except Fr.Roy and those who disagree with the church on this issue want to claim that Christ was subject to earthly practices and authority or that he did not know what he was doing. I am not suprised, because there have been some crazy theology going around that our Lord Jesus did not know who he was and did not fully understand his mission. It is only a theology such as these, that can claim that Christ was only following the standard of his time.

    I recently read in the website of the leadership conference of women religious (LCWR) where some of the sisters said that they have gone beyound the “Jesus Narative”. This is really painful to hear, because these women are supposed to be faithful daughters of Christ and his body the Church. It is only a person who has transcended Christ who can claim that he was limited.

    Imagine a very important issue like the Eucharist and the Priesthood, if Christ wanted women to be priests, he would have broken the so-called standard of his time. If he could touch lepers, eat with sinners, allow a woman to touch him, chose a woman to reveal his resurrection, how could he not break the standard of the time and choose woman to be his priests.

    It is also very funny to hear Fr. Roy try to add some flesh to his argument by saying that if there were women priests, they would have spoken out on the outrageous abuse of children. This is very lame and malicious of the priest, because there have been many, many cases of abuse of children by woman religious and the authorities said nothing. Nuns too have been accused and convicted of abuse, what did their superiors do at the time of the abuse? So one can see that this is just a way of trying to add weight to the lame argument for ordination of women as priests.

    At the end of the day, everyone who listens to the explanation of the Church and understands the scriptures, will know that reserving priestly ordination to men has nothing to do with injustice, sexism, discrimination or the dignity of women. It is only about keeping to the will of Christ and the tradition of the Church.

    The scriptures talks of very many prominent women in the scriptures who did great work of evangelization in the early church, who also helped the apostles to spread the faith. Why did the apostles not ordain this women?

    May our Lord God who is always with his church, continue to guide and see us through, Amen.

  6. Do not be deceived. This is Satan at work. He deceived Eve with crafty words that played on her gullibility, and he has been campaigning for women to leave the home and work when they have children and to divorce when husband does not fill her dreams like a romance novel hero. It is no coincidence that the debate over women in the priesthood advanced in lock-step with feminism. The devil hates families and wants to see them destroyed, because when a family dies by divorce, the ripples of dysfunction proceed outward in all directions. 2/3 of all divorces are filed by women , and the divorce rate in the American Churches is a s high as secular society. What shame we bring on ourselves for caving in time and again to a feminist culture that is killing our country by every measurable societal ill. Satan laughs and Jesus weeps.

    I have read all of the Apostle Paul’s references in 1 Cor. 11:2-16, 1 Cor. 14:34-35 and 1 Tim. 2:11-14, 1 Tim. 3:1-7, Tit. 1:5-9 and Acts 21:9, Acts 18:18, Romans 16:1-4, Romans 16:7; 1 Cor. 16:19, Philippians 4:2–3 Ephesians 4:11-13.

    When I compare all those scripture, the overarching principle I see that ties it all together is that women cannot teach or lead in the official duties within the congregation. These roles are reserved for men. I do see, though, that women can engage in the ministry and evangelical work of spreading the good news and even prophesizing.

    I do think that Priscilla was under Aquila’s headship, and they always are mentioned together. Woman have many important and honorable roles to play in the congregation. Our position of prohibition for women as Deacon, Priests, and Elders is not rooted in Misogyny, or chauvinism nor is it a simple tradition or custom. We follow God’s inspired word with all sincerity.

    Shame on the Churches for caving in to the tool of the devil—feminism. Feminism was good and right for the issues of the Suffrage movement. Beyond that it is a cancer on society, and more specifically the American Churches. I am just a fool trying to work out my salvation with fear and trembling. I share with you for what it is worth.

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