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.