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The Catholic Church is slow to change its stance on things, for better or for worse. Nevertheless, more interesting than the process of achieving change within the Church is what its leaders adamantly say will not change: the fact that the Church does not condone ordaining women as priests. The reasons usually given are as follows: Jesus only chose men to be his disciples and apostles, Paul’s letters are usually cited and the Church has never had women priests in its long history.
Pope John Paul II, in his Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, writes “She (the Church) holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons.”
Aside from the “fundamental reasons” such as those listed above, Pope John Paul II addresses the argument that Jesus did that because of women’s role in His lifetime. His rebuttal: “In calling only men as His apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, He exercised the same freedom with which, in all His behavior, He emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions of the time.” Now, it is interesting to consider that in many ways Jesus did treat women differently, irrespective of what was considered normal at the time. This seems then to settle the point that if Jesus wanted to choose women as His apostles, He would have done so.
Yet, there is more to consider. If it was the case that Jesus did not have women apostles and disciples, then this point would stand. However, I would like to argue that Jesus did have women apostles. This is because apostles are people who share the “good news.” According to the Gospel of John, the person who told Jesus’ disciples that He had risen was Mary Magdalene, a woman. Therefore, it appears that a woman served not just as an apostle, but the first apostle.
Lest this be considered a trifling incident, or an exception that proves the rule, let me provide another example. Paul himself, who is often used to bolster resistance to ordaining women priests, praises a woman apostle. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says, “Greet Andronicus and Junia, my relatives, who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles and they were in Christ before I was.”
We now have Mary Magdalene and Junia who are cited in Scripture as being apostles. So, it cannot be rightly said that a reason for barring women from priesthood is that Jesus chose no women to be His apostles. It is also contradictory to place emphasis on Paul’s account of not having women speak in church but also fail to emphasize Junia as an apostle, which by its very definition means she preached the Gospel.
Now, taking these things into account, why could it not be thought that the Catholic Church might change its mind in considering these points? Well, the reason is that Church leaders throughout history, and still today, are adamantly against it. The question has arisen within the past few years with Pope Francis. His response? “On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last word is clear… It was given by St. John Paul II and this remains.” Pope John Paul II cited Pope Paul VI, and now Pope Francis cites Pope John Paul II with regard to women as priests. This is a small glimpse of the long line of popes opposed to ordaining women priests. The culture might be changing in this regard, but it appears the culture within the top spheres of the Catholic Church is most certainly not.
I think this is a mistake. Not just for the logical reasons given to reject the idea that no women were chosen by Jesus to be apostles, nor for the reason that Paul’s letters actually give an account of women apostles and disciples. And certainly not for the reason that the culture is changing, and it might be wise for the Church to change with it. Although there are good reasons simply in that there is evidence of women having leadership positions in the Scriptures and the early Church, one of the most compelling reasons is that women can bring a unique perspective to the modern Church. Seeing good and holy men being priests, upstanding in their community, spreading the Gospel and preaching is encouraging. How much moreso with women as well? Women can bring a unique voice to the Church, and I believe some women are called to be priests yet cannot be because the Church has not made room for them in such a position.
This should change, because the historic arguments given appear invalid, and women have a lot to offer in this capacity.
Maddie Marsh is a junior English and philosophy double major. She is a guest writer from Cincinnati.