Why Women Can't be Priests.

by the editor.

We've all heard it, read it, encountered it:
"No way will I ever tell my daughter she can't ever be a priest, a deacon, a altar server or whatever...If we want to believe something, we'll believe it, no matter what the bible, or any other source, says, and many people in the Church believe that women should be priests... This is the one thing that really bugs me about being Catholic."

How do we answer this kind of comment? Often, it seems impossible to break down this kind of angry rhetoric. As always though, calm reasoned words, logical historical based argument and patience will win out in the end. Maybe not with that person, and maybe not that instance, but eventually. We must always remember and remind that we can't pick and choose the teachings we will believe and follow - Christ's Church is a whole package. We can't go on our feelings either when we determine our beliefs, feelings change, Truth and facts and God don't.

Point One

We can't make the mistake of seeing the Church as an enterprise, goverment or any work place. Women aren't denied the priesthood because of a foolish law made by man but by the plan of God. There is no battle over equality in the church, women can give life, men can't; men can be priests and deacons but women can't and never will.

This is now a matter of faith, any priest who declares otherwise is wrong and against the definitive teaching of the Catholic Church: women will never be priests. The teachings of JP II are definitive and he has denied permission for any further discussion on this topic of woman priests.

Here what he said in the apostolic letter ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS (1994):

"In order that all doubt be removed . . . in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren, I declare that the Church has NO AUTHORITY WHATSOEVER [emphasis in original] to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitely held by all the Church's faithful."

Apostolic Letter: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of John Paul II
To The Bishops of The Catholic Church on Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone

Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,

1. Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches.

When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Communion, Pope Paul VI, out of fidelity to his office of safeguarding the Apostolic Tradition, and also with a view to removing a new obstacle placed in the way of Christian unity, reminded Anglicans of the position of the Catholic Church: "She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. 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."(1)

But since the question had also become the subject of debate among theologians and in certain Catholic circles, Paul VI directed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to set forth and expound the teaching of the Church on this matter. This was done through the Declaration Inter Insigniores, which the Supreme Pontiff approved and ordered to be published.(2)

2. The Declaration recalls and explains the fundamental reasons for this teaching, reasons expounded by Paul VI, and concludes that the Church "does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination."(3) To these fundamental reasons the document adds other theological reasons which illustrate the appropriateness of the divine provision, and it also shows clearly that Christ's way of acting did not proceed from sociological or cultural motives peculiar to his time. As Paul VI later explained: "The real reason is that, in giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her theological anthropology-thereafter always followed by the Church's Tradition- Christ established things in this way."(4)

In the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, I myself wrote in this regard: "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 sanctioned by the legislation of the time."(5)

In fact the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles attest that this call was made in accordance with God's eternal plan; Christ chose those whom he willed (cf. Mk 3:13-14; Jn 6:70), and he did so in union with the Father, "through the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:2), after having spent the night in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12). Therefore, in granting admission to the ministerial priesthood,(6) the Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord's way of acting in choosing the twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church (cf. Rv 21:14). These men did not in fact receive only a function which could thereafter be exercised by any member of the Church; rather they were specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. Mt 10:1, 7-8; 28:16-20; Mk 3:13-16; 16:14-15). The Apostles did the same when they chose fellow workers(7) who would succeed them in their ministry.(8) Also included in this choice were those who, throughout the time of the Church, would carry on the Apostles' mission of representing Christ the Lord and Redeemer.(9)

3. Furthermore, the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the universe.

The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable. As the Declaration Inter Insigniores points out, "the Church desires that Christian women should become fully aware of the greatness of their mission: today their role is of capital importance both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church."(10)

The New Testament and the whole history of the Church give ample evidence of the presence in the Church of women, true disciples, witnesses to Christ in the family and in society, as well as in total consecration to the service of God and of the Gospel. "By defending the dignity of women and their vocation, the Church has shown honor and gratitude for those women who-faithful to the Gospel-have shared in every age in the apostolic mission of the whole People of God. They are the holy martyrs, virgins and mothers of families, who bravely bore witness to their faith and passed on the Church's faith and tradition by bringing up their children in the spirit of the Gospel."(11)

Moreover, it is to the holiness of the faithful that the hierarchical structure of the Church is totally ordered. For this reason, the Declaration Inter Insigniores recalls: "the only better gift, which can and must be desired, is love (cf. 1 Cor 12 and 13). The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven are not the ministers but the saints."(12)

4. Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, 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.

Invoking an abundance of divine assistance upon you, venerable brothers, and upon all the faithful, I impart my apostolic blessing.

From the Vatican, on May 22, the Solemnity of Pentecost, in the year 1994, the sixteenth of my Pontificate.


1. Paul VI, Response to the Letter of His Grace the Most Reverend Dr. F.D. Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, concerning the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood (November 30, 1975); AAS 68 (1976), 599.

2. Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Inter Insigniores on the question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (October 15, 1976): AAS 69 (1977), 98-116.

3. Ibid., 100.

4. Paul VI, Address on the Role of Women in the Plan of Salvation (January 30, 1977): Insegnamenti, XV (1977), 111. Cf. Also John Paul II Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici (December 30, 1988), n. 51: AAS 81 (1989), 393-521; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1577.

5. Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem (August 15, 1988), n. 26: AAS 80 (1988), 1715.

6. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution Lumen Gentium, n. 28 Decree Presbyterorum Ordinis, n. 2b.

7. Cf. 1 Tm 3:1-13; 2 Tm 1:6; Ti 1:5-9.

8. Cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1577.

9. Cf. Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, nn. 20,21.

10. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Inter Insigniores, n. 6: AAS 69 (1977), 115-116.

11. Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, n. 27: AAS 80 (1988), 1719.

12. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Inter Insigniores n. 6: AAS 69 (1977), 115.

Point Two

A related issue is the question of female altar servers. Is this a proper function for girls for girls who wish to serve the Church and participate in the liturgy, or is it an 'opening wedge' towards women priests?

The position of the Vatican has changed somewhat in the past few years, which, rather than clearing up the confusion has unfortunately contributed to it. Many bishops and priests simply disobeyed the Vatican and installed female servers before it was 'allowed.' Did the subsequent permission seek to regularise their disobedience, or was it a progression of Tradition? Still more confusion. the best way to sift through the confusion is to read and iscern for oneself, always in obedience, always in obedience...

In Inaestimabile Donum, prepared by the Sacred Congregation for the Sacraments and Divine Worship, Approved and Confirmed by Pope John Paul II on April 17, 1980 it states: "There are various roles that women can perform in the liturgical assembly. . . However, WOMEN ARE NOT PERMITTED TO ACT AS ALTAR SERVERS.


Following is the text of a communication sent from the Sacred Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments to the presidents of episcopal conferences permitting altar girls.

Rome, 15 March 1994


It is my duty to communicate to the Presidents of the Episcopal Conferences that an authentic interpretation of Canon 230 #2 of the Code of Canon Law will soon be published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis.

As you know, Canon 230 #2 lays down that:

"Laici ex temporanea deputatione in actionibus liturgicis munus lectoris implere possunt; item omnes laici muneribus commentatoris, cantoris aliisve ad normam iuris fungi possunt. "

The Pontifical Council for the interpretation of Legislative Texts was recently asked if the liturgical functions which, according to the above canon, can be entrusted to the lay faithful, may be carried out equally by men and women, and if serving at the altar may be included among those functions, on a par with the others indicated by the canon.

At its meeting of 30 June 1992, the members of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts examined the following dubium which had been proposed to them:

"Utrum inter munera liturgica quibus laici, sive viri sive mulieres, iuxta C.I. C. Can. 230 #2, fungi possunt, adnumerari etiam possit servitium ad altare."

The following response was given: "Affirmative et iuxta instructiones a Sede Apostolica dandas."

Subsequently, at an Audience granted on 11 July 1992 to the Most Reverend Vincenzo Fagiolo, Archbishop Emeritus of Chieti-Vasto and President of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts, Pope John Paul II confirmed the decision and ordered its promulgation. This will be done in the near future.

In communicating the above information to your Episcopal Conference, I feel obliged to clarify certain aspects of Canon 230 #2 and of its authentic interpretation:

1) Canon 230 #2 has a permissive and not a preceptive character: "Laici . . . possunt." Hence the permission given in this regard by some Bishops can in no way be considered as binding on other Bishops. In fact, it is the competence of each Bishop, in his diocese, after hearing the opinion of the Episcopal Conference, to make a prudential judgment on what to do, with a view to the ordered development of liturgical life in his own diocese.

2) The Holy See respects the decision adopted by certain Bishops for specific local reasons on the basis of the provisions of Canon 230 2. At the same time, however, the Holy See wishes to recall that it will always be very appropriate to follow the noble tradition of having boys serve at the altar. As is well known, this has led to a reassuring development of priestly vocations. Thus the obligation to support such groups of altar boys will always continue.

3) If in some diocese, on the basis of Canon 230 #2, the Bishop permits that, for particular reasons, women may also serve at the altar, this decision must be clearly explained to the faithful, in the light of the above-mentioned norm. It shall also be made clear that the norm is already being widely applied, by the fact that women frequently serve as lectors in the Liturgy and can also be called upon to distribute Holy Communion as Extraordinary Ministers of the Eucharist and to carry out other functions, according to the provisions of the same Canon 230 #3.

4) It must also be clearly understood that the liturgical services mentioned above are carried out by lay people "ex temporanea deputatione," according to the judgment of the Bishop, without lay people, be they men or women, having any right to exercise them.

In communicating the above, the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments has sought to carry out the mandate received from the Supreme Pontiff to provide directives to illustrate what is laid down in Canon 230 #2 of the Code of Canon Law and its authentic interpretation, which will shortly be published.

In this way the Bishops will be better able to carry out their mission to be moderators and promoters of liturgical life in their own dioceses, within the framework of the norms in force of the Universal Church.

In deep communion with all the members of your Episcopal Conference. I remain

Yours sincerely in Christ,
(Cardinal Antonio Maria Javierre Ortas)

Point Three

Still another valuable point of view to bring to the whole discussion is this article: Traditional Liturgy as a Liberation from Egoism

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