In the light of modern day awareness of gender equality, there have been controversies championed by catholic feminists about the role of women in ministry by feminine genius and an unflinching call for the church to ordain women as priests.
The practice of ordaining Priests has its origin in the Old Testament which describes how God has made for his people a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation”, and in the New Testament where Jesus is portrayed as the “great high priest” who appoints for himself Twelve Apostles. The functions of the priest include: offering the Eucharist, hearing confessions and counselling. They also anoint the sick and are ministers of the sacrament of penance. In essence, priesthood acts in persona Christi capitis –this means that they have been acting in the person of Christ who is the head of His body, the Church. The priest in today’s practice acts in the person of Christ who is by historical facts proven to be a male. And the Catechism of the Catholic Church has continued to uphold the tradition where only men can receive holy orders because Jesus chose men as his apostles and the apostles did the same when they chose their successors in ministry.
While the argument still subsists, the Catholic church seems not to be having any of it as three consecutive popes – St. John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis – have declared women’s priesthood to be impossible and they went ahead to establish that the church is not free to invent customs in accordance to social norms. In understanding this phenomenon, there is a construction that the call is as a result of sincere determination of women to serve in the church while others view the feminists’ agitations as a mere power tussle against patriarchal authority of the church to express and establish equal power.
In 2013, Giertych, the theologian of the papal household opined that some women may have the genuine belief of being called into priesthood but that such subjective belief does not indicate the objective existence of a vocation, and that this does not mean women hold an inferior place in the church. For those who believe that the call is about service, the argument is premised on the fact that there are fewer men being ordained and the church could use her untapped resources of womanhood to further the works of God. However, this position, at different times, has been rebutted by the church that those who genuinely belief they were called by reason of service can serve in other capacities as Sister Carmen Sammut, president of the International Union of Superiors General, has equally established the fact that women are already placed in capacities wherein their activities are similar to that of priests and deacons.
Meanwhile, those who see the call of Catholic women priesthood as a quest for power, do so from the structural understanding of feminism as a concept. Betty Friedan, who launched the modern women’s movement in 1963 saw the world through an economic lens where it is always about material domination as against spiritual salvation. In one of her book The Feminine Mystique, she even concluded that “It was, of course, because we were doing it for ourselves. It was not charity for poor others…”. From the foregoing, it is believed that the call has more to do about women’s status in the church in relation to a power and equality play with the men priests.
Advancing the argument further, the power school of thought has cautioned that the Catholic priesthood is rooted not in female “self-fulfillment” but in a loving passion to imitate Christ. And that the priesthood, far from being a position of power, is a calling from our crucified Lord, who chooses certain men to forbid worldly power, privilege and prestige and to be crucified with him – a notion that is fundamentally antithetical to feminism.
- National Catholic Reporter (NCR); Why not women priests? The papal theologian explains. Retrieved on 18th April, 2018 from NCRonline.org
- Exodus 19:6
- Hebrews 5:1-10
- Priesthood. Retrieved on the 19th April from the Catholic encyclopedia
- Sue Ellen Browder (2017). Feminism and the Catholic Priesthood: What’s the Root of the Matter? Retrieved from http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/feminism-and-the-catholic-priesthood-whats-the-root-of-the-matter