Why Women Can’t Be Priests

My blog posts are normally spiritual in nature. I do not normally venture into the world of politics and the teachings of the Catholic Church. However, there is an issue that has been on my heart for a while. It started with questions from my youth group teens, and then I read a couple of articles on the subject, one from a blog called Roman Catholic Cop. The title of the post, Why Jimmy Carter is Wrong, got my attention. It was a blog about why women can’t be priests in the Catholic Church–the question I have been asked several times by my youth group teens over the past year.

My answers to my teens have always been what I was taught: “Jesus was a man”. “Jesus appointed 12 male Apostles, not female.” “It’s tradition.” While these arguments are true, they don’t hold much weight. Then things, like Jamie McAdams blog and other resources, kept presenting themselves to me. I didn’t look for them, they just found me. While I agree with Jamie and his arguments, I want to share my thoughts on the matter.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: Second Edition states:

Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination. The Lord Jesus chose men to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry…The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible. (1577)

Clear as mud, right? This is the same argument I heard growing up. While biblically based, I believe that there is a much deeper reason for this, and one that is also biblically based. For that, we have to go to St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. In chapter 5, St. Paul says, “For the husband is head of his wife just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.” (Eph. 5:23-24). Paul is talking about many things here. He is talking about the relationship between husband and wife, but he is also talking about the relationship between Christ and the Church. Just as a man is the bridegroom and his wife the bride, so is Christ the bridegroom and the Church the bride. In other words Christ is married to the Church as a man is married to a woman.

You might be asking, what does this have to do with women not being able to become priests? A priest acts “in the person of Christ” when conferring the sacraments. It is not man that can change bread and wine into the Body and Blood, but Christ. It is not man that can forgive sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, but Christ. Just as Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church, the priest acts in “His person” as a bridegroom in giving up his body for his bride, the Church. For a women to attempt to confer the sacraments, this changes the relationship altogether. You no longer have bridegroom to bride, but bride to bride.

St. Paul also says: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” (Eph. 5:31). In the same way, a man who becomes a priest leaves his father and mother and joins his wife–the Church–and becomes one flesh with the Church. A priest marries the Church–enters into a covenant with Her. This becoming of one flesh can only occur in the context of the covenant of marriage. This line of reasoning also works with priestly celibacy. No where in the bible (correct me if I’m wrong) does God ask any one person to enter two covenants at the same time. A man must either make a covenant with his wife in marriage or with the Church through holy orders. He can’t do both. (Revision: It has come to my attention that my statement on married priests is not theologically sound. I need to give more thought to this matter. Thank you to Scott P. Richert and Adoro (see comments) for your input.)

I don’t know why God put it on my heart to share this, but I hope it proves helpful to anyone who reads it. I keep finding the more I seek to find the answers of my Catholic faith, the more I come to understand the wisdom of the Church. Everything the Church teaches just makes sense. I just hope and pray that my youth group teens choose to seek out the truths of the Church to gain a better understanding for themselves.

Published in: on July 24, 2009 at 7:22 pm  Comments (10)  

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10 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Great post! Thanks for this. It is a great way to answer this question simply and directly. Great job!

  2. I liked your post but the part about women being subordinate to their husband … yet becomes one in the flesh … kind of nulls things. And feels like as a woman I'm property .

    I will never be subordinate to my husband we are equal. The yes dear thing isn't how things work anymore.

    I'm not saying women should be priests , nor should a man be a Sister/ Mother. We each have a role but none is under another.

  3. A man must either make a covenant with his wife in marriage or with the Church through holy orders. He can't do both.

    Except that married man can become priests. The celibate priesthood in the West is a discipline, not a doctrine. In the Eastern rites of the Catholic Church, as well as in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, married men can be ordained.

    The rest of your post is spot on.

  4. Wonderful post, I would think it will be very satisfactory to your teens 🙂

  5. "…women being subordinate to their husband … yet becomes one in the flesh … kind of nulls things. And feels like as a woman I'm property .

    I will never be subordinate to my husband we are equal. The yes dear thing isn't how things work anymore."

    In response to VTSunrise's above comment. I must respectfully point out that it is you who is missing the point. We, as women and as wives, are STILL called to be subordinate to our husbands. That will not change, despite our current culture. But, if you truly understand what that means perhaps it would not offend you nearly so much. Our husbands are called to be subordinate as well. They are called to be subordinate to God, to be the heads of our households and to lay down their lives for their wives (and families). We are called to trust in them, that they ARE following God and making the right choices for their families and that they ARE laying down their lives for us. In a way, they have a much harder calling and we are the humble recipients of their love, protection, and sacrifice. This does not, and never did, mean we are unequal or below men. But men and women ARE different and God has created a different calling for each of us in the family. Men are the heads of our households women are the heart. We should lovingly embrace our roles and support each other in them.

  6. This is a great post, however it's not complete.

    To VTSunrise ~ I'm not married and don't ever expect to be, but the reality is that the version of "equality" you embrace is ALSO incomplete. I'm not going to offer any advice but to pray and ask God and St. Paul to reveal to you the significance of man and wife and why "equality" has NOTHING to do with sacramental marriage.

    To Tim Burke, the author of this post ~ This semester in my grad Ecclesiology class I chose to write about the importance of celibacy in the priesthood. Because you touched on the two-covenant thing, although I don't disagree, exactly, the Church DOES. As a good friend of mine, a Greek Orthodox convert who reviewed my paper pointed out, there are many facets of the Catholic Church, loyal to Rome that DOES allow, in their disciplines, the dual covenant of priesthood and marriage. Are YOU willing to condemn them if the Church does not?

    Your answer might be enough for youth, but it's NOT enough for anyone who realizes that the Church isn't just Roman Catholic, but is Byzantine, Ruthenian, Maronite….etc.

    I had to edit my paper in Truth to allow for the proper disciplines of other faiths, and don't think it's unreasonable to ask you to do the same. You'll be torn apart if you don't.

  7. Scott and Adoro,
    Thank you for your wisdom and insight. I consider myself an "amateur Catholic" still learning the depth and breadth of my faith. The bulk of my argument was geared toward women as priests and in writing it the idea of two covenants just made sense to me with regarding married priests. I had no intent to "condemn" anyone in my statement. I do need to pray about and explore my faith more to gain a better understanding of it. Thank you for your input and kind words.

  8. Hi,

    I saw you on Tweet Catholic and Twitter. You may be interested in this series of books I've written for Catholic Apologetics. They've been endorsed by Monsignor Hilary Franco who is a Papal Prelate and personal friend of the Holy Father. Monsignor Franco headed the English Division for Congregatoin of the Clergy in Rome for 24 years.

    The books are available online at: http://catholicseries.com/

    Each book has its own blog available for comments at : http://catholicseries.blogspot.com/2009/05/pascendi-dominici-gregis-for-catholic_10.html

    I've just become a member of Twitter at:


    and "Tweet Catholic" where I just started a "Flocknote Feed" at:


    Prayerful best wishes,

    Roger LeBlanc

  9. Tim,

    Thank you for this post. Jimmy Carter seems to have brought this to the national consciousness and I was glad to see a Catholic blogger address the issue.

    My understanding of the role of the priest was greatly enhanced by listening to Christopher West's expounding on John Paul II's "Theology of the Body."

    I've only listened to his "crash course" on CD, and read a portion of John Paul II's teaching, but I think it is rich and informative and would assist in helping teens form their world view to hear, read, and study "Theology of the Body."

    Your friend in Christ,

  10. Thadeus,
    Thanks for your suggestion on Theology of the Body. I'm actually doing Theology of the Body for Teens from Ascension Press as a part of youth group this year.

    God Bless,

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