Pope John Paul has talked about the dignity of women, but what could be more disrespectful of women than total exclusion from jobs they could do very well—i.e., priesthood and participation in meetings where the problems of the human race are discussed? The only reason twelve women were able to attend a later conference at Vatican II is because one of the cardinals said, “Where is the other half of humanity?” Total exclusion from jobs women could do very well is discriminatory, and makes a negative statement about women--either that they are incapable or unworthy of the job. This is very hard to understand!The topic of women's ordination is back in the news, with a report on Thursday, May 29, that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has ruled that women who seek ordination and bishops who attempt to ordain women are automatically excommunicated, without any further action on the part of the Vatican being necessary. Still, people continue to raise the question: Why can't a woman be a priest?
Despite what the reader suggests, the reason has nothing to do with disrespect or discrimination. Men and women have different but complementary roles in life, but that does not mean that women are somehow less important than men.
By stating that women are being excluded from "jobs they could do very well," however, the reader is begging the question. First, we need to understand the nature of the priesthood. If it is merely a function that someone performs, then it might well be true that women could perform it (though there might still be legitimate reasons of tradition for continuing the all-male priesthood).
If, on the other hand, the priesthood is more than a function, then the restriction of the priesthood to males might make sense.
In fact, the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches believe, as a matter of doctrine, that the priesthood is more than a function. The Sacrament of Holy Orders--ordination--confers an indelible (permanent) spiritual character on the man who receives it. From that point on, he acts in persona Christi--in the person of Christ. Since Christ is a man, only men can take on such a character.
This is confirmed by the fact that Christ chose only men as His Apostles (the first priests and bishops), and those Apostles chose only men as their successors. Those who favor women's ordination often try to claim that this was merely a reflection of the attitudes of the time. This assumes that Christ was either disrespectful of women Himself, or somehow unable to overcome the social norms of the time in which He lived. Either claim approaches blasphemy against the Son of God.
You can find out more about this question, and the reasons for the all-male priesthood, in Why Can't Women Be Priests?
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