If one was to take a step back and look at our society as a
whole one would see that womens rights have changed
dramatically over the last century. Women are no longer
expected to get married, have children, and stay at home to
take care of their family. Women have left the home and
entered the work force. There have been many laws passed to
prevent the discrimination of women and to make sure that
they are treated equally.
Certainly, one can say that there is still a struggle
between the sexes over the organization of modern society.
Society has indeed embraced a gender war of sorts through
the ages which has culminated in a outcome that declares the
male the victor. One example of this is that women are not
allowed to be ordained as priests in the Catholic Church.
As a child, I attended Catholic schools until high
school. I was instructed by mostly nuns. I can remember
that when the priest came into the room we would have to
stand up as a sign of respect towards our faith. As I got
older, I began to think that nuns are part of the religious
life but we dont have to treat them with this same respect.
During my catholic education, I was taught that God created
us in his image and likeness. If this is true, and as
Christians we believe that Christ is the fullest
manifestation of God, how can they say that only men image
God? Are women incapable of revealing God?
A hundred years ago, women had little standing in the
Catholic Church, like in society in general. Women were not
allowed to: receive communion during their monthly periods
and after giving birth to a child they needed to be purified
before re-entering a church building. Women were strictly
forbidden to touch sacred items such as the chalice, the
paten, or the alter linen. They certainly could not
distribute holy communion. While in church, women need to
have their heads veiled at all times. Women were also
barred from entering the sanctuary except for cleaning
purposes, reading Sacred Scripture from the pulpit,
preaching, singing in a church choir, being alter servers,
becoming full members of confraternities and organizations
of the laity, and most importantly women were barred from
receiving Holy Orders.
In our time today with the new awareness of human
rights and the need to secure equal opportunities to all the
attitude towards women has begun to change in the Catholic
Church. Women may now be lectors, alter servers, cantors,
preachers, leaders of prayer services, ministers of baptism
and of holy communion. But the ban on ordination remains in
In the first centuries after Christ, women held
responsible ministries in the Church, including the role of
deacon. Historical evidence shows that in the eastern parts
of the Catholic Church women served as deacons until the
ninth century.(Ruether p.121) Since they became deacons
through full sacramental ordination, identical to that of
male deacons, women did receive Holy Orders which implies
they can also receive the priesthood.
The Cannon Law 1024 states that only a baptized man can
validly receive sacred ordination.(Sweeney p.114) In 1977
the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote
the Declaration on the Question of Admission of Women to
the Ministerial Priesthood stating several reasons why the
church does not admit women to priestly ordination.(Swidler
p.37) Some of these justifications included:
1. The priest, when he pronounces the words of
consecration, acts in the person of Christ, taking the
role of Christ, to the point of being his very image.
2. When Christs role in the Eucharist is to be
expressed sacramentally; there would not be this
natural resemblance if his minister were a women – for
Christ was a man and remains a man.(Swidler p.37)
3. Sacramental signs require a natural resemblance to
what they signify.
Basically a male priest images Christ, but a female
priest would not. A women, solely because of her gender,
cannot image Christ in that sacrament.
A few of reasons that the Catholic Church does not
ordain priest are:
1) Women were considered inferior beings.
2) Women were considered to be in a state of
punishment for bringing original sin into the world.
3) Women were considered unclean because of their
Conservative theologians, led by the Congregation for
Doctrine in Rome, maintain that, while other restrictions
placed on women in the past were due to social prejudice,
the ban on ordaining women as priests belongs to the
unchangeable Catholic doctrine.(Swidler p.42)
It is one thing to hold that no individual has the
right to be ordained, quite another to refuse ordination
because he or she belongs to a particular group, class or
nation.(Greeley p.87) Excluding women because they are
women is an act of discrimination. What if the Catholic
Church excluded all Chinese, all Mexicans, all African
Americans? This would be a similar act of discrimination.
Feminism is doctrine suggesting that women are
systematically disadvantaged in modern society and
advocating equal opportunities for men and
women.(Greeley p.176) Feminists contend that the reason why
women are in subservient roles is due to oppression by the
stronger, male sex. Other notions rely on biology
suggesting that because women physically bear children, they
are destined to raise them.
The concept of symbolic interactionism which sprang
from Mead and Cooleys models express that organized groups
control the behavior of their members by serving as a
generalization which constitutes a core element of the
self.(Bartusch p.145) Symbolic interactionism suggests that
individuals attach particular meanings to events. Thus, one
society may deem an action abhorrent while in another it is
part of accepted gender roles. An example being the
Sociologists use the term conflict theory to refer to
any theory that emphasizes the role of conflict in human
societies.( Conflict Theory is perhaps the most appropriate
as it does explain inequality as being a form of conflict
between men and women.
In terms of gender equality, the answer is not black or
white. From feminism to conflict theory, there are no easy
answers to the problem of gender inequality.
Is the Catholic Church out of line having their own
beliefs about the roles of women in their institutions?
Ethically and morally one would most likely agree. But by
law they have the right to their own beliefs and ways
because church is separated from the state.
Today there is an urgent need for more priests. If
women could be ordained the number of the priests would
rise. With this in mind, one would think that more people
would be fighting for this cause.
If you were to walk into a Catholic Church this Sunday
you would most likely see a women on the alter. However
this women would not be weary the fancy vestments standing
behind the alter. Women have come a long way, but until a
women is able to be ordained as a priest, Catholic Churches
will continue to play on gender roles.
Although I am not and never will be interested in
becoming a priest myself, I feel that excluding women from
the priesthood because of their sex is discriminatory.
Bartusch, D., Matsueda, R. Gender, reflected appraisals,
and labeling a cross-group test of an interactionst theory
of delinquency. Social Forces (1996).
Greeley, A. (1984). Angry Catholic Women. Illinois: The
Thomas More Press.
Ruether, R. (1985). Women-Church, Theology and Practice.
New York: Harper & Row Publishers.
Sweeney, T. (1992). A Church Divided. NewYork:
Swidler, L. (1977). Women Priest; A Catholic Commentary on
the Vatican Declaration. New York: Paulist Press.
/ Pages : 1,229 / 24