“With regards to the ordination of women, the church has spoken and says no. Pope John Paul [II] said so with a formula that was definitive. That door is closed.” –Pope Francis
Historical records indicate that women were ordained in antiquity, with functions from officiating at altars to serving as presbyters and selling burial plots. While the official Catholic position is that these actions were the result of heretical sects, opponents disagree and embrace a view that women played a central role in the hierarchical church, even after the conversion of Constantine and the establishment of the institutional Church.
Regardless of historiography, there is little doubt that the modern Roman Catholic Church stands firmly against the ordination of women, a position made clear by Pope John Paul II in his 1994 Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, in which he writes:
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)
In the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), it seemed possible that women could be ordained to the diaconate, most specifically when the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith indicated that exploration of the issue was important in 1977. However, it was still considered “unsettled” in 2003, with “recent indications that the Holy See intends to continue the exclusion of women from this office.”
There has been great excitement among Liberal Protestants and alienated Catholics about the papacy of Francis I; his statements on gays and his condemnation of unchecked capitalism have generated a feeling that His Holiness is taking the Church in a new direction. He is not without detractors, both conservative and liberal, but there is no question that he has quickly made the papacy relevant again. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit to having a picture of Pope Francis in my church office and to quoting him frequently in my sermons. As a mainline Protestant with two graduate degrees from a Jesuit Catholic University, I have a deep love for this Pope. He is a model for me on how to do ministry.
I often tell my Protestant friends—especially fellow Progressive Christians who lament the Pope’s seemingly contradictory views on homosexuality—that we should never forget that he is Catholic. What many people see as wild deviations from Catholic teaching, such as his statements concerning evolution and faith, are actually very much in line with traditional Catholic views that date back to the 19th century.
Continue reading ➞ God’s Women: A Plea to Pope Francis