Why Can’t Women Be Ordained Priests?

The question of ordaining women to the priesthood is not open to debate. At least, not according to John Paul II. In his 1994 letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, he states, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

In other words, the Church will not and cannot ordain women to be priests.

The point of this week’s Catholicism In Focus is not to spark a debate. I have no interest in sharing my own opinions or hearing others’. What one thinks about a doctrine is of no consequence, really, especially when few people know what the doctrine actually says.

The purpose of this video, then, is to look at the rationale given in this definitive statement and to understand its limits. Why can women not be ordained priests, according to the Catholic magisterium? How does this limit their scope of leadership in the Church? In what ways has this doctrine been inappropriately applied to prevent women from active participation? These are the questions I seek to answer, particularly the final one.

Women may not be able to be ordained priests, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for them to have legitimate influence. Until those ways become the norm and not the exception, we’ve got some work to do.

3 Comments on “Why Can’t Women Be Ordained Priests?

  1. Thank you for the video and for your ministry. There is something I have always been curious about. When you ask a conservative protestant whether women may be ordained, they come to the same answer but using different reasons. I have heard the answers you enumerated in the video cited by many other catholic writers, the example of the apostles, etc. However, conservative protestants just point to 1 Timothy 2:12 “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man” and leave it there. Is it really that simple?

    I understand why they do not appreciate the Catholic reasons (belief that tradition does not drive practice) but why is 1 Timothy 2 not among the reasons cited by Catholics? Do we interpret that verse differently? Or is it a valid reason, just not the main one cited by the Church today?

  2. Are there any paid ministry positions for women? Priests get salary and retirement. If the Bible says not to muzzle the ox while grinding the corn then should women not have an equitable share for work positions they fill? Besides church secretary are there other well paid female vocations? Nuns do not get retirement and pay goes to the ministry for their needs and to be shared, Also, are there exceptions to a woman in authority over a man? What about Deborah the judge as in the case when men did not live up to God’s standard? Not judging men but that was a time period when men were out of alignment with God.

  3. As a high church Anglican I hold the Roman Church in great esteem and reverence; yet it grieves me that women cannot serve as full members of your church.

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