Friday, November 6, 2015


In his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis of 1994, Pope John Paul II declared conclusively, "that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women". This papal proclamation was primarily rooted in, “the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his apostles only from among men.” [1] (emphasis mine) This position which presupposes that only males can image Christ and therefore God, is also the basis for Canon Law 1024, which states that “only baptized males can be ordained”
Is it true that Jesus choose his apostles solely from among men?  Scripture itself refutes this argument and validates the presence of women apostles, as well as deacons and teachers during the early Church. There are for instance, cited in Paul’s letter to the Romans, references to the woman apostle Junia, noted as “outstanding”;  and to the woman deacon Phoebe, also commended by Paul.[2] Perhaps most notable is the calling of Mary Magdalene, who in the third century was named the “apostle to the apostles” by Bishop Hippolytus of Rome in recognition of her formal commission by the risen Christ to be the first witness and messenger of his resurrection.[3]  Her apostolic proclamation to Peter and the male disciples began the Church’s fundamental message of Easter. There is little doubt that the Church would have acknowledged such a calling as yet another affirmation of a “male only priesthood” if it had been Peter, and not Mary, who was so commissioned by Christ. 
In addition to these assertions, the fourth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, addressed to the women and men of Ephesus, upon reflection clearly ensures that both males and females are called as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and teachers not by virtue of their gender but by the redemptive work of Christ and the affirmation of the Holy Spirit.[4] This position is reiterated in Paul’s letter to the Galatians (3:28-28) in which he reasserts that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Neither gender, nor culture, nor nationality, nor social status, Paul admonishes, has any bearing on one’s capacity to be in Christ and therefore image him.
We may conclude that by Christ’s own choosing and through the power of his Holy Spirit, women as well as men were called to positions of leadership in the early Christian church.
But what do we make of the twelve male apostles named in the Gospels which Jesus seems to have selected in a particular way? (Mt. 10:1ff; Mk 3:13-19)  Was Jesus’ intention to promote an exclusive male lineage of ministry? The validity of the Church’s official position forbidding women’s ordination stands or falls on the purpose for which Jesus chose these twelve men. In calling them to follow him, did Jesus have an entirely different agenda in mind than what the Church has for centuries predetermined?
Let us consider for a moment that Jesus selected these particular men not for the purpose of suggesting that only males could image God, but rather for the purpose of initiating among them a new paradigm of consciousness. This new paradigm of awareness would involve a deep revisioning of the fixed patriarchal structures of his day, entrenched in the minds of his male companions.  It would require as well an initiation of great focus and intensity.   In this regard, we may say that Jesus’ intention in choosing the twelve and in living in close proximity among them was to model for them throughout his ministry a new way of being male, and a more humane way of relating to others based not in dominating power, but in self knowledge, non-violence and mutual loving service. If such a dismantling of the patriarchal structures of power and domination was indeed a primary intention in calling these twelve men, did the women really need to be part of this group and its intended orientation? Most likely they did not.
We discover much support for this perspective as we consider the teaching opportunities Jesus engaged in with his twelve male companions.  Basic to their initiation was Jesus’ instruction to not “lord it over” others, but instead to consider themselves “slave and servant”.[5] Likewise, he admonished Peter to put down his sword[6] and rebuked James and John for their retaliatory intention to call down a divine fire of destruction after being rejected in a certain village. In the NASB translation, Jesus hints for them to instead discover within themselves their truer nature[7]. On several occasions such as the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and the storm at sea, Jesus allowed his male companions to face their own fears, limitations and vulnerabilities while simultaneously inviting them into an experience of true Divine power[8]. Likewise, Jesus often challenged their linear way of thinking and rigid interpretation of metaphor, inviting them through the use of parable to consider a more soulful way to perceive their existence and experiences.[9] Finally and quite pertinent to this study, Jesus modeled for the men a deep regard and reverence for the feminine gender.[10]
We may confidently conclude, in light of these and many other examples found in Scripture, that Jesus’ intent in choosing the twelve was to liberate them from a well entrenched patriarchal system based in domination and power. Women were generally not the culprits of this mind-set - indeed were often the victims of it, and therefore were not included in the calling of the original twelve and the particular initiation intended for them.
Differing from his approach to the males we may observe a variety of examples in which Jesus acted to affirm and empower the women he encountered.  He often encouraged them to trust their inner guidance and not be intimidated by power. We find a poignant example of this with the woman who entered the exclusive dinner party to anoint his feet with her love-filled tears and express to him her profound gratitude.[11] Could this not have been the women caught in the act of adultery who even at the risk of further powerful male criticism found her way to thank this most compassionate teacher who had restored her life?
We remember as well how Jesus championed Mary of Bethany who chose “the better part” of being present to him, heart to heart, soul to soul in that most endearing human encounter.[12]  He also defended her after she too anointed him at a dinner party and was sharply criticized by his apostles. This event is especially note worthy when one considers that similar anointings recorded in the Hebrew Scripture were often given by male prophets and high priests. Mary it seems stepped beyond accepted gender roles, and Jesus it would appear defended her right to do so.  Likewise, in varying ways, throughout the gospels we observe Jesus encouraging women to stand up straight[13], to persist in their intentions and to not be dissuaded by male criticism or the unjust mores of a male dominated religious establishment. Such was his intention it appears, when he harshly engaged the Syrophoenician woman to remain determined for her daughter’s healing, and when he publically affirmed the woman with the issue of blood who dared to touch his garment, defying the social and religious norms of her day. [14]  As Jesus publically championed these women, affirming their right to challenge the oppressive mores of their culture, he thereby modeled to the twelve a new way of regarding them and relating to them. In all his encounters with both males and females, the realization of their truest nature, would be Jesus’ enduring intention. 

As noted by former president, Jimmy Carter, in the introduction to his book, A Call to Action – Women, Religion, Violence and Power, aspects of discrimination, prejudice, violence, physical and mental abuse, poverty and disease, “fall disproportionately on women and girls”. The Roman Catholic Church has a moral obligation to address these imbalances and the devastating effects they ultimately have on the entire planet. By allowing the full inclusion of women’s gifts, presence and leadership, the R C Church can extend a powerful message to the world in correcting the atrocities borne to this day by the female gender.
Based on the points of this study, it is my firm belief that the argument used to deny women’s ordination is a wrongly deduced argument and invalid in its presupposition that only baptized males can be ordained (Canon Law 1024). Jesus very likely chose the twelve male apostles, as we have observed, not for the purpose of excluding women from imaging God, but rather to transform the male understanding of power.  In this regard, he modeled for the men a new way of being male, inviting them continually to embrace the role of servant hood, non-violence and gender equality; and he consistently championed the women to courageously follow their inner guidance. Ultimately Jesus’ intention was to liberate both men and women from the false power of patriarchy and into the true power of Love. Following the Resurrection both women and men were called by virtue of the Holy Spirit to image Christ in the enacting of this Love. 
We may rightly conclude from this study that the Church does indeed possess the Christ-given authority to confer priestly ordination on women. Moreover, in as much as the world looks to it for moral guidance, the Church also bears an urgent imperative in the name of Christ and humanity to do so.

[1] Mk.3: 13-19; Mt.10:1-4
[2] Romans 16:1,7
[3] Hippolytus first described Mary of Magdalene as the “apostle to the apostles” in his Commentary on the Song of Songs, 25.6-7. See also John Paul II, On the Dignity and Vocation of Women, # 16 n. 38.)
[4] Ephesians 4:7-13; Acts 1:8
[5] Mt.20:25-28; Mk. 10:42-44
[6] Mt. 26:52
[7] Lk. 9:54-56 (NASB)
[8] For instance:  Mt. 17:14-20; Mt.14:22-33; Lk. 22:54-62
[9]For instance: Jn.4:32-38. Note also the many parables Jesus used to teach his disciples
[10] For instance:  Lk. 7:36-50; Jn.4:1ff;Jn:12:3-9
[11] Lk.7:36-50
[12]Jn.12:3; Lk. 10:39ff
[13] Lk. 13:10-16
[14]Mt.15:21-28; Lk.8:43-48; Lk. 13-10-17; Lk. 7:36ff; Jn. 4:1ff

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