The Vatican has elected a new pope and with that election comes the hope that he will guide the Catholic Church through the next few years, perhaps decades, of the 21st century with an eye towards modernizing the antiquated views of the past. One of the hot button issues in the Catholic Church has been women in the priesthood. While clergy groups across the U.S. and Europe have called for support for female priests, the Vatican has remained stringent in its views.
Not only does the Vatican church forbid female priests, but it also threatens ex-communication towards anyone who even confers with a woman seeking ordination. This punishment and decree severely undermine the credibility of the Catholic Church in its attempts to modernize with its progressive congregation. It also goes against most Catholics beliefs. According to a New York Times 2010 poll, 59% of American Catholics favor the ordination of women.
Traditionally, the reasons for banning women from the priesthood are pretty basic. They go back to the New Testament in which the priesthood represented Christ himself, therefore those priests represent him in persona Christi Captis or “in the person of Christ, the Head of his Body, the Church.” Furthermore, Christ and his Apostles chose only men to become priests, so the Catholic Church sees choosing subsequent priests only from a pool of males as keeping with this teaching. In other words, this is the way things have always been done, so why change now? This backwards system is clearly causing some consternation and subsequent rebellion within the church’s following. Now that subversive groups are speaking out, a more determined coalition can help shape the Catholic Priesthood as a new era dawns on the Vatican.
There is however, a very vocal group that is trying to change this. They call themselves the Roman Catholic Womenpriests and number over 100 including eleven bishops. Recently photographed by the New York Times in full regalia, they offer a vivid portrayal of just how far these women are able to go to have a place at the altar. For justification, the Roman Catholic Womenpriests go straight to their own creator to justify their place in the priesthood. As one such Womanpriest, Eileen McCafferty said, “You can’t say that women and men are equal, but women can’t be priests ... Why would God do that? He made women and men to be absolutely equal.”
They represent a large group who believe that the fundamental reasoning of the Catholic Church is based on a misunderstanding of Christ’s history. Mary Magdalene herself is rumored to have been an apostle and have played a leadership role that shaped the church. There is further evidence that Jesus had a wife, who herself was a disciple thus rendering the reasoning of the Vatican and it’s understanding of history seriously flawed. The Vatican maintains that the document ascertaining that Jesus had a wife was flawed.
There is a more historic and less ambiguous dispute that divides the college of cardinals themselves between Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic church which goes all the way back to 1054 when the Eastern Orthodox church broke with the Roman empire. This particular sect of priests is extremely conservative and though they comprise a very small number of the 117 cardinals who chose Benedicts successor, four, according to the LA Times, they still wield a big influence in the traditional values of Eastern Orthodoxy which bans women from becoming ordained priests. If the church were to overthrow these rules it would look like they were caving to modern demands while the Eastern Orthodoxy held fast to their beliefs.
It is more likely that demand for change from outside groups will most likely cause more shakeups than change from within the inner circle of cardinals in Vatican City. Most recently, this is exemplified in a call from a Catholic newspaper based in the U.S. to allow women to become priests. They directly oppose the Vatican who just a few weeks ago excommunicated Roy Bourgeois, a former American Priest and peace activist who spoke out in support of the women’s ordination in the US, according to the Huffington Post. While the National Catholic Reporter is written by laypeople and has no clerical members, it has still struck a chord in the debate over women in the priesthood. It cannot be directly chastised, or officially ex-communicated by the Vatican, however with its 33,000 print subscribers and its syndication in subsequent publications The National Catholic Reporter can have a deep impact on rooting out the deep seeded and backward notion that women cannot aspire to the priesthood in the Catholic Church.
In the meantime, brave Womenpriests like Bishop Patricia Fresen will go forward and carry out their own missions. When asked upon the church’s decree of ex-communication for all women priests, she maintains that she and fellow female priests “Ignore it. We believe it’s unjust and therefore invalid.”