By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Guest Blog: Why Only Male Priests

The following guest blog arose in response to my point that we often fail to take the time to explain the basis for the all-male priesthood. Ryan gives a good explanation of that basis below, although there are even more reasons as contained in my book Unpopular Catholic Truths (link at left).

Ryan has left a new comment on your post "Girl Altar Servers Endorsed by Vatican Newspaper": 

Indeed. I've recently been dialoguing with a young Catholic friend who wants to know more about our faith. In fact, the issue of a male-only priesthood was one of her questions. When I gave her my answer, she asked--and I paraphrase-- "Why don't more Catholics know about this stuff?!" 

Here is my answer (slightly modified), which you may feel free to post as a guest blog if you wish.

While we can speculate on why He chose to do so, the simplest answer to the "Why can't women be priests?" question is that Jesus chose twelve men to be His priests. Those twelve men, in imitation of Jesus, also chose men to be priests. So the Church does not consider herself authorized to change a sacrament (in this case Holy Orders) as it was instituted by Jesus and handed on by His Apostles.

This is what we call "Tradition", with a capital "T", and I would assert that it's not altogether a bad thing. However, I realize that this argument will remain unconvincing to many, if not most, so let's look at this issue in greater depth.

Look at it this way. The priest is like an icon, an image that represents and, in a certain sense, makes present a spiritual reality. In this case, the priest is an icon of Christ. Since Christ was a man, it is fitting (to use a Thomistic word) that the priest should also be a man. 

But there is more to it than that. You see, the Catholic priesthood is bound up with spiritual fatherhood, which in turn is bound up with human sexuality, by which I mean not merely the conjugal act, but the whole manner in which the sexes relate to each other and to their children physically, psychologically and spiritually. 

The priest, as an icon of Christ, not only represents but also makes present the spiritual reality of Christ's espousal to the Church. Precisely through the agency of the priest, Christ continues to be a husband to the Church as a whole, and a father to her members individually, which is why we call the priest "Father".

Now this is very counter-cultural, but the Church insists that the sexes are not mere human constructs, changeable and interchangeable. Rather, they are divinely ordered. Equal in dignity, certainly, but different and complementary. Thus, men cannot conceive and bear children, nor can women impregnate. 

This difference and complementarity is more than just biological, but concerns the unique manner in which the sexes relate to each other and to their children (fatherhood and motherhood). As indicated in the Old Testament, God's manner of relating to His children, while it contains elements of the feminine/motherly, is properly represented by the masculine/fatherly. This is confirmed in the New Testament by the incarnation of His Son as a man, and witnessed to in the Church by the ordination of men to the priesthood of Jesus Christ.

In short, the whole mission of the priesthood, which is the mission of Christ Himself, is to manifest the love of the Father for His children, precisely as a Father. And this, I would suggest, is why priests can only be men, as Christ instituted the sacrament of Holy Orders.