Pope Francis Vetoes Women Priests

In a recent informal press conference, Pope Francis said that women would never be allowed to become priests (here, here). He explained, “On the ordination of women in the Catholic church, the last word is clear. It was given by St. John Paul II and this remains.” This was treated like a bombshell, receiving front-page coverage in major media.

What did they expect? Once the “infallible” Catholic Church takes a position, it almost never changes it. They still prohibit the use of condoms, even in the midst of an AIDS epidemic. Even before Pope Pius IX officially “discovered” papal infallibility in 1870, the Church almost never admitted error. It took several centuries to acknowledge any error in condemning Galileo. Besides, the Church is the archetypal group of good-old-boys.

John Allen, editor of CRUX and leading Vatican watcher, recognized this: “the more interesting question currently percolating about women clergy, which is the matter of whether women can, and should, be ordained as deacons. I say it’s more “interesting” largely because Francis’s answer is less predictable, and therefore the outcome is more up for grabs” (here).

The New York Times also reported a “balanced” set of reactions from its readers (here). My favorite: “I was raised to be Catholic, and this is the reason why I never took the institution very seriously. ... Even as a 7-year-old, I knew something was off when we had to call the priests ‘father’ yet the nuns ‘sister.’ ”

The Catholic Church’s justification for excluding women from priesthood is that Jesus only chose men as his apostles. This set the precedent for eternity. But Jesus also chose no one with blue eyes or blond hair, yet such traits are not prohibited. The Church is capricious in its interpretation of history.

Chapter 10 of Matthew describes Jesus’ mission to the apostles. After authorizing them to exorcise demons and spread the good news, Jesus said: “Do not take the road to Gentile lands, and do not enter any Samaritan town; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv. 5-6). The gender of the apostles was at best a secondary consideration. In most of the ancient world, women were considered inferior and ineligible for many important positions. Jesus’ real priority was to send observant Jews to preach to other Jews.

If Pope Francis really wants to follow in Jesus’ steps, he would require priests to be observant Jews. This would also do wonders for the cause of ecumenism.