If the Catholic Church Ordains Women

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An Anglican Priestess Celebrates Mass
Church of England, 1994

What would happen if the Catholic Church ordains women? A growing number of Catholic laity seem to be fine with the idea. A fairly good size of Leftist clergy seems to be fine with it as well — even advocating it. So let’s play a little game of “what if?” Suppose in some alternate universe, Rome made a decree that women would henceforth be ordained to the diaconate and the priesthood, with the possibility for the episcopate at some later date. What would happen?

It’s not like this is a mystery. To answer this question we already have historical examples from liturgical/sacramental communities that are very similar to the Catholic Church. There is one in the U.K. called the Church of England. Another exists here in the U.S. called The Episcopal Church. Both of these entities have a profoundly “catholic” character in just about everything they do. They could rightly be looked at as “experiments” for the Catholic Church to examine and study. So what have we learned from the Church of England and The Episcopal Church? For the purpose of this essay, I’ll focus on The Episcopal Church since I am an American.

First, let’s take a look at Episcopal liturgy…

Aside from the woman priest (priestess), and the fact that the entire production seems to be run mostly by women (I counted 2 men and 4 women, not counting the altar servers), the liturgy looks rather Catholic, doesn’t it? That’s because they’re using Rite Two from the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which was based on the Catholic 1970 Novus Ordo Missal. It’s almost identical. I think it would be fair to say that this liturgy represents just about everything that many Leftist Catholics would prefer. In The Episcopal Church of the United States, women can be ordained as deacons, priests and even bishops! But it wasn’t always this way. The Episcopal Church maintained an all-male priesthood up until 1974, when the first women were ordained priests (priestesses) in The Episcopal Church. There was some contention over this initially, with the ordinations being considered by many in The Episcopal Church to be invalid and irregular. However, in just two years, these ordinations were accepted by the governing council of The Episcopal Church as fully valid, albeit irregular. So by 1977, the ordination of women was accepted and promoted by The Episcopal Church. It was at this point the title of “Mother” entered the Episcopal vocabulary, replacing the title of “Father” for female priests. Henceforth, female priests would be addressed as “Mother” instead of “Father” which is commonly used for male priests.

A lot happened between the years of 1974 and 1980 in The Episcopal Church. We could consider it nothing short of a transformation. Between the years of 1970 and 1974, with the promulgation of the Novus Ordo Missal, The Episcopal Church was almost indistinguishable from the U.S. Catholic Church, except The Episcopal Church used an older case of English while the Catholic Church used modern vernacular. Then in 1974, The Episcopal Church began ordaining women unofficially, and in 1977 officially. This followed in 1979 with the new publication of the Book of Common Prayer, introducing modern vernacular English in Rite II, that mirrored the new Roman Catholic Novus Ordo liturgy. While all this was going on a backlash was set into motion. Old-school, traditional Episcopalians could not tolerate this. A number of Episcopalian priests sought conversion to the Catholic Church and many eventually became Catholic priests. This is how the Anglican Use Pastoral Provision was started, which would eventually lead to the creation of Ordinariates of Anglican Patrimony decades later. Some Episcopal priests went to the Eastern Orthodox churches instead. A number of Episcopal bishops and priests held an unauthorized meeting called the Congress of St. Louis. This happened in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1977 immediately following the official decision of The Episcopal Church to allow female priests. The meeting was attended by some 2,000 Anglicans/Episcopalians. While some were from Canada, this is still a very large number considering the overall size of The Episcopal Church in the United States at that time was but a fraction of that in the U.S. Catholic Church. This meeting was nothing short of an earthquake in The Episcopal Church. It produced a document called the Affirmation of St. Louis which condemned The Episcopal Church for its action in ordaining women, and affirmed ongoing communion with Canterbury as they gave themselves permission to start their own new jurisdictions apart from The Episcopal Church. In other words, this was a formal schism, not with Canterbury but with The Episcopal Church USA. Since then multiple new Anglican jurisdictions have arisen in North America. These consist of, but are not limited to, the Anglican Church in America (ACA), the Anglican Catholic Church (ACC), and the largest one today is the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). All of this is an example of the immediate short-term response following the ordination of women in a very “catholic-like” Protestant communion in the United States. So we have our short-term example. We know exactly what will happen, in the short-term, if a similar decision to ordain women were handed down from Rome in the Catholic Church.

If Rome suddenly decides to ordain women to the priesthood, we would expect no less than a similar response but on a much more massive scale. For starters, it would be global. We could expect rival conferences (or synods) to be held, followed by the schism of entire continents: Africa, Asia, and much of Latin America, maybe not from Rome, but from those Catholic jurisdictions actually ordaining women. These regions would refuse to ordain women entirely, and they would break communion with any faction of the Catholic Church that does. In places like North America and Europe, the Catholic Church would cleave into two factions — one that ordains women and the other would not. Initially, in North America and Europe, it’s likely the faction that ordains only men would be smaller, perhaps significantly smaller, and the faction that ordains women would be initially larger. This would change, however, in the decades to follow.

Let’s go back to what happened in The Episcopal Church. In the decades that followed the ordination of women, a dramatic demographic decline in church membership worsened…

religionsb - Edited
Source: http://wmbriggs.com/post/5910/

Here’s the same graph but adjusted for 1000 per-capita of US churchgoers. In other words, this graph represents the “market share” of churchgoing Americans…

religions
Source: http://wmbriggs.com/post/5910/

As you can see from this graph, in comparison to the Catholic Church, there was a radical decline in the overall membership of The Episcopal Church, starting at about the same time it began ordaining women (just before and after 1974). What The Episcopal Church managed to do was put an end to whatever vocational crisis they might have had, if one ever existed at all. There is now an abundance of priests/priestesses, but the overall size of the denomination has shrunk significantly. In 1976 there were about 3.5 million Episcopalians in the United States. Today that number is about 2.5 million. That’s about a 30% loss in membership. However, when we look at actual Sunday mass attendance, the numbers are worse, at just a little over half a million. The Episcopal Church solved their vocational crisis, if there ever was one, but at the cost of burning down their denomination. There are now more priests (and priestesses) per members than ever before, but there are fewer members now — a lot fewer. The Episcopal Church has significantly shrunk in size, and the decline is ongoing. As you can see in the video above, there is a lot of space in the pews between mass attendees, and of those who are attending, a disproportionate number are geriatric. This is representative of The Episcopal Church at large, which is facing a membership crisis within the next 10 years, as a good number of their faithful contributors will disappear due to basic human biology. At that time, we can expect another slump in denomination membership. This is the long-term result of ordaining women as clergy. If there is any thought that ordaining women to the priesthood will somehow (magically) boost Church membership, the historic example of The Episcopal Church should shatter that myth. Historically speaking, ordaining women is a sure way to gut your Church of as many members as possible.

There is an ecumenical cost to ordaining women. As Pope St John Paul II wrote in Ordinatio Sacradotalis:

“In order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

He declared this invoking the infallible ministry of his Petrine office, so it is therefore unchangeable according to Catholic teaching. Such a declaration has so entrenched Catholic dogma into an all-male priesthood that immediate schism from those in the Catholic Church who would seek to ordain women is both justifiable and understandable. This is why Rome has consistently excommunicated all clergy involved in mock female ordinations, and even those clergy who aggressively advocate for female ordination. The Catholic Church, by her own profession of faith, does not have the authority to ordain women, and therefore those who try to do so, put themselves outside communion with the Catholic Church. As I said above, any attempt by Rome to push the ordination of women would result in an unprecedented schism unlike anything ever seen in all of Church history. It would make the Protestant Revolt and Eastern Schism look like a mere trial run for the big monster of a schism this would create. Furthermore, any hope of ecumenical reunion with the Eastern Orthodox would be dashed forever, at least for the faction that ordains women.

The rationale is as follows. Apostolic Tradition is clear. If Jesus intended to ordain women, he would have ordained the most worthy and knowledgeable woman of them all — Mary his mother. Nobody knew Christ better than Mary. Nobody understood him better than Mary. Nobody could communicate the message of the gospel better than Mary. So if Jesus Christ intended to ordain women, he would have (indeed he should have) ordained Mary his mother. Yet he didn’t. In fact, he never ordained any women at all, even when they proved their courage was greater than 11 of his 12 apostles. For none of them stood by him while he was on the cross, save the Apostle John and the women. If Jesus Christ intended to ordain women, he most certainly would have ordained his mother, and yet he did not.

Furthermore, St. Paul explicitly says that women are not to be ordained (1 Corinthians 14:34, 1 Timothy 2:12). The Catholic Church is in the business of keeping Apostolic Tradition. That’s what makes it Catholic. Failure to uphold Apostolic Tradition invalidates the ministry of the Church and therefore operates against the Church. We must follow Apostolic Tradition, or else we’re not Catholic. Failure to uphold this Apostolic Tradition will result in spiritual implosion for the Catholic Church, for by ordaining women, the Catholic Church would be attacking its own foundation.

In the long run, we could expect the faction of the Catholic Church that ordains women to follow along on the same path as The Episcopal Church right now, into total decline. The faction that does not ordain women will likely grow and increase over the following decades, just like one of the splintered continuing Anglican provinces in North America is growing right now. At the present rate, weekly mass attendance in the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) will exceed that of The Episcopal Church within about 10 years or less.

On a practical level, this is how the faithful laity would (and should) respond to the ordination of women in the Catholic Church. First and foremost, we shouldn’t get crazy and start declaring the pope an antipope, or saying the Church has been destroyed, or that we need to start a new Church. That’s the wrong way to deal with this. Second, we need to understand that regardless of whatever the hierarchy says, the ordination of women is invalid. It’s not really an ordination at all, but rather a mock simulation. When a woman is “ordained” as a “priest,” she does not become a priest, and at that point, she ceases to be Catholic as well. Therefore, any sacraments offered by her ministry are also invalid, with the exception of baptism of course. So confession is invalid, and so is the Eucharist. Third, faithful Catholics would be under moral and religious obligation to avoid all masses presided over by a female “priestess.” The bread would not be transubstantiated in such masses and would remain just bread. The same goes for the wine. Therefore reception of these things, with the mindset that it is Christ, would be manifest idolatry, though culpability of the laity may be limited due to ignorance. Fourth, faithful Catholics would have to seek the sacraments elsewhere, where they are offered by a male priest who is validly ordained. The same goes for confession and healing. All of these would be automatically invalid if offered by a female “priestess,” because in fact, she is not a priest. Parishes, where female priestesses preside, would empty out, and parishes were male priests preside would fill up. It’s as simple as that.

The whole thing would be a terribly unfortunate mess, but biology would eventually correct the problem, as the faction Church that ordains women would eventually be unable to support itself financially. The laity would gradually deplete over decades, and there would not be enough to financially support the number of priests/priestesses in that faction. Not to worry though, I don’t expect this to happen in the Catholic Church. There may be many people who want this to happen and will try hard to make it so, but in the end, Rome will have to decide if it wants to commit suicide or not. I think the overwhelming number of African, Asian and Latin American bishops would put a stop to any such attempt, and then, of course, there is always the Holy Spirit.

21 thoughts on “If the Catholic Church Ordains Women

  1. In the New Testament, the sacrament associated with the priesthood of all believers (men and women) is Baptism. Men who were already priests were ordained deacons, presbyters, and bishops. Lay people, deacons, presbyters, and bishops all participate in the one Melchizedek priesthood of Christ. There is no ordination to a priesthood.

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    1. The flaw in your reasoning here is that you fail to point out that even all the laypeople of ancient Israel were considered “priests” as well, yet the Old Testament Scriptures point out a clear distinction in KIND of priests. Those who minister to the world (laypeople) and those who minister to the laypeople (clergy). The same is true in the New Testament. There are those priests who minister to the world (laypeople), and those priests who minister to the laypeople (clergy). Yes, there is a distinction, and while the lay priesthood is universal, administered at baptism, applying to both sexes, the clerical priesthood is exclusive, administered by ordination (laying of hands), applying only to certain men.

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      1. All who have Christ in them are priests without the laying on of hands. Christ shares His priesthood with all of us who have His presence within us. This is true of laypeople and clergy at all levels.
        The New Testament speaks of distinct functions within the Body of Christ. There are those functions that are to be performed only by men such as deacon, presbyter, and bishop with the laying on of hands; but the same priesthood applies to all believers. I see nothing else pertaining to priesthood in the New Testament.
        The Old Testament had the Levitical priesthood which is different from the Melchizedek priesthood (Hebrews 7:11). There was no blood sacrifice associated with the Melchizedek priesthood in the Old Testament (Genesis 14:18). Christ was appointed to the Melchizedek priesthood after all of the ritual blood sacrifices were completed by Christ. “It is finished”.
        If the Biblical perspective is the same as the Protestant evangelical perspective, so be it.

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        1. Catholics don’t follow the Bible alone. We follow Apostolic Tradition as well, and the Bible is simply part of that Tradition. We are not bound to the “Bible Alone” doctrine. That is a Protestant invention. If you want to live by it, so be it, but you can’t impose it on others, because the Bible Alone doctrine is not anywhere taught in the Bible.

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          1. Vatican II, in Dei Verbum 21 says: “Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. Church teaching is not regulated by tradition. Tradition is supposed to be regulated by Sacred Scripture; otherwise, it is not Sacred Tradition.

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            1. That is NOT what Dei Verbum 21 says. This is the actual quote…

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              21. The Church has always venerated the divine Scriptures just as she venerates the body of the Lord, since, especially in the sacred liturgy, she unceasingly receives and offers to the faithful the bread of life from the table both of God’s word and of Christ’s body. She has always maintained them, and continues to do so, together with sacred tradition, as the supreme rule of faith, since, as inspired by God and committed once and for all to writing, they impart the word of God Himself without change, and make the voice of the Holy Spirit resound in the words of the prophets and Apostles. Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture. For in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them; and the force and power in the word of God is so great that it stands as the support and energy of the Church, the strength of faith for her sons, the food of the soul, the pure and everlasting source of spiritual life. Consequently these words are perfectly applicable to Sacred Scripture: “For the word of God is living and active” (Heb. 4:12) and “it has power to build you up and give you your heritage among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32; see 1 Thess. 2:13).

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              Furthermore, Dei Verbum also says…

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              8. And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jude 1:3) (4) Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the peoples of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes.

              This tradition which comes from the Apostles develop in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. (5) For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts (see Luke, 2:19, 51) through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through Episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her.

              The words of the holy fathers witness to the presence of this living tradition, whose wealth is poured into the practice and life of the believing and praying Church. Through the same tradition the Church’s full canon of the sacred books is known, and the sacred writings themselves are more profoundly understood and unceasingly made active in her; and thus God, who spoke of old, uninterruptedly converses with the bride of His beloved Son; and the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel resounds in the Church, and through her, in the world, leads unto all truth those who believe and makes the word of Christ dwell abundantly in them (see Col. 3:16).

              9. Hence there exists a close connection and communication between sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture. For both of them, flowing from the same divine wellspring, in a certain way merge into a unity and tend toward the same end. For Sacred Scripture is the word of God inasmuch as it is consigned to writing under the inspiration of the divine Spirit, while sacred tradition takes the word of God entrusted by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, and hands it on to their successors in its full purity, so that led by the light of the Spirit of truth, they may in proclaiming it preserve this word of God faithfully, explain it, and make it more widely known. Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.(6)

              10. Sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God, committed to the Church. Holding fast to this deposit the entire holy people united with their shepherds remain always steadfast in the teaching of the Apostles, in the common life, in the breaking of the bread and in prayers (see Acts 2, 42, Greek text), so that holding to, practicing and professing the heritage of the faith, it becomes on the part of the bishops and faithful a single common effort. (7)

              24. Sacred theology rests on the written word of God, together with sacred tradition, as its primary and perpetual foundation. By scrutinizing in the light of faith all truth stored up in the mystery of Christ, theology is most powerfully strengthened and constantly rejuvenated by that word. For the Sacred Scriptures contain the word of God and since they are inspired, really are the word of God; and so the study of the sacred page is, as it were, the soul of sacred theology. (3) By the same word of Scripture the ministry of the word also, that is, pastoral preaching, catechetics and all Christian instruction, in which the liturgical homily must hold the foremost place, is nourished in a healthy way and flourishes in a holy way.

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              1. According to Dei Verbum 8, we can all contribute to tradition when we have the Holy Spirit; therefore, we all need to be regulated by Sacred Scripture.
                Those with the Holy Spirit have an advantage of understanding when reading or hearing Scripture. The guidance of the Holy Spirit happens at all levels within the Church; and, it is not only for those who have Episcopal succession.
                At one time, few people outside of the clergy had direct access to the books of the Bible. Most people had to hear Scripture from preachers and their interpretation of it. It’s not that way anymore.

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                1. This was specifically because of widespread illiteracy and the cost of reproducing the Bible by hand. However, the Church never “withheld” the Scriptures from anyone. But I think my quotation of Dei Verbum above summarizes the Catholic position nicely. There isn’t much more either one of us could add to it.

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                  1. Scripture was not withheld in the sense that it was part of the Mass; but the older Catholics that I know of were told to not read the Bible for themselves when they were young; or they were told to read it only with Church guidance. There is still the fear that when you read the Bible without Church guidance, your personal conscience may assent to something that is contrary to Church teaching; and then you are obligated to go with your conscience.
                    There was hardly any teaching on personal conscience that I recall prior to Vatican II.

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                    1. The following are actual photos (taken by me) of the children’s Baltimore Catechism #2 which was published in 1962, before Vatican II. Here you will see it teaches that Catholics should read the Bible and promises an indulgence for those who do. Those who say the Catholic Church discourages (or ever discouraged) Catholics from reading the Bible are simply being ignorant or deceptive. The historical facts don’t match their rhetoric.

                      Picture 1
                      Picture 2
                      Picture 3

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                    2. The historical facts on paper do not match the Catholic culture that I grew up in prior to Vatican II. The Catholic Douay Bible that I had to buy in 1950 in Catholic school does have an indulgence associated with reading it, but there was no encouragement to read it.

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                    3. So what you’re telling me is that while the Catholic Church OFFICIALLY told Catholics to read their Bibles, many in the Catholic culture refused to or discouraged it. Sounds a lot like the kind of obstinance we’re experiencing in the Catholic culture today, concerning many other things, like female priests for example. The Church officially says one thing, but the culture says another.

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  2. Why do you insist on using the word “priestesses”? In the C of E and the Episcopal Church, referenced in your article, presbyters of both genders are “priests”. The whole point is equality in Christ, which would not be honored by using different, gender-specific terms. I find your choice of terms gratuitous and disrespectful.

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    1. Actually, I find it to be the exact opposite. The suffix “ess” has always been used as a means of distinguishing between the sexes and is used to give the female gender her proper dignity, so as to not make her sound like a man: prince/princess, actor/actress, abbot/abbess, duke/duchess, etc. You see, that’s the difference. I tend to see the female sex in a positive light, with specific dignity that cannot be duplicated by males, and should be recognized as separate but equal. Modern feminism, however, wants to obliterate those differences and make no distinction between men and women at all, slouching toward androgyny. I refuse to submit to that. A woman is never a priest. She is a priestess, and it doesn’t matter if we’re talking about Christianity or Paganism. In Catholicism, however, there are no priestesses, because it’s illegal under canon law and violates the faith. However, I do recognize that the CofE and TEC (both Protestant communities) have priestesses, and it’s not “gratuitous” or “disrespectful” to use proper English in reference to them. It is quite the opposite really. It is giving them the feminine dignity they deserve, and only a person who has problems with femininity would find that offensive.

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  3. Shane, your posting is excellent, but I think you have given TEC too many current members. instead of 2.5 million, according the Mary Ann Mueller’s article in the August 31, 2019 Virtue on Line website, there are 1,676,349 US members and 1,835931 including foreign dioseses. This constitues a loss in past year of over 34,000 members.

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  4. Recently I was watching a youtube video by Dr Taylor Marshal and he was reflecting upon when in 1958 to 1959, Sister Lucia, one of the children of Fatima, stated Mary had told her the Lord continues to insure Dogma and doctrine which is in error, will not be legislated by the Church. Lucia’s statement should give calm to all Yes, we should point out proposed errors in dogma, but with faith, do not come unwound about the endless assaults the Church will face.

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  5. in my day as a member of the Church of England, (1956)…no such thing as ‘priests’, all clergy were ‘Rev’…or Mr…….regards, Trevor, (New Zealand)

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