The only category


This little spat between the Inquisition and the slightly disobedient (but not disobedient enough) nuns reminds me of something that we generally don’t focus on sharply enough. It’s certainly obvious, yet it kind of fades into the background of the taken-for-granted.

The something is:

Women are the only category of people who can’t ever be Catholic clergy no matter what they do or don’t do. The only one. Atheists can change their minds. Buddhists can convert. Convicted felons can repent. Gay men can be closeted.

But women, and women only, are barred, completely and finally; barred as such, barred from birth, barred because of what they are. Trying to unbar them is an excommunicable crime, while raping children is not. Raping children in the performance of priestly duties is not an excommunicable crime – but ordinating ordaining a woman as a priest is.

It’s very interesting, if you think about it. There are no Chinese or Brazilian disciples of Jesus, but that doesn’t make Chinese or Brazilian men ineligible for the priesthood. Yet the explanation for the ineligibility of women is that there were no female disciples. That’s a transparently feeble reason.

No; it’s just that the church and its all-male staff share the age-old bigotry about women and they’re authoritarian and vicious enough to refuse to abandon it. They think women aren’t good enough to be priests. They think women are too dirty, and stupid, and sluttish, and weak to be priests. They don’t want women stinking up their club house. And because religion is Special, they get to act on their bigotry.

 

Comments

  1. peterh says

    Despite the babble’s mention of a woman who was foremost among the apostles. I guess glass ceilings came later.

  2. Christian says

    Raping children in the performance of priestly duties is not an excommunicable crime – but ordinating a woman as a priest is.

    I wondered about that as well and I’m really curious what contrived justification they offer for this practice.

  3. Christian says

    This is a bit OT but I just read that Chuck Colson kicked the bucket this afternoon.

  4. 'Tis Himself says

    Possession of a penis is the number one requirement to be ordained* as a priest. Just ask any of the Catholic hierarchy, all of whom have penises.

    *Note to Ophelia: Priests are ordained, not ordinated, at an ordination.

  5. says

    Yet the explanation for the ineligibility of women is that there were no female disciples. That’s a transparently feeble reason.

    Actually the official “theological” reason given by the RCC is that a woman can’t take the place of Christ in the last supper; the mass being a reenactment of that alleged event. But that’s an even more feeble excuse because Catholic priests. as well as not being female, don’t walk on water either.

  6. says

    Possession of a penis is the number one requirement to be ordained* as a priest. Just ask any of the Catholic hierarchy, all of whom have penises.

    Nearly right, ‘Tis Himself; it’s actually the possession of testicles. The word “testes” is Latin for “witnesses”. The testicles bear witness to the fact that someone is a man. At one time there was someone whose official job was to feel Pope’s testicles as soon as he was elected as the election would not be valid if he was found not to have them.

  7. ema says

    Sister Rindler [Leadership Conference of Women Religious member] believes the Vatican is focused on the American sisters because they tend to be more independent than their European, Latin American, and African colleagues. … Rindler says she believes that the hierarchy in Rome is really worried that the American nuns will influence other sisters around the world. “That’s why the men in the Vatican want control, what they see as influence, we see as enlightenment,” she says, adding that some nuns are brainwashed into thinking they are lesser beings than their male counterparts. “What woman truly believes she is not equal to a man?”

    With an egalitarian position like that, why exactly would the nuns be stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment of LCWR by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?

  8. you_monster says

    And because religion is Special, they get to act on their bigotry.

    Exactly. You can’t tell us not to discriminate against constitutionally protected classes! We are a church; we obey our imaginary misogynistic tyrant’s law, not man’s. Stopping us from discriminating is discrimination!

    blegh

  9. Dennis says

    My father was brought up as a strict Irish Roman Catholic. He went to Caholic schools until he graduated. He had a rift with his priest. He brought me up Episcopalian. Episcopalian at that time was Catholic lite. I don’t understand why Catholic woman stay in a church that treats them as chattle. When my father was threatened with excommunication for wanting to marry a woman who wasn’t Catholic, he simply changed denominations and went on with life. If women followed my fathers lead they would leave the Caholic church in a delemma. Staying and just disobeying doesn’t effect change. Leaving and taking their husbands and kids leaves the church in the same bind as Odin.

  10. Musical Atheist says

    As Bernard Hurley said, I think the explanation is that a priest is standing in for Jesus, and obviously a woman can’t do this, because breeches roles are so not ok in the Catholic performance tradition. It ruins the illusion, or something.

    Presumably the fact that Jesus was male is more important than the fact that he was a ethnically a Palestinian Jew (even though “the Jews are Gods ‘chosen people’, and the rest of us are just whatever” thank you Marcus Brigstocke), since there’s no requirement for priests to come from Jewish ancestry, or from the appropriate geographical area.

    This of course raises an even more fascinating and important theological question than the famous ‘Did Adam have a navel’, and it is ‘Did Jesus have a Y chromosome?’ What with there being no earthly father and all. And, since neither the possession of testicles nor the possession of a Y chromosome definitively determines gender,* maybe one of those miraculous relics of the holy blood in churches around the world should be tested for its hormone levels too.

    *Natalie Reed’s recent post on this is brilliant

  11. Stan Brooks says

    There’s been a poster/picture floating around on the non-gop sections of Facebook lately to the effect of “Women who support women will never vote republican”, an
    admirable sentiment if not a factual one. But I’ve seen little except for some of my own postings and repostings of FFRF’s letter to progressive or liberal catholics: LEAVE THE CHURCH. There will never be reform, but it will cut them to the core if 50% of their membership leaves and takes the hubby and kids along. Just sayin’.

  12. sailor1031 says

    “the explanation for the ineligibility of women is that there were no female disciples. That’s a transparently feeble reason.”

    And also a transparently incorrect reason. Both Yeshue bar Yussef and Saul-Paul of Tarse had female disciples. The Rattenfaenger should read his bible from time to time so he can, you know, keep up on what he believes…..

  13. Andrew G. says

    Romans 16:7 (NIV):

    Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

    Here’s the fun part: a fair number of translations actually change Junia’s sex (substituting the male name “Junias”) in order to hide the fact that there was an “outstanding” female apostle who predated Paul himself.

  14. dianne says

    Actually the official “theological” reason given by the RCC is that a woman can’t take the place of Christ in the last supper; the mass being a reenactment of that alleged event.

    Why not? As far as I know, the last supper didn’t involve Christ using any of his primary or secondary sexual characteristics explicitly. Why can’t a woman do everything that Christ is recorded to have done?

  15. says

    What dianne said. No other category of human being is officially permanently irrevocably barred from taking the place of Jesus at dinner, so why are women?

    The short answer is that just about everybody thinks women are inferior, period. And it’s circular. We learn it early because of things like this, and it gets enforced over time because of things like this, and it’s resistant to change because of things like this.

  16. says

    Women are the only category of people who can’t ever be Catholic clergy no matter what they do or don’t do

    You almost sound as if you are sad about that ! I think it’s only consequential, man-made religion, male representatives. Women should be glad they can’t be part of that.

  17. says

    Ach, no, of course not. I’d like to see the Catholic church disappear. But it’s part of what’s wrong with and about the church, and attitudes to women generally. It indicates some of the ways religion is inherently very bad for women. Secular institutions can no longer get away with officially barring women from all the power jobs; only theocratic institutions can still get away with that. This says something about what religion is.

    This isn’t some moderate “the church would be fine if only women could be priests” claim. Far from it.

  18. says

    Actually the official “theological” reason given by the RCC is that a woman can’t take the place of Christ in the last supper; the mass being a reenactment of that alleged event.

    Yep, crackers and wine become flesh and blood but the magic only lasts that far. Women performing as a man, that is not possible*

    *It’s kind of like catholic opposition towards cremation: since bodily resurrection is real, you mustn’t burn the stuff. Made me wonder, god can apparently collect the dust that once were bones and flesh, but not work with celestial Ramen noodles…

  19. says

    @2: Not a Catholic here, but I believe the logic goes like this:
    Everyone sins, but the Church provides forgiveness and reconciliation through the Sacrament of Confession. Even the worst of sins can be forgiven in this way. Keep in mind that, contra much of Protestant belief, the RCC holds that the Church is the conduit through which God’s Grace flows to his people.

    However, messing with the Sacraments (ordination being another one) imperils the whole system of grace-distribution. It’s a repudiation of the Church itself, which is much more serious than any particular individual sin. I suppose a secular analogy might be that corruption of the police, judiciary or legislature is in the long run potentially more damaging to society than even some largish number of assaults and larcenies.

    Not that this exonerates the Church’s attitude — they’re basically enforcing their monopoly on forgiveness of crimes, many of which were invented by them in the first place as an instrument of control.

  20. says

    Eamon, that would make sense (of a kind)…if they hadn’t excommunicated the Brazilian mother who got her daughter age 9 an abortion. (As we meanies like to note, they didn’t excommunicate the man who raped the girl of 9.)

  21. Amy Clare says

    Yeah, it doesn’t make sense does it? That Christ’s holy genitals are the most important thing defining who can and cannot impersonate him, not any other characteristic. Despite the fact that he presumably broke the bread with his hands… (be a bit unhygienic otherwise wouldn’t it?)

    OB is right as usual, they just want to not let girls into their clubhouse. They enjoy the exclusive power and privilege and don’t want women getting a sniff of it… the same old story.

  22. says

    It’s kind of like catholic opposition towards cremation: since bodily resurrection is real, you mustn’t burn the stuff. Made me wonder, god can apparently collect the dust that once were bones and flesh, but not work with celestial Ramen noodles…

    This is one of things the RCC has changed its mind about. The unalterable word of God can be surprisingly malleable at times. Now cremation is OK if you live somewhere where there is a shortage of land for burial. However it was believed for centuries by most Christians, not just Catholics, that God could not re-assemble your body from ashes. That is why heretics and witches are burned while those who committed treason were only hung drawn and quartered.

  23. says

    @21: Ah yes, I’d forgotten about the Brazilian travesty. I guess “procuring an abortion” is in the class of Extra Special Evil that requires more than routine condemnation.

  24. says

    Giliell @19 Yep, crackers and wine become flesh and blood but the magic only lasts that far. Women performing as a man, that is not possible.

    So I guess gender has an inherent essentialism that is so strong as to prevent a woman from sacramentally representing God. So of course the Catholic church is very supportive of people who have a mismatch between their “essential” gender and their physical sex, and is a haven for transgender folks, right???

  25. dexitroboper says

    It wasn’t always true that women couldn’t be priests. There are early Christian headstones with female names, Christian crosses and the title ‘presbyter’ (= elder = priest). In the second and 3rd centuries the patriarchal faction of Christianity took over and suppressed these women and their history in the church.

  26. says

    Dennis (and Stan Brooks, for that matter):

    I don’t understand why Catholic woman stay in a church that treats them as chattle.

    I don’t understand why certain male atheists don’t inform themselves about all the social pressures that conspire to keep women attending church, from socialization to please others before oneself, to the burden of responsibility for childraising, to the services provided by the church in the absence of same provided by the state.

  27. says

    dexitroboper.

    In the Celtic church women could be priests and bishops until well into the eighth century. The head of the Celtic church could be a woman and IIRC, was several times. Furthermore, the Celtic church resisted strongly the idea of priestly celebacy and religious communities (monasteries, if you will) were equally open to men and women and they lived together and had children. And all this was considered the normal way of doing things.

    In short, the Celtic church was far more enlightened twelve centuries ago than the Roman church is today.

  28. Amy Clare says

    Regarding why Catholic women stay Catholic: there are women who sincerely believe that the best way to combat sexism in the Catholic Church is to remain within it and push for reform. Personally I don’t think this approach is any more effective than staying with an abusive partner out of hope that you can ‘change’ them. But I’ve had many an argument about it.

    Also, many Catholic women are clearly motivated in whatever way to ignore or play down the sexist elements within their church. If they really believe that this god exists then I imagine they’d feel quite conflicted about simply leaving… plus there are family pressures, etc, and the fact that they might not believe that they deserve better. In the UK there is strong social identity attached to being a Catholic, particularly in certain areas (Northern Ireland, Liverpool, Glasgow to name a few). For many I don’t think it’s as simple as just leaving.

    For example: one of the biggest opponents of the ordination of women in the UK is Ann Widdecombe. She is not a stupid woman but she has clearly managed to make herself believe she is not as good as *any* man in regard to this task of being a priest. She often goes on TV to debate it. The bishops must LOVE her.

    I would dearly love to see the Catholic Church wither away to nothing. But clearly the readily apparent sexism isn’t enough for enough women to start leaving… :o/

  29. says

    For example: one of the biggest opponents of the ordination of women in the UK is Ann Widdecombe. She is not a stupid woman but she has clearly managed to make herself believe she is not as good as *any* man in regard to this task of being a priest. She often goes on TV to debate it. The bishops must LOVE her.

    I don’t think she would see it like that. She says that it is no more possible for a woman to play the part of Jesus at the last supper than for a man to play the part of the virgin Mary. The only problem with this is that there is no position in the RCC in which anyone officially plays the part of the virgin Mary.

  30. Boomer says

    Women are the only category of people who can’t ever be Catholic clergy no matter what they do or don’t do.

    Almost all of the world’s major religions have traditionaly barred women from the priesthood.

    Over the past 20 years or so SOME christian denominations have opened up the priesthood for women and some women have been ordained.

    However, many of those congregations have since dwindled in number and a few have disappeared altogether.

    In New England in the past few years some Anglican congregations toying with the idea of ordaining women ended up voting to become Catholic. The rank and file rebelled against the clergy, a vote was taken, and in some cases entire parishes moved over, lock, stock and barrel, to Catholicism.

    When I first read about that, I found it rather astounding

    Being a believer often involves authoritarian attitudes. If congregants feel that a female priest cannot project the same degree of strength, authority and certainty as a male priest, then those congregants with those authoritarian sentiments will simply move on.

    For many, religion has neither weight nor legitimacy unless it is delivered in a baritone voice.

  31. dianne says

    She says that it is no more possible for a woman to play the part of Jesus at the last supper than for a man to play the part of the virgin Mary. The only problem with this is that there is no position in the RCC in which anyone officially plays the part of the virgin Mary.

    Random thoughts about this argument:
    1. Bad joke about altar boys and playing the part of the virgin Mary that I won’t make because it’s already in your mind now and if it isn’t then something worse is.
    2. Aren’t nuns more or less supposed to be playing the role of the virgin Mary? Or at least of a virginal follower of god? If nuns and priests had identical power in the Church (i.e. the Pope and other officials could be chosen from either nuns or priests or, I suppose, monks if they still exist) that might be made to work as an argument that it’s not about sexism. But in the world where the Pope can challenge nuns for their good deeds, I don’t see it.
    3. Another dirty thought about why the sexual characteristics might matter.
    4. Really, I think the Catholic church would be best off dropping this argument, because I’m really not all that inclined to think dirty thoughts and this argument is dragging my mind right through the gutter. But seriously, I’ve been to Catholic masses. There is nothing the priest does that could not be equally well performed by a woman representing Christ. The priest is likely to be a different age, race, height, health status, etc, etc from Christ so why does ONLY the configuration of the genitals matter in determining who can and can’t represent the sacrificed god?

  32. says

    The priest is likely to be a different age, race, height, health status, etc, etc from Christ so why does ONLY the configuration of the genitals matter in determining who can and can’t represent the sacrificed god?

    Exactly! On this thread I totally agree with you. :D

  33. Amy Clare says

    #30 Bernard:

    I know she wouldn’t see it that way, but that’s how it is… she believes that on account of her femaleness that it is not possible for her to do that job, for which read, not good enough to do it. So we’re back to the issue of why genitals are the only characteristic that matter in this regard.

    And like you say, there is no official and equally powerful role of ‘Virgin Mary impersonator’ so her argument on that issue is moot.

  34. says

    I know a Catholic woman (with an MDiv + 7 kids) who argues that given the fact that female Catholics are in the majority this is an indication that Catholicism does a fine job of including women, and really it’s the men who need more encouragement to their participation.

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