Theology by the Slice: Is it possible for women to enter the priesthood?
On November 5, the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology Newman Center hosted an event titled, “Theology by the Slice.” Students were able to ask a panel questions about the teachings and traditions of the Catholic faith. The following is one of the questions. The panel included Bishop Peter Muhich; Father Mark McCormick, Newman Center chaplain; Sister Christine Hernandez, SCTJM, chancellor; Sister Rachel Gosda, SCTJM, director of Faith Formation; Sr. Maria Belen Musgrove, SCTJM, religion teacher, RCCSS; Seminarian Robert Kinyon; and Michael Pauley, director of the South Dakota Catholic Conference.
Is it possible for women to enter the priesthood? Is that based on a biblical interpretation? Is there a possibility that women can also be eligible for emergencies or a severe shortage of men?
Bishop Peter Muhich: Jesus Christ, of course, came and lived a celibate life as a male, as God’s son in the world. A priest stands in for the person of Christ and represents him in a particular way in ministry in the church and so the church has always seen that as Jesus’ choice.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t all kinds of other leadership roles open to women in the church but the priesthood, the apostles were all male, and their successors were all male. Take Sister Christine being the chancellor. She’s not just a paper pusher, she’s my chief of staff and so priests have to listen to her about diocesan life and regulations.
You may have noticed in some Catholic news that Pope Francis is including women in leadership roles in the Vatican. The church has looked at that when that question has been raised from time to time and the consistent answer is this is the mind of Christ and the church doesn’t have the authority to change that. And it doesn’t mean men are better than women.
Robert Kinyon: Echoing what Bishop Peter already said, part of that question did speak to the biblical foundations of the teaching. We have a deep, deep reverence for sacred Scripture and with that, from Revelation, which is something that we believe is beyond just scripture. It’s God speaking through time.
Jesus Christ came through deeds and words to affect our salvation. So some of those words got written down in Scripture, and then some of those practices have been continued for thousands of years now. One of those practices is particularly the male priesthood. So, we’re not really looking for evidence as to whether or not there’s a teaching about only men being priests. We would look to say, is there some kind of teaching within the Bible to say that women should be priests because that would go against the prevalent practice we’ve had for 2000 years. And the answer is no, we don’t have a teaching within the Bible or from the early church fathers pertaining to the women priesthood. Now, that’s not to say that women are not valuable.
A lot of the time this question gets introduced through a vision of power. Why don’t women have more power within the church because priests seem to have all the power? The reality is that the priesthood is fundamentally a position of service. The priest’s job is to make sacrifice and to bless. It’s really not associated with power.
The particular way that some men are able to serve the church in the priesthood is not a matter of whether or not women have more power than men or men are more powerful than women, the men and women are complementary and have equal dignity. It is the way that God has unfolded his will through tradition and through Scripture. It just happens that men are priests on the invitation of Jesus Christ who was a man.