FATHER JOE: A young thirty-something atheist over at the blog, THE GOD COMPLEX, decided to comment on the matter of women priests in the Catholic Church. He cited the most recent news and then he began to quote me.
He entitled his May 30 post, “Vatican: He-Man Woman Hater’s Club.” Here is the first half of the the conversation, beginning with his initial post:
[Taken from the News Services] The Vatican announced Thursday in a general decree that it will excommunicate anyone who would attempt to ordain a woman as a priest and the woman herself. According to the decree, the excommunications would take place with immediate effect. The decree was signed by Cardinal William Levada, prefect of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith.
It was not persuasive to Regina Nicolosi, a program coordinator for Roman Catholic Womenpriests (sic), who was ordained two years ago. “We have come not to take that too seriously,” said Nicolosi, a 66-year-old married mother and grandmother who lives in Red Wing, Minnesota, and said her group is composed of 40 to 50 women priests, none of whom are recognized by the church hierarchy. “It’s one of the very last patriarchal hierarchies in the western world, and I don’t know when they will be ready to let go of that.”
Though she said she wants to reform the church from within, she will continue her work as a volunteer in a nursing home who celebrates mass in small groups even if she is excommunicated, she said. She predicted that the church’s resistance will backfire. “This is bringing more and more women into our group, and I think we’re getting more support from Catholics who are saying this is getting ridiculous,” she said.
I have never understood the catholic ban on female priests, I’m sure though that it has its roots in millennia-old dogmatic and superstitious mud. Of course, according to this article I am not alone.
I tried to find the canonical justification of this doctrine, I didn’t want to form my own opinion without first seeing if the Catholic Church had some reasoning behind its teaching other than ‘jesus had a penis, ergo, penises are important’.
Well, I never did find anything in canon supporting their misogyny, however I did find Father Joe’s Blog. Father Joe has one of the most widely read Catholic Blogs on the Internet and is a priest in the archdiocese of Washington DC. Father Joe seems to write often about the role of women in the Catholic Church, and in each of those writings and columns he seems to gives excellent examples of official answers from the catholic church as to why women are not treated equally. Unfortunately, these official reasons amount to little more than mental gymnastics, semantics, and tradition-soaked misogyny.
When asked this question:
“The Eucharist is the ’source and summit’ of our life in the Church and is crucial to our approach to God; does not a male-only priesthood distort our view of God and the Church?”
FATHER JOE: I wish I had five cents for every time those words “source” and “summit” are borrowed from Vatican II. Yes, you are right in that the Eucharist incorporates us into the very life of God. The pattern is clear in the prayers of the Mass. We address the Father in our orations, the epiclesis and doxologies invoke the Holy Spirit, and the Christ who mediates our prayer and renders our worship is made present. However, as for God, I fail to fathom what distortion you mean. God as God is spirit and neither male nor female. And yet, the Second Person of the Trinity is also a male human being. There is nothing we can do to change that.
ANDROO: So, basically we have, Jesus was a man, so women can’t be priests. It’s too bad you have a vagina, stop bitching about it.
Father Joe goes on to answer some more questions.
“But does not sexism in the Church disrupt the unity in Mystical Body of Christ?”
The answer to this one should be good….
FATHER JOE: My answer to this would be to ask what you mean by “sexism”?
ANDROO: Que bill Clinton ‘it depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is…. After such a great start, he continues.
FATHER JOE: If you infer that the exclusion of the priesthood to men is pejoratively sexist, then I would have to disagree. It is just the way it is, like women having babies. Some might even argue that it is God’s way of creating balance. Just as a woman can bear new life, as Mary did in Bethlehem; the priest can consecrate the food of everlasting life, making Christ again present– this time on the manger of the altar.
ANDROO: Again, basically, tough sh-t. I’m not sure what point he is trying to make with the babies comment, however none of the possibilities are good. If he is trying to say that it’s OK for women to not be priests because they can have babies and men can’t, that statement holds no water because the women were punished with painful childbirth by god. If he is trying to state that it is some kind of balance or justice, again he is wrong, women were punished with unpleasant childbirth, men are not punished with being priests. While Father Joe might look upon pregnancy and birth as some kind of gift from god, the bible calls it a punishment and a curse. Just because most Catholics do not take the time to read the bible, it doesn’t mean that everyone is equally as ignorant. Secondly, we have women wanting to be priests, if giving birth is such a reward, shoe me some priests who want to give birth, then, just then, I might give some weight to this ridiculous argument.
FATHER JOE: Continuing on this theme, several years ago I talked with a few Latin American women who suffered under brutal machismo in their home society. Not one of them wanted to be a priest, nor did they think that women should be. However, they still saw the Church as the one sanctuary where there was liberation from pervasive oppression by males.
ANDROO: They escape from the oppressive misogyny of their home life into the oppressive misogyny of the church. None of these women wanted gender equality because none of them have ever had the education opportunities to even know such a thing was possible in their society. Thanks largely I’m sure, to the efforts of the Catholic Church. Try not to pull a muscle patting yourselves on the back.
FATHER JOE: Home, babies, and women’s work was all that they were allowed.
ANDROO: And this is a thing to be celebrated? This is a good thing? This is a shining example of the correctness of the Catholic Doctrine? This sir, is lunacy, this is repression, this is discrimination at its very core and you are an animal for trotting this out as an example of the rightness of your faith. You, and the aging, senile old man whom you serve, should hang your heads in shame at such a thing.
FATHER JOE: Radical feminism, which infects much of the well-to-do West, had not yet touched these women.
Yes, any woman wanting equality is now a radical feminist. Father Joe, his idiotic beliefs, his imbecilic, backwards and discriminatory church are incompatible with today’s society and are becoming increasingly irrelevant. they continue to ignore calls from their followers to modernize, and thus cling to their old ways in pitiful desperation. Edicts like the one that the pope made today, and rationalizations like the ones Father Joe continues to make, are the gasping death throes of a once powerful giant that cannot accept the new world in which it finds itself existing.
As a person who stands firmly in favor of equality for everyone, I delight in slow and painful death of the gigantic bigoted engine that is the Catholic church. Gay marriage in inevitable, women priests are inevitable. People of my generation, and generations younger, are ascending political ranks, heading to voting booths, and quickly becoming the voice, mind, and opinions of the world. We don’t care about this stuff, and we will show it in the voting booths and in our church choices.
Progress is inevitable. Wrenches in the gears of forward motion are always discarded eventually. I hope all the aged bigots in the Catholic Church keep that in mind as they whine and protest about the changing world that that are unable to adapt to.
This ends his initial post, to which I made the following comments:
 Given that you reject the notion of God’s existence, why would you care that the Catholic Church will not allow women to be ordained? After all, according to your perspective, even men in the priesthood are only playing dress up.
 Do you just like mocking people of faith? I have only addressed the matter of atheism a few times during the years because it seems so often that discussions fail to remain civil. I have a number of friends who are non-believers, although some do seem to treat the lack of religious belief like a religion itself. More accurately, I suppose, my friends lean toward agnosticism with interests and backgrounds in such areas as astronomy, physics, and evolution. I am also very fascinated by such sciences, although I would posit some form of intelligent design.
 But returning to the matter at hand, why make yourself a critic of the Church regarding a sacrament you dismiss? You should think women fortunate not to be introduced into a ministry which you regard as based upon fiction.
 Certainly those who stand to be excommunicated have cause to be worried, but they would spurn your support as men and women of religious faith, even if defective in the eyes of Rome.
 Most Catholics in the pews seem not to care about women priests and those who do usually dissent on a great many other issues.
 You are right that you do not understand the ban on women priests. But, let us face it; what do you even imagine the priesthood to be about? Canonical justification for the ban would be the weakest area of argument. Canons are derived from various doctrines, disciplines, and the interpretation of natural laws. A better place to look for what the Catholic Church teaches would be the universal catechism and following the footnotes in the texts to the primary sources.
 The argument you jokingly propose, “Jesus had a penis, ergo, penises are important,” is a bit simplistic but not wholly off the mark. The maleness of the priest is supposed to resonate with that of Christ. Gender is not counted by the Church as an accidental but is much more important in appreciating the core identity of a person. There is ultimately only one priest in Catholicism and one saving sacrifice. The Catholic view of the priesthood and the Mass is participatory. The man ordained as a priest participates in the one priesthood of Christ. At the altar he operates “in the person of Christ, head of the Church” in re-presenting the one-time sacrifice of Christ on Calvary.
 The priest is imaged as Christ, the bridegroom, who offers his life for his bride, the Church. The Eastern churches speak of the priest as an icon for Christ. The Church feels compelled to retain the male-only priesthood because Christianity is a religion tied to the historical narrative or story of salvation: both Scripture [selection of male apostles] and Sacred Tradition [the early council of Nicea forbade the laying on of hands (as in ordination) upon women]. This practice is consistent and even the Pope does not see any way it can be changed. He does not have the authority to change such things. He can only interpret the revelation already given. The churches that started ordaining women as priests sidestepped the deposit of faith, appealed to the ancient Gnostic communities which denied the incarnation, and cited sociological reasons: modern culture and politics. The Catholic Church sometimes bends in the wind, but such a change would represent a break.
 If the ordination of women is not Christ’s will then their priesthood would be invalid and along with it other sacraments like Eucharist and Penance would be lost.
The only reason such answers seem to you as “mental gymnastics, semantics, and tradition-soaked misogyny” is because you do not believe in any of it. That is why I feel the discussion is somewhat unfair.
A woman is more than a vagina just as a man is more than a penis. The demarcation is more complex than body-parts but has to do with Christian anthropology and our view of human beings as both unified wholes and particularized spiritual/corporeal composites.
 Defining terms like “sexism” is important and not a game; sexism is a form of sinful prejudice. However, one cannot be discriminated against when one has no right to something.
Women are not meant to be priests. Indeed, most men are not meant to be priests, either. It is a gratuity given by God in a calling that no one deserves and no one can merit. Again, this will all sound silly to you because you would deny God’s existence. If true, from your perspective, God becomes an imaginary friend and the priesthood becomes the waste of a man’s life and fertility in following an illusion.
Some of the early fathers of the Church paralleled a woman’s ability to give birth with the priest’s power to confect the sacrament, making Jesus present upon the altar: body, soul and divinity. That was the point that you noted as hard to follow. The stress on child birth is not pain but upon new life. Genesis argues, as you said, that women would suffer pain with childbirth. But, it also said that they would rejoice because of the hope made new with every child. The priest embraces various disciplines to more associate himself with the sacrifices and sufferings of our Lord. The Mass itself is an unbloody re-presentation of the oblation of Jesus: his passion and death. The argument here is only ridiculous if you reject all the various faith claims initially and possess a rather pejorative view about human generation.
 As for the women who found an important role in the Church without personally acquiring the priesthood, they did not experience such exclusion as misogyny. Similarly, the women in Catholic schools, rectories and in American churches are often satisfied with their roles. I find that those who are least involved with the Church are the ones most vocal upon this issue. Some of these women, by the way, have doctorates, too. You slur many good women by insinuating that only ignorant or stupid women would agree with Church practices. Mrs. Poindexter, yes the admiral’s wife, was an Episcopal priest, and yet she gave it up two years ago when she realized she was wrong and became a Catholic. There are many women far smarter than you or me on this side of the divide.
Motherhood is one of the most sublime and wonderful of vocations. No woman is wronged when the Church praises it. If women want a religious vocation, we have a role for them too. Indeed, some of the greatest saints of the Church were women like St. Theresa of Avila and St. Catherine of Siena.
 There are already important avenues available to women without the priesthood.
 Okay, you can call my beliefs “idiotic, imbecilic, backwards, discriminatory,” and even insult the Pope— but such language proves nothing [other] than your lack of civility— the reason why I avoid such discussions with atheists. This is all a “straw man” argument for you. You would heap coals upon any tension in the Church between battling parties while thinking all sides are fools. If we were to modernize as you desire, all the ingredients of faith would go out the window. The Church would be reduced to a charity agency with no values other than those of popular culture. There would be no supernatural elements at all. This is what you should come out and say. You would think women playing high priest at the altar just as silly as men. This is why your attack is somewhat dishonest. The respect that I would give atheists and agnostics of good character and integrity, you refuse to grant to me or to others of religious faith. Instead of respect, you mock at every turn.
 You may be right that the Church will suffer much under the onslaught of a secular and humanistic modernity that makes truth relative. It is somewhat ironic, that the Church which you condemn as unyielding and bigoted should herself be oppressed by the likes of those like yourself who are also prejudiced and dismissive of the Church’s rights and teachings.
We sometimes forget that the left can be as closed-minded as the right, if not more so. I stand in favor of equality but in a complimentary way and not as mathematical equivalence. Gay civil unions and even mock marriages may become law. But such will not change either Church teaching about sin or the natural law. Priestesses already exist in breakaway faith communities; we will never see them in the true Catholic Church. Such a priesthood is a human invention, more akin to the priestesses of the ancient pagans. Indeed, some of these wannabe priestesses admit to worshipping the goddess instead of the God of Abraham. But there is hope for the Church. Many young people are more conservative than their parents; indeed, today they share more with their grandparents. The wind is changing direction. You may have a fight on your hands, after all.