Women’s Ordination Arguments

Women’s Ordination Arguments, Roman Catholics and Old Catholics in Dialogue

Excerpted from The Church And Ecclesial Communion, Report of the International Roman Catholic-Old Catholic Dialogue Commission, 2009; for full text:


6.3.3 The question of the ordination of women to priestly ministry

(56) A further point of difference is the practice, exercised by the majority of the Old Catholic churches of the Union of Utrecht, of the ordination of women to priestly ministry, which represents an innovation in their otherwise ancient church orientation in church discipline. This point of difference is however located on a different plane from those previously mentioned. For both the Old Catholic and the Roman Catholic Church share in essence the same understanding of the three-fold sacramental ordo of the church whereby its centre, the episcopal office – understood in the light of the above exposition of the episkopé (cf. 13-15; 20-26) – is grounded in the mission to which Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit commissioned and empowered the apostles (cf. in general OC-O/Ordination; O-RC/Order). The Roman Catholic position

(57) On the question of women’s ordination the Roman Catholic Church – like the Orthodox Church – upholds the centuries-old practice according to which only a baptized male can validly receive consecration as a priest (can.1024 CIC). In doing so it refers back to the example of Jesus and the tradition which until the second half of the 19th century formed part of the common heritage of all Christian churches.

(58) Although Jesus was, within the sociological context of his times, favourably disposed towards women, he did not call a single woman into the circle of the twelve which constituted the church, not even his mother. This example of Jesus has always been respected and considered binding within the church. Women were not admitted to ordination to the priesthood.

(59) In this the symbolic nature of the office also plays a role. The sacrament of ordination is a sign for the relationship of Christ as the head and bridegroom of the church and the church as his body and his bride. This symbolic significance demands that a male represent Christ in ordained office.

(60) When the question of women’s ordination arose in the Anglican Church, Pope Paul VI presented the standpoint of the Roman Catholic Church unambiguously in a letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury on 30 November 1975. “She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include the example recorded in Sacred Scripture of Christ choosing his apostles only from among men, the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men, and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.”

(61) Accordingly the declaration of the Congregation of the Faith Inter insigniores (1976) states: “The church in fidelity to the example of the Lord does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination”.

(62) Finally, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed in his apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994) “that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful”. The Old Catholic position

(63) Towards the end of the previous century the major part of the Old Catholic Church introduced the practice of appointing women also to the three-fold apostolic office, including ordination to priestly ministry. This new practice must confront objections which are located on various levels.

(64) Firstly, there is the fact of the previous practice of the Catholic Church which did not know women’s ordination. To what extent that represents an authentic tradition in the sense of a witnessing authority concerning the faith (cf. 23 above) or “only” an historical fact, albeit a long-lasting one, is a matter of debate within ecumenism.

(65) Old Catholic theology has in the majority come to the view that the non-ordination of women is in the first instance the consequence of the patriarchal and androcentric civilization of the ancient world, in which the biblical tradition too found its expression, and in which women are on principle subordinated to men and were therefore considered unfit for public leadership roles. In any case, in most of the not so frequent testimonies and justifications for the non-ordination of women throughout the centuries, it is possible to find over and over again arguments which presuppose an image of women which is no longer upheld by a Christian anthropology: women are in principle seen as fundamentally equal to men “before God” as far as their soul or spirit is concerned, but with regard to their concrete physical existence by which they live within the social frames of reference of this world, they are treated as inferior or subordinate to “the” male.

(66) In order to justify continuing the previous praxis of non-ordination of women to priestly ministry – and without recourse to presuppositions of such a kind – at the present time reference is made in the first place to the example of Jesus, who only called men into the circle of the twelve. Old Catholic theology is not convinced that the choice of the twelve and their sending to the people of Israel cogently proclaims an implicit binding will of Jesus in the sense of an ordinance signifying that ecclesial office must be reserved for men only even within altered cultural and salvation-historical contexts. No words of Jesus can be found in relation to this to show irrefutably that his act of choice must be understood in this sense.

(67) Secondly, there is the argumentation based on a sponsal metaphor in the light of which the spiritual relationship between Jesus Christ and his church ought to be seen and represented. The dynamics of the love between Christ and his church, most profoundly comparable to that of a bridegroom and bride, husband and wife, would thus require a natural representational depiction in the central act of the celebration of the eucharist, according to which the male priest refers to Christ and the concelebrating congregation is to understand itself in a metaphorical sense as female, receiving grace (and thus “Marian”).

(68) Old Catholic theology cannot comprehend the dominance of this metaphor in theological reasoning or the logic of such gender-based symbolism, which emphasizes the masculinity of the God-human Redeemer Jesus Christ to an unaccustomed degree; instead it is oriented in this regard towards the fundamental conviction of the ancient church: “Only what is accepted and united with God is saved”. It is the entire human nature, common to male and female that the Lord has assumed.

(69) Old Catholic theology also points out that while the bishop does indeed represent Jesus Christ as he presides at the celebration of the eucharist in his ministry of sanctification and leadership of the ecclesial communion assigned to him (thus manifesting the priority of the divine initiative in the salvation granted to mankind), he at the same time – as implied in the eucharistic liturgy by the so-called presidential prayers directed towards God – represents the church, constituted and vivified by the Holy Spirit.

(70) Those Old Catholic churches which have, following a lengthy struggle, introduced the ordination of women to priestly ministry, do not wish to call into question or alter the essential nature of either the apostolicity of the church in its orientation towards Scripture and tradition, nor the sacramentality of ordination-bound ecclesial office. In view of the cultural transformation which has among other things brought about a situation in which women now in every respect assume the same leadership responsibilities as men, they believe that they owe it to the gospel and the transmission of the faith to take the corresponding step – just as the church in earlier times again and again believed it could recognize the kairos for a responsible inculturation of the message of Christ to which it above all wishes to be faithful.

(71) Within the Union of Utrecht as it stands at present (in 2003 the Polish National Church in North America seceded from the Union of Utrecht because of this issue), the divergent practices of ordination or non-ordination of women to priestly ministry and their respective grounds carry no church-dividing weight.

(72) For the Old Catholic side the question arises whether this divergence in practice and its theological grounds involves an aspect of the Christian faith which makes ecclesial communion either impossible or admissible (cf. 80-81 below).

(73) Reference should be made to the evaluation of the International Anglican-Orthodox Theological Commission “The Church of the Triune God. The Cyprus Agreed Statement 2006“: “Whether or not such ordination [i.e. the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate] contradicts the dogmatic teaching of the Church already transmitted and received, and so is heretical, can remain open to discussion and to an open process of reception“ (A-O/Church IX 29).

Cf. also the “Common Considerations” of an Orthodox – Old Catholic consultation (at a semi-official level only) on the position of women in the church and on women’s ordination as an ecumenical problem in Levadia (Greece) and Konstancin (Poland) 1996, in Urs von Arx / Anastasios Kallis (eds.), ‘Bild Christi und Geschlecht’, in: IKZ 88 (1998), pp. 67-348, here 81-82. Cf. the English translation as: ‘Gender and the Image of Christ’, in: The Anglican Theological Review 84 (2002) pp. 489-755, here 504-506.