Women in the Catholic Church - Why I'm Really Fine with Never Being a Priest

Monday, June 13, 2016

In college I wrote my thesis on Catholic women and the practice of veiling.

In thesis seminars I had to give presentations on the topic. It was a startling revelation in how little the general public knows about the Catholic Church (Vatican II had zip zero meaning) and how one-track mind it is about women in the Church.

Women's ordination was *instantly* what people want to talk about. Even though it had *nothing* directly to do with my topic. It's like they were Pavlovianly conditioned to hear "Catholic Church and women" and think "women priests!".

It was very frustrating. The obsession with women's ordination nearly derailed any other research regarding women in the Church. (Let's not even get started on the people who thought any Anthropological research on Christian religions was foolhardy and a waste of time. I've got special words for them.)

This obsession with a dead horse is costing us real understanding of how women really function in the Church.

So here is what I wish the world would understand about women's ordination from the viewpoint of a Catholic woman.

Women do not need to do everything in order to be respected

Look around a typical parish and you'll see mostly female names on staff, women running most of the organizations, and a disproportionate number of women in the pews. Women are doing more than our fair share of the work in a parish already. Are you seriously suggesting that women are not respected until we do this particular form of parish leadership?

Priests are not the most powerful people in a parish 

Really really. 
It's the old ladies who make the world go 'round.

They are the keepers of the parish traditions, they will be there longer than any priest assigned there, and they will have the clout to veer the ship back on track.

Understanding power dynamics in a Catholic parish requires a level of nuance and understanding of informal power that seems to be missing from most commentaries - even though we don't hesitate to extend that understanding to other cultures. Consider there is more going on then what you see during a single hour once a week.

Bodies Matter

Priests are not just leaders. They are becoming the personification of Christ when they are celebrating the sacraments (Eucharist, Reconciliation, etc.)

Y'all, Jesus is a dude. He has a body and it matters.

Catholics are big on the concept that matter matters. We can't use just any liquid or bread for consecration into the Body and Blood of Christ (Eucharist). Not just any body can be used to personify a male body. 

Yes, We really have grappled with it

I have lost count of the number of people who have told me, to my face, that I am only OK with not having women priests because I haven't really thought about it yet. 
Could you try to get more condescending? Because I think you scraped the bottom of the come back barrel there.

Yes, educated women can arrive at a different opinion than you. And that does not make us dumb, unquestioning robots, or, my personal favorite, "complicit in our own oppression". 
These are all real things people have really said to me.

We are normally happy to answer questions about the Church, but if you are not getting great conversations from Catholic women while using terms like this, consider the possibility that respectful wording might help matters.

Still got questions? Leave them in the comments. I'll try to help as best I can. I'm not a theologian and I can't pretend to have all the answers, but I mostly know where to look. :)


  1. Interesting thoughts Kirby, I thought of a few other points while reading.
    1.) Jesus installed the sacrament of ordination and he modeled for us a male only office. He loved, empowered, and honored women by offering them other meaningful positions. It wasn't just cultural, Jesus had no problem breaking cultural norms, especially toward women (see the women at the well and the woman washing his feet).

    2.) Women have always been honored and significant (see mama Mary and the several female doctor's of the church). People are assuming that there is deep seated prejudice in the church, when truly there isn't. Churches who have in the last century changed their ordination practices are confessing that at some point they were discriminating, which the Catholic church has not.

    3.) it's not that women couldn't. Because they could. They could do it wonderfully, maybe in some minds better than men. Women would present beautiful, smart, and challenging homilies, their hands could consecrate the bread with reverence and power, they would be nurturing and passionate confessors. But this is not what we are called to. Women could, but Jesus thought men should! This was hard for me as a young girl, empowered that I could do anything, but in surrendering I have found peace in Jesus' ways, and have seen many reasons why this is for the best.

    Thanks again for writing on this touchy subject, Wonderful thoughts.

    Amy @ The Salt Stories

  2. I saw a Protestant minister commenting about how "powerful" she felt when blessing the bread and wine at a service, and I really wanted to comment back about how it's not about "power" with holy orders! Sure, there are flawed priests who see their role as a position of power, but anybody who thinks the male-only priesthood is a power thing does not understand the purpose of the priesthood!

  3. Excellent points! It's so frustrating when people derail the conversation as though it's the only female topic that matters. Thanks for writing this!