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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Women in the Catholic Church (UNIT 3)

For centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has prohibited females from getting ordained, meaning females cannot officially become priests. This is a major issue separating liberal Catholics from conservative Catholics. Many liberal Catholics believe that excluding women from priesthood is wrong and somewhat absurd. They argue that there is no difference between men and women Catholics, and that women can be called to priesthood just as men can. Conservative Catholics believe that because Jesus’ twelve disciples were all men, that women should not hold leadership positions in the church.

Though many women do hold leadership positions in the Church, they are not as powerful as the positions that men are able to hold and practice. This enforces and creates patriarchy within the Church. In the article “Women Studies: Perspective and Practices” patriarchy is defined as a “system where men dominate because power and authority are in the hands of adult men.” It is this system that so many first, second, and third wavers fought against. So why is it still so widely accepted in the Catholic Church? Women are simply not allowed to become priests, even if they are more suited for the job than a man. Yet there are still some Catholic women who do try to become ordained priests. This, however, results in excommunication. The video below shows some of these women and their beliefs.


In the video, the women explain that they cannot hold higher positions in the Church merely due to the fact they are female. Not because they are less holy, not because they are impure, not because they are less qualified, but simply because of their sex. This completely enforces patriarchy, not even giving women a chance to prove that they can hold higher positions. To dedicated Catholics, this oppression is the equivalent of not allowing a women be in, or even run for, an office higher than the state level of government. This would create extreme outrage to both women and men today, so why have Catholics, men and women, accepted this oppression for so many years?

In Anna Quindlen’s “Still Needing the F Word,” she explains feminism as “belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.” Keeping women out of priesthood goes against every aspect of feminism. How can Catholics who call themselves feminists accept this oppression of women in the Church? Feminism is something that was formally introduced with first wave feminism in the 1800’s. We are now over 10 years into the 2000’s and this concept has yet to be accepted or even recognized in the Church. As a Catholic myself I have seen all sides of the spectrum. More progressive Catholics see no problem with women as priests. Many right-winged Catholics, however, come off as plain sexist rather than conservative. Someone once said to me: “Women can’t be priests, that’s men’s work.” This is exactly the kind of talk feminists need to fight against.

It seems old-fashioned and wrong that there is such gender inequality in the Church today. It seems like there should be some sort of global uproar against this wide-spread oppression. There’s no reason why women cannot and should not be priests.


  1. Interesting post! I was raised Catholic, so the Church is one of the first gendered institutions I think of when prompted. Catholicism is an inherently patriarchal institution, and excluding women from higher leadership simply because they don't have a Y chromosome ensures that this patriarchy remains deeply entrenched. This is simply one of the many reasons I no longer personally identify with Catholicism. As a woman, I have found that I cannot fully worship or embrace a Church that embraces such strong gender inequality. It should also be noted that the Church vehemently fought against women's right to vote. Also, women cannot be a part of the College of Cardinals, so a woman can neither vote for or become Pope. Nellie, I agree with you...there's no reason why women cannot and should not be able to assume positions of higher leadership in the Church.

  2. Your article picked the perfect institution to focus on. Organized religion is something I have never truly understood, no offense to those out there who do, but I have always felt that the whole institution in itself is male dominated. However, I feel it's important to point out the fact that this has been the case for hundreds of years, and many women who are followers of the Catholic religion even believe that priests are and should be male. As you quoted in your blog, they are not saying the women are less capable, less intelligent, or less holy. It is a tradition that this position was meant for a male. Again, I don't agree with this entirely, but they aren't demeaning women. The person that made that "men's work" comment to you decided to take a low blow, but I don't believe the notion that priests should be male is entirely sexist towards women.

  3. Sorry, Alexis, but I would have to disagree. I think the notion that only men can or should be priests is entirely sexist. What is it about men that makes them better qualified to be priests? The statement that it's "men's work" gives no insight as to why men are so much more qualified for this position, only giving sex as a qualification. If gender is the only given reason why priesthood is for men, how is that not sexist? Just because it is traditional for men to be priests and it's been happening for hundreds of years isn't an excuse for sexism. It just means that this practice has been sexist for many years. As a woman, I would find it hard to be a member of a church where I could not move up to priesthood and spread the word of God in the same fashion men do, and to be shut out of this goal simply because of my sex, but then again there are millions of women who continue to be catholic and seem to be fine with the existence of such sexism.

  4. This is an interesting post. I think it's ridiculous that women are unable to become priests just because of their sex. I like how you pointed out that it has nothing to do with their purity, knowledge, or anything like that but just solely sex. Women should have every right to become priests if they want to.

    As a little side note from what Connor said about it being hard to stay in the Catholic church with some sexism going on, I agree. It would be very difficult to see such sexism going on every day, however it's not always that easy to break away from something that has been so prominent in your life. I'm sure many women hate what they see when it comes to female priesthood, but it's not enough to completely give up their religion.

  5. Wow, Alexis. Just...wow.

    While I could point out every single flaw in that argument, I only have the advice to give that you probably should avoid saying that around feminists.

    Personally, I had no idea that women were not allowed to be priests. Well, they have female priests on World of Warcraft, and nobody is complaining. Plus, I am not seeing any real proof from the church that this is somehow justified. To keep women from being priests or deacons, I mean. Here is another exact replica of the situation, presented in a different way:

    Bob: Hello, Mary Sue.
    Mary Sue: Hello, Bob.
    Bob: Did you know that green is actually a fruit?
    Mary Sue: No it isn't.
    Bob: Yes it is. It's a fact.
    Mary Sue: How is that a fact?
    Bob: Because I said so.

    The lame, kindergarten excuse that is, "Cuz I said so" is by far the worst possible point anyone could ever make. It provides no scientific evidence, no proven facts, no points of data, no rationalism, no intellect of any sort, and leaves everyone else rolling their eyes at this poor, ignorant fool. People may have thought in the past that women were inadequate, and technically that was a "fact" back in ancient times, but the same can be said for earth being the center of the universe "Because God said so", for women being inhuman seductresses, "Because God said so", and soldiers in Iraq are dying because we let gays live, "Because God said so". It just doesn't make sense.

    For anyone who wishes to have a better understanding of this subject, I would suggest reading The Decameron. One of the stories included in it is about a Jewish man and a Christian man wanting the Jewish friend to repent and turn to Christianity. I won't spoil the ending, but it makes a lot of sense.

  6. Just to clarify, I was bringing up an alternative point, I openly said I didn't necessarily agree with it. It was just something to think about.

  7. One thing that's important to understand is that the Catholic Church IS a patriarchy, and they know that. Yes we are all equal under God, but being any religious person, you aren't considered a layperson anymore, which means you succumb to different expectations. Religion is a long-standing institution that has many traditions. To change those traditions would be awkward. I'm not saying that women should not hold higher positions in the Church; I think it is absurd that women can pretty much only be a nun. However, the Church means to have a certain hierarchy. And one great thing about religion is that you get to chose your own. I personally don't agree that a woman should be a priest, however I do think that women should be given the opportunity for gaining higher ranks inside the Church.

  8. Very interesting topic. I agree with your belief that catholicism's system of patriarchy promotes gender inequality. I do have a question for you, however. Do you believe that the state (the government) has an obligation to stop this discrimination against women? In other words, is it the state's responsibility to stop this discrimination? Or should religions be exempt from anti-discrimination laws?

  9. I was also raised Catholic, so this topic is very relevant to me as well. Men have always seemed to have the power with this religion since it has been around, which explains the churches reluctance to modify its standards as far as officials go. It's an incredible injustice for women to not to have the opportunity to advance themselves in the church due to their sex, especially when there is no reason for their hinderance. Just as LittleGreen said, their reasoning is comparable to "Because I said so."

  10. I was not raised Catholic so I was unaware that this has been going on in the Catholic church. I think that it is wrong that women cannot hold higher positions within the church. It makes me realize that although we women have come a long ways there are still institutions that hold women back from reaching their full potential like the church. I do have a question however. Could/would it ever be possible for women to become a priest. Meaning is it the men within the church that is truly stopping it?

  11. I was raised Mormon and the same structure applies in that religion as well. All positions of authority, Bishops, elected prophets, elder's, etc. are gender segregated. I completely agree that this is wrong. I have never seen that a man is more holy than a woman and it makes sense to me to hear the word of god from everyone who is holy.
    It always makes me sad when I see missionaries and they are all called elder's accept for the women. I think that they should at least earn some for of title. Instead they are just sisters. (If you do not have a title such as elder you are called brother's and sister's in the Mormon church) The only argument that I have heard from Mormons to support this structure is that they believe that God is a man and all of the Deciples and saints were men.
    Although some would say I have no right to argue because I now associate myself to be an Atheist, I would still love to hear the voices of women in the church. Or is it that God decides not to speak through(/to?) women? I mean, there has never been a female prophet of the Mormon church...

  12. Thank you all so much for reading my blog!
    Nathan, I don't believe the state needs to be involved in this issue, mostly because I am a strong believer of separation of church and state. Being a Catholic myself, I believe that it is a sacred institution, and I do not think this is any place for government involvement. On the other hand, I don't believe the Church should have any say on state issues either. If the state got involved in this issue, I believe there would be more backlash to the movement.
    Shawna, I totally agree. What is so difficult about this movement is that there are absolutely no women in power, so it makes that much more difficult to fight for equal rights.
    Alexis, that is the argument of many Catholic women. Many women do not have a problem accepting that men in power is simply tradition.