Why Can't Women Become Priests?
Here's a tough one.
Invalid Arguments Against the Ordination of Women
First I'm going to answer the question the WRONG way, just in order to draw attention to those in my profession that are also answering this question the WRONG way.
I was once getting ready for mass, before I was a priest, and a little girl, who was an altar server there, came up to the priest and asked him, "Why can't girls become priests?"
The priest answered, "Well, why can't men have babies?"
The little girl answered, "Because they aren't made to have babies!!" She answered.
The priest responded, "And its the same reason for women becoming priests."
That shut her up.
Unfortunately, what she didn't realize is that the priest made two very serious logic errors in answering her question:
one: he puts natural law (the fact that men can't have babies) on the same level as Church law (that women can't become priests). There can be no debate on the issue of men becoming mothers, because it is PHYSICALLY impossible - this is what philosophers would call "self-evident truth". However matter of Church law, which may be truth, are unfortunately NEVER self-evident, because they're matters of faith. And that leads to...
two: his arguement was basically a circular argument. Women can't become priests because women can't become priests. This is essentially what he said. "BECAUSE I SAID SO!!" is essentially what he said. Although she didn't know it consciously, I sensed her dissatisfaction with this answer - as anyone should be dissatisfied, when being told to shut up and obey, as though we are all children.
Invalid Arguement FOR the Ordination of Women
In the interest for fairness, mention should also be made of the most common argument for the ordination of women - IT'S NOT FAIR!!
A lot of people say that "It's not fair!!" that women can't be priests. Why can't they? Why do men get all the power in the church!?!
And they go on to say that these groups of MEN are just afraid of losing all their power. This may be true, I admit, possibly, for a few.
Nonetheless, fairness has nothing to do with it - because priesthood is not a "RIGHT" that people have (neither is marriage, by the way) - it is a calling. The question - the ONLY question - is whether God is CALLING women to the priesthood or not.
The Church's Argument
Now all this having been said, what the priest was trying, unsuccessfully, to say was that women don't have certain characteristics that are necessary for priesthood. THERE'S A LANDMINE FR. CATFISH - LETS SEE YOU DANCE ARONUD THAT ONE!! Okay, so what are these characteristics?
Well, although the church would argue this issue in much greater length and detail, personally I think there argument can be simplified to two basic points:
one: Jesus was a man. The priest is to act in the place of Christ, particularly as he confers the sacraments, and so in order to be like Christ as much as possible, the priest must also be a man. This is the PERSONAE CHRISTI argument.
Now this argument has a few holes in it - you've probably already noticed. In particular, Jesus was not just a man, he was an hisidic male, likely with brown hair and brown eyes - priests don't have to be hisidic males with brown hair and brown eyes, just MALE, so what's special about being a male? This remains unanswered. And the other point is that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta is far more like Christ than Fr. Catfish will ever be, IN ALL THE WAYS THAT COUNT - the conforming of her spirit to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Nonetheless, it cannot be ignored that Blessed Mother Teresa never had any aspirations to be a priest, and would probably agree that women shouldn't become priests.
So what is it about maleness? Well, I'm not exactly sure - but one thing I do know is that males and females ARE DIFFERENT. We have different qualities and characteristics, we view the world in different ways, and so on - this is one of the things that keeps life so interesting. I'm not ready to accept what some would say, things like: men are more rational and less ruled by emotion than women, men are stronger leaders than women, men are more cut out for ministry than women - I think these arguments are sheer nonsense, and I can think of plenty of real-life examples to the contrary. Nonetheless, I am ready to accept that there is definite difference between men and women, even though that difference may be difficult to define - so perhaps there is something about being a man that is required to imitate Christ in this particular way.
Maybe it has to do with the priest's role in being a unifying focal point for a community; maybe its the priests role in preaching; maybe its the wandering, restless spirit that men tend to have that makes them more capable of priesthood, the overwhelming sense of mission, like a fire burning within them, that makes men not want to settle down, but instead fills them with zeal to carry the message to the ends of the earth. Maybe - I don't know for sure though. Perhaps more research is required on my part.
two: For his Apostles, Jesus chose twelve men. As successors of the Apostles, Bishops, and as their delegated assistants, Priests, must also be men.
Well, this is a matter of fact that ties into what I just finished about some male character to the priesthood. Jesus chose men to be the ones that would lead his church, and carry on his mission, spread the Good News to all the world.
And he could have chosen women too. Some say he chose men simply because in that time period and that era, women would never be recognized in that role, unlike today. But Jesus was never one to allow himself to be limited by social convention. He broke the rules all the time, particularly when it came to strengthening the status of women.
So he could have chosen women, but he chose men. Others will argue, yes, but he chose women too. Mary Magdeline is often referred to as "the Apostle to the Apostles" because she was the FIRST to witness the Resurrected Jesus, and was then sent to go tell the Apostles about it. Other women played some very important roles in the early church. Still it can't be argued that they played the same role of leadership and evangelization as the twelve Apostles, not on either biblical or historical grounds.
This biblical institution and commission from Jesus to the twelve Apostles is regarded as the basis for what we call the Sacrament of Holy Orders today. Still, one could argue that Jesus didn't institute priesthood exactly in the form it takes today - after Jesus, there was a period of several hundred years where the office evolved into what it is today - in fact its still evolving. Some argue that perhaps it needs to continue to evolve, given new historical circumstances, to allow for the possibility that maybe, today, God is calling women to the priesthood too.
So, could God be calling women to the priesthood now?
Well, this is the crux of the issue. How do we tell if God is calling a MAN to the priesthood? By that I'm not talking about all men in general, as clearly most men are not called to the priesthood either. I'm talking about those particular men whom God has called, and who have distinguished themselves as truly Holy priests.
Well, in determining if a particular man is called to the priesthood, consideration is made for his life of holiness, prayer life, Bible reading, attendance to the sacraments, blah, blah, and so on - these are required of every Christian, so there's got to be something more. Attention is given to that individuals particular gifts, the things that make them special - their ability to preach being formost, also charitable works, sacramental presence - they radiate a spiritual quality, an authority, that gives weight to the sacraments that they administer - there's also compassion and generosity, humility (although sometimes we priests lose this one, unfortunately), basically, these all come down to a person's strength.
But there are also the WEAKNESSES. Jesus didn't choose the Apostles because they were geniuses. Sure they had some qualities going for them - they were hard workers, they were determined - but it was just as much for their weaknesses, by which God would be glorified when he manifests HIS strength THROUGH them, that gave Jesus reason to choose them.
And I think there's a certain odd-ball quality that all of us called to ministry, both men and women, possess. And this applies not only to our RELIGION, but to medicine men and women in all cultures - they were the strange ones, the mystics, the dreamy ones, the weirdos - in todays culture they'd be the nerds. I'm not talking about Bill Gates type nerds either - I'm talking head-in-the-clouds nerds. Like me, I guess.
So in determining if women are called to the priesthood, it would seem the same qualities need to be looked for, right?
Many women, who have these gifts, feel this way - and feel the burning within them when they are told that despite the gifts that they manifest, they cannot serve the church as priests. They feel the pain- of Superman, being told that he's never allowed to fly.
On the other hand, I've also known several women who believed themselves to be called to the priesthood - who were so angry, so power-hungry, so full of spite and even hatred towards men - that it was clear to me that these PARTICULAR women were not called to the priesthood at all - they weren't motivated by zeal for the Gospel - they were motivated purely by zeal for their own agenda - in fact their undisciplined zeal, in the end, only hurt their cause.
BOTTOM LINE - the issue for the church is simply this - this goes for John Paul II anyway, and I believe for Benedict XVI as well - their statements on the ordination of women to the priesthood is simply that the Church doesn't have the authority to ordain women. Its important to notice the difference here between what many THINK the church says - that they REFUSE to ordain women. JPII said that he CAN'T ordain women. Why? Because the Church's authority to ordain MEN comes from Jesus' own personal institution of the Apostles, men. Its important that we all understand this, and rather than judging church leaders prematurely as saying that they're all a bunch of patriarcal bozos intent purely on maintaining their own power, instead realize that they don't see how they CAN ordain women, because Jesus didn't institute such an Order.
Other intricacies and obscurities to the argument
Now there are some who go so far as to theologize the role of Jesus as man, who is married to his bride, the Church. Some even say that because the Church itself is theologically/symbolically female, the priest should be male, as bridegroom to the church. But this is only theological symbolism, that is an EXTRAPOLATION on the reality of the male priesthood AFTER THE FACT (a posteriori) - it should not be then used to justify that male priesthood - this constitutes another circular argument. The church itself isn't really female - only symbolically, AS bride of Christ.
(PG 13 warning) I even recall one priest, in justifying a male clergy, suggesting that symbolically the priest is ejaculating his preaching into his congregation - this is an example of taking the theological symbolism WAY to far. Gross.
Here's another wrinkle. While there is no historical precedent to the ordination of women to the Priesthood, there is a historical precedent to the Ordination of Women to the Diaconate. Deaconesses were common in the early church to assist women catechumens with their baptism process (men and women were baptized in the nude back then, so they needed same gender assistance). There is even reference to the Deaconess and the conferral of their authority through the laying of hands (in other words, their Ordination) in the disciplinary documents of the Council of Nicea.
As for the concern about the lack of power for women in the church - I do think this is a real problem. Part of the problem stems from the huge decline, world-wide, of women-religious orders. The fact is, there was a time when women were VERY POWERFUL in the church, and at a time that we wouldn't normally think women would be powerful - during the middle ages. Women-religous - people like Hildegard of Bingam, as just one example, exercized tremendous influence over theology, liturgical practice, and the pastoral works of the universal church. If anything, I think we, as a church as a whole, need to find a way to re-incorporate that female voice into the church once again - this so that its voice can be truly balanced and whole, and so that it can speak for and minister to the entire church of the world.