The male priesthood points men toward service

The Southern Baptists have been ousting all their female pastors. It’s been a long-standing policy in the Southern Baptist Church, which is the largest protestant denomination in the US, that women cannot be leaders, but some churches, including a few powerful and prominent ones, have bucked the teaching. But this year, presumably in response to recent culture wars over gender and gender roles, there has been a crackdown, and the organization voted to expel some churches that hadn’t been following these guidelines.

I haven’t been following this news closely. I don’t think I know any Southern Baptists, except on Twitter and such. But I have been hearing snippets of their genuine struggle, and it’s gut-wrenching to hear people make arguments that boil down to: God says women cannot teach men, and God says women cannot be in authority over men, and God says women need to understand their place.

I thought to myself, “These poor women. They should get the heck out of that church and come be with us Catholics.”

And then I realized, “Oh, that’s what most people think Catholics are like.” They see the all-male priesthood and think that we also teach and believe that women can’t be priests because they need to be subservient to men; that they need to learn from men, and not teach; that they need to cede all power to men; and that all men are born leaders and all women are born followers. They think women can’t be priests because men are more like God than women are…Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly


Image: baptism in Järfälla via Pxfuel

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12 thoughts on “The male priesthood points men toward service”

  1. Maybe? I don’t know if trying to induce men to do something that culturally we don’t ask of men in general is working out that great. Very few men seem to want to take on this role in the West. So we are left beholden to the few that will do this (regardless of their underlying motives).

    The church in the US acts along a feudal model—the priest gets pretty free rein over a parish and the bishop doesn’t keep check over priests. That’s the more damaging pattern. Fewer priests mean more power to those that remain. I know from my own experience that people won’t speak out about marginal priests if it puts your parish in jeopardy of being shut down sometime soon.

    So priesthood challenges men to serve. What do we do when do few men want to take up this challenge? Are we held hostage to that model and that hope?

  2. So, the Southern Baptist Convention issues of the last few years is something I’ve followed somewhat closely, although I’m not quite sure why. Maybe just because it’s hard to avert your eyes from a train wreck, and the way the SBC has mishandled sexual abuse truly has been a wreck, possibly second only to how the Catholic Church mishandled it.

    I think you’re right, Simcha, that one major difference here is in how we understand the priesthood /being a pastor as being fundamentally about service & servant-leadership. I think the other major, maybe even more important part, is that we believe that the priest acts in persona Christi in administering the sacraments. And obviously, Jesus was a man and all 12 apostles were men, etc, and they’re who he entrusted his ministry to. As you point out, women serve all the time, albeit often is ways that are behind the scenes. But women don’t administer the sacraments because as women, we can’t act in persona Christi. Without that understanding of the essence of the priesthood (not as a sacrament-dispenser but of acting in the person of Christ), the SBC’s rules about who can be a pastor or not seem really arbitrary. (Although it also seems like how one becomes or is deemed a pastor is fairly arbitrary, or at least changes from one church to the next. Why does someone who leads music need to be called a pastor?)

    The priesthood being reserved solely for men is actually something I struggled with a lot when I was younger and just thought that if Jesus knew how people would interpret his choosing all men to be his apostles, he would have made it clearer not to read too much into that. Or that he could welcome women as followers and honor them and heal them and free them from demons, but welcoming them as apostles would have been a step too far. And I think it’s just a grace that I don’t struggle with that anymore and am able to focus instead on how Jesus and the Church honor women. I love the readings and prayers for the feast of St. Mary Magdalene, for example, and Sts. Mary, Martha (and Lazarus) on their feast day as well.

    1. Yes, I didn’t mean “women already serve enough” was an argument for the male priesthood. There is a whole other set of facts that comprise the actual argument for the male priesthood. I was just saying that IF we associated the priesthood with service, rather than power or something, we’d be more open to those actual arguments.

  3. I appreciate what you’re trying to do here, and I love your writing on everything else, but I wonder how accurate your view of Catholic doctrine is? I’ve read Casta Conubii, much of it even in Latin! I’ve just finished Abigail Favale’s new book, as well as lots of writings by Catholics defending the male priesthood, and I still see the following problems:

    1. The arguments that men are more ‘transcendent’ than women, or better representatives of the Imago Christi still boil down to ‘women are in all ways inferior to men.’ In Favale’s book she says that males are more like God than women are. Flatly, openly states that males are equal to God and females are equal to humans. No amount of statements that all people are ‘female’ in relation to God is going to change that from anything but a statement that women are inferior.

    2. The ‘service’ performed by the priesthood still carries a lot of prestige and authority and does not involve much in the way of dirty dishes. Priests run parishes. They are the CEO of their own local church. No woman will never be the boss or equal colleague of a priest. Priests relate to every female they know as the priest’s inferior.

    I would love to see how you resolve the Men = God/ Women = Humans, God > Human, therefore Men > Women problem.

    1. I haven’t read Abigail Favale’s book yet, although it sounds really interesting, but if that’s her understanding or representation of Church teaching, she’s wrong. I would love to see what she says about it.

    2. I read her book and I would like to see the passage you have in mind, because that doesn’t sound like Favale!

      1. It’s in the last chapter. She says men are ‘transcendent’ which is more like God and women are not, which makes us human.

        1. I looked the quote up from my notes — I read a library book that I’ve already returned — and the quote is “ the male sex is analogous to God because God endows life from himself but stands apart from it.” She compares this to women’s ‘receptivity.’ I’ve read this analogy from more than one Catholic discussion of the relations between men and women and it’s really hard to understand the formula as anything other than saying women have less of the image of God than men do.

  4. “This idiocy is thanks, in part, to the bloviating misogyny of some far-right trad Catholics, unfortunately; it is not church teaching.” I’m glad you qualified your statement, but really, I think you’re doing yourself and your readers a disservice by ignoring the very loud Womynfire groups on college campuses, liberal orders of religious Sisters, groups like the Preaching for the Unordained, etc. There are so many of them it makes me wonder if you’ve been wronged by some Rad Trad Catholics in a deep way. Or maybe they just get on your nerves. I get it.

    And when I say I get it, I really do. I have a Latin Mass quasi-parish not two miles from my house, but I can’t shake the feeling that lots of those people think they’re somehow better than Novus Ordo me. And so I make it a habit not to hang around them. Easily done for me as they’re pretty insular, but I suppose staying away from them is more difficult for you as a Catholic blogger. But every time I walk into my own parish, I am surrounded by grey haired St. Joe nuns (SSJ’s) loudly rewriting the Mass (in a gender inclusive way) in the pew behind me. They annoy me too, in a way that relates to the very subject of this post. And when I can, I stay away from them.

    My experience has been that the SSJ’s are full of man bashers (including priests) and every annoying liberal idea that comes down the pike. Give one of them a microphone (like if they’re announcing a collection at the end of Mass for their old age home) and guaranteed they’ll take the opportunity to preach on the Gospel reading, even though they’re at Mass, not ordained, and the priest already did. Family and parish obligations being what they are, this Catholic Philadelphian has to have plenty of interaction with the SSJ’s.

    OK. So I am left to tolerate their man bashing and half baked ideas in a way I am not forced to suffer the condescension of the Rad Trads. But what I’m not going to do is single out the left for problems in our big tent Church. There’s plenty of blame to go around. And I think all of us readers would benefit if you considered presenting a more balanced view of church factions on a topic like this one, where liberal Catholics have had a huge impact on the public’s perception, one that extends far outside Catholic Twitter (which is the only place most regular Catholics would encounter Trads).

    1. I don’t disagree, but why would I say anything about leftist Catholics in a paragraph explaining that Church teaching isn’t misogynist, but some Catholics are? It’s just not relevant.

      1. I guess because not mentioning the liberal Catholics who actually teach that the Church is misogynistic just makes the whole sentence seem to me like a gratuitous shot at trad Catholics. Myself, my husband, and every single one of our kids learned from at least one, if not several/ most teachers, that the reason women can’t be priests is because the Church considers us “less.” Not a one of those teachers was/is a bloviating trad.

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