How to explain to non-Catholics why women can't be priests

I would like to start by saying that I have read the (very) brief article answering this question on this site already, as well as many threads on this site above it. So I’m looking for some arguments a bit more in-depth than those. I would also like to mention that this doesn’t bother me much–it’s explaining why this does not make women unequal in the Catholic Church that is difficult.

Here are some specific things I need addressed:

  • The only real reasons the Church has given for her male-only priesthood come down to “it hasn’t been done before” which can be easily argued to be for historical/cultural reasons.

  • What about women who genuinely feel called to the priesthood and meet all the expectations of a true vocation to the priesthood?

  • Many men feel that they are better able to serve people by being a priest. If a woman feels the same, why can she not have that opportunity?

  • All leadership positions of any significance in the Church are filled by men. What about women who are born leaders? The options for them are far, far fewer.

As I said, I need this explained so I can show atheists/agnostics that my Faith is not outdated or sexist.

When Jesus breathed the Holy Spirit onto the apostles (who were all men) it was the first issue of Holy Orders. They could now give the sacrament of reconciliation to people.

When Jesus instituted the Eucharist and said “do this in memory of me” (Saying the consecration prayer)he was talking to only men.

I know people don’t like hearing this, but men and women are different. We are wired different, so not only are we biologically different, we are also psychologically different. We have different roles in the Church.

I honestly don’t think the explanations and reasons for an all-male priesthood will make sense to a lot of Atheists, Agnostics, people of other religions, and also…to many Catholics, too.
I’ve heard them all, and I still think that if Jesus were alive today, he would be shocked to discover there are no female priests.
After all, he had Mary Magdalene, who was the first person to proclaim Christianity…and who went to Rome, i believe, after Jesus died to preach there.


Many would argue, however, that it was solely for cultural/historical reasons that Jesus chose only men for apostles. Since women wouldn’t have really been able to go out and proclaim the gospel in those times, they weren’t really suited for the task then. Jesus only ate with the Twelve at the last supper, it is true, but that could have been because they were closest to him and he wanted to spare his women followers the grief of his arrest and avoid exposing them to danger that way.

Now, I think it’s obvious that men are different from women, but men are different from other men as well. Some might argue that women would bring different, and maybe even needed qualities into the priesthood. What can one say to that?

I realize that in the end we can’t convince them if they aren’t sure of what they believe. But I want to at least avoid making the Church look illogical and seemingly prove them right in their beliefs that the Church doesn’t really have a response to these things.

Then he should have ordained her with the apostles if he thought women should be priests. Wouldn’t his Divine nature know that culture would change and so if he wanted to he would have at least hinted that he wanted women to be ordained at some point?

Women still teach today without being ordained.

Jesus chose men, and only men. Why isn’t that important to [whomever is asking the question about “women priests”]? Priests are supposed to act in the person of Christ (who came to us as a man) when administering the Sacraments. It was Christ’s decision to come as a man. Is that significant? Is ANYTHING Christ did insignificant?

  • What about women who genuinely feel called to the priesthood and meet all the expectations of a true vocation to the priesthood?

What about them? Does a “feeling” equal “truth”? Is every person who “feels” called to do something, truly “called” to do it? Or might people be influenced by their own biases? Do our “feelings” about something usurp the fact that Christ set up His Church specifically with a male Priesthood?

“Feelings” don’t equate to true callings. And women who feel called to serve God in such a manner are not left out in the cold by any means. Women have served God as Nuns, Sisters, etc. for centuries. Is there something less noble in serving God in that way?

  • Many men feel that they are better able to serve people by being a priest. If a woman feels the same, why can she not have that opportunity?

(See above)

  • All leadership positions of any significance in the Church are filled by men. What about women who are born leaders? The options for them are far, far fewer.

(See above)

As I said, I need this explained so I can show atheists/agnostics that my Faith is not outdated or sexist.

Your faith is Christian. Of course others will see it as outdated. The question is, why does that matter?

Try Peter Kreeft’s talk on priestesses.

I think the question is not whether it is significant or not that he did so, but whether having women followers counts as “choosing women” or not. Women wouldn’t have had as much luck with preaching compared to men and travelling would have been significantly harder for them in those days. That easily explains why they weren’t chosen as apostles (as you may know, the word “apostle” comes from means “one who is sent forth”).

I didn’t just mean to imply feelings, but rather cases in which a woman meets every requirement for the priesthood, and has every sign of a true calling, except that she’s a woman rather than a man. There are people who seem to be like this, and aside from the fact that they aren’t obviously orthodox Catholics if they feel the calling that strongly, why would God allow them to be deceived this way if they were not ever meant to be priests, period?

As for nuns and sisters, that is a completely different type of life. One of service to and leadership of a parish involve different charisms and personalities.

Perhaps because I feel that many questions are asked of the Catholic Church that never seem to be adequately answered–or are answered based on assumptions which are themselves not properly explained in the eyes of many. I want to be able to explain the why as well as the what and how.

I feel that God gave us an intellect for a reason. If we find questions, it seems only logical and just (not to mention merciful) to have an answer for us, that we can understand, so that we can be certain of our Faith. I’m not speaking about evidence per se, just logic. Everything in our Faith should theoretically be logical, aside from things which we can see could make sense, but may be above logic. Perhaps I don’t necessarily mean logical, but it should at least completely agree with reality.

Thank you for that. Hopefully I will find time to listen to it soon.

If both men and women could be ordained to the priesthood, then why didn’t he do it back then? Maybe women would not have been as popular but that’s what the men would be responsible for.

The priest at the local Catholic Church here associated with the university, said it was a mistake and that the Church should have allowed women priests a long time ago.

They are at least material heretics. The pope declared infallibly that the Church can’t ordain women. You can’t use that in an argument with atheist or agnostics but you can with priests. He’s saying the Church has been wrong for almost 2000 years.

The idea that women were not priests at the time of Jesus is simply NOT true, if you cared to investigate the matter just a little bit more you would realize that women priestesses in the ancient world were actually the norm rather than the exception.
Only the Jews had an exclusive men priesthood. But the rest of the cultures all around did.

The list is so large that I won’t even start mentioning them, go and research it.

There are profound theological explanations why the priest is a male and others have already pointed out some resources also I believe there is book by Scott Hahn that deals with the priesthood and the theological implications.

I’ve never heard “it’s never been done before” as an argument in this matter. The simple reason that Catholic, non-Catholic Christians and even non believers might find more compelling is that it is not about what priests DO, but what a priest IS.

When we look only at the functional aspect, sure, lots of women could potentially do those actions or perform those jobs, but vocation is not function. And ministerial priesthood is all about what a priest is – he is alter Christus. He gives his parish community a representation of the relationship we have with God the Father. A priest is not in the doing, but in the being. He has a sacramental identity that configures our relationship to God in and thru our relationship with The One Priest – Jesus.

I honestly don’t believe there are any women with authentic vocational calls from God to Ministerial Priesthood. God would not contradict Himself. Men and women are not the same and are not interchangeable – just ask any man who might want to give birth.

It’s also not about power. When understood correctly, the hierarchy of the Church should look like an inverted pyramid with the people on the top being upheld by our priests, Bishops and the Pope - our servant-leaders.

The priest said it was not an infallible declaration. True, it must be obeyed but it has not met the necessary criteria for infallibility.

  1. Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare 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.

He said it had to be held by all the Church’s faithful, he was implying all members had to believe it so it is infallible.

the Pope did say so, but that of itself does not imply infallibility according to several theologians. For example, Father Francis A. Sullivan has said: “The question that remains is whether it is a clearly established fact that the bishops of the Catholic Church are as convinced by those reasons [against women priests] as Pope John Paul evidently is, and that, in exercising their proper role as judges and teachers of the faith, they have been unanimous in teaching that the exclusion of women from ordination to the priesthood is a divinely revealed truth to which all Catholics are obliged to give a definitive assent of faith. Unless this is manifestly the case, I do not see how it can be certain that this doctrine is taught infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium.”
William Cardinal Levada, formerly the Prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, received his doctorate under Father Sullivan in 1971.

Hey Andrew,

This is just a mix of my own thoughts and things I can loosely recall; I might be completely off on all of it, but:

I think this is a much smaller deal than feminists and people for equality like to make it. Anyone can be a wonderful person, a great Christian, and an exemplary follower of Christ without ever being ordained. A good example of this is the vast number of female saints. Saint Mary, the greatest created human being ever, was a woman. (If you identify this as a false dilemma, you’re missing the point.)

However, I believe men-only-priests isn’t something God revealed to us, it’s something we decided. I.e. It could change if we decided to change it.
I think the Church’s reasoning went something along the lines of: women tend to be better caretakers of children, and thus are better suited for the vocation of marriage, which is just as holy and just as Christian as ordination. If Mary was the perfect woman, note that she was nothing if not a mother. Not to put any fellow men down, but I think the woman is the more important figure in the sacrament of marriage than the man, even if the man is the family leader. Men tend to be more philosophical and more zealous in their work, and thus are better suited to the vocation of ordination, aka doctors/ministers to God’s (adult) people. If Jesus was the perfect man, note that He was nothing if not a minister. (Please don’t be a SA and take this literally–you know what I mean. :))
The Church also (I think) reasoned that being truly dedicated to two life-vocations at once would be difficult to impossible. Thus, even if we decided to start women priesthood too, I think there would would be some rule, like that of men priests, stating they could not also be married. Now this seems contrary to the main purpose of womanhood, thus, only men are ordained.
But, as your debater said, some women do make good leaders, or fulfill the fatherly role well. So maybe someday we, the Church, really will decide to allow women’s ordination. :shrug:

My main point is: selectivity in ordination is pretty much up to us. And: discrimination in this and in many other things isn’t necessarily hateful or unfair; it can be a good thing.


The rest of your post makes a good point, so thanks for making it. I’d like to clarify this, however. The “it’s never been done before” argument is what the three reasons given by Catholic Answers seem to boil down to.

Number one is that Jesus chose his apostles only from among men. OK, so Jesus didn’t do it. There were many things Jesus didn’t do, or wasn’t recorded doing, that are accepted by the Catholic Church. For instance, he is not recorded instituting Baptism as a sacrament. We see the sacrament of Baptism later in the New Testament. Note that it is only deacons and apostles who perform it there (if I’m not mistaken). The Church, however, permits anyone to baptize, provided the intention is right and the correct formula is followed. This is a separate argument from “the early Church didn’t do it.” In this case, it’s “Jesus didn’t do it.”

Number two is that the Church has always chosen only men. Again, this is pretty much “it’s always been done this way.”

Number three is that the Church has always upheld in her authority that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is part of God’s plan. Once more, this is an “it’s always been this way” explanation, not a why, which is what I’m looking for.

The first is the only one that has any significance in terms of why, but the significance is weak. What I’m trying to find out is why Jesus did what he did–why does this make sense as part of his plan. Thankfully, I’m beginning to get some good answers.

Partially, it comes down to what the body reveals about men and women, and who Jesus was, and for what purpose he came in the flesh. The male body demonstrates a sense of ‘giving away’ or ‘going beyond himself,’ whereas a woman’s body shows a receptivity, and a conceptive and life forming (as opposed to life-giving) posture.

What this boils down to, is that Jesus came as a man, partially because his mission was to ‘empty himself.’ Women have an emptiness already, which is waiting to be filled with life, so it can conceive that life and bear it forth to the world. The man is meant to empty himself, giving life to his beloved. Therefore, priests, being, in a certain sense, ‘another Christ,’ also must conform to that self-donating posture, hence, they must be men. After all, the body reveals something of the soul (and all creation reveals something of our creator.)

Women, no doubt, could do the temporal jobs of priests, but no woman, by virtue of her being a woman, can ever have a true ‘self-donating’ posture, only a receptive one. A priest is called to, in essence give his life to the church, just as Christ did. We, by the way. the members of the church, must approach our Lord in the posture of a woman; that is, ready to receive Christ, conceive Christ in us, and bear Christ forth to the world - hence we must have the posture, as it is, of Mary, who did just that.

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