Why Can’t the Catholic Church Ordain Women?

There’s been a lively discussion in the comments here amongst Anglican and Catholic readers.  One of the Anglicans, TJH, offered eight reasons why his church ordains women:

(1)Male and female are created in God’s image – both men and women can image God’s love and beauty;

(2)The Blessed Virgin Mary conceived Jesus in her womb and the sacramental mysteries are in a real sense an extension of the incarnation;

(3)the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet before burial performed a sacramental act and it was accepted by Jesus; a sign that women can serve the Body of Christ and anoint for healing and renewal;

(4)Jesus broke with tradition and included women among his disciples and affirmed them time and again in his saving ministry – this was deeply radical;

(5)it was women who stood at the cross of Jesus and who visited his empty tomb; if we proclaim his death and resurrection at the Eucharist, who better to preside than believing women whose sisters in the faith stood by our Lord;

(6)St Mary Magdalene was Apostle of the resurrection and proclaimed the Good News to the cowering faithless male disciples – if the Eucharist proclaims Christ’s resurrection, then women can preside at its sacramental proclamation;

(7)women were included in the leadership of early church; Prisca worked with her husband Aquila as evangelists and many churches met at the homes of women where they acted as leaders of the faith communities; and

(8)the orders of ministry which we now have (bishop, priest and deacon) descend from the early church which include the 12 apostles but also the ‘charismatic’ apostles and leaders such as Paul and Barnabas and Prisca and Aquila and nameless others, who if we take the New Testament epistles seriously would have included women. 
The ordination of women is actually a sign of true apostolicity as it carries on the ministry of the faithful women who supported Jesus in his saving work and without whom Jesus would have died alone and the message of his cross and resurrection would not have been proclaimed to the world! 

Here’s what I would say in response to that.

I. Jesus Set Up the Apostolic Ordained Priesthood as All-Male

Jesus Appears to Mary Magdalene, Lavinia Fontana (1581)

First and foremost, there’s the example of Jesus.  It’s absolutely true that “Jesus broke with tradition and included women among his disciples and affirmed them time and again in his saving ministry – this was deeply radical.”  But look at the list of His Twelve Disciples (Matthew 10:2-4):

Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.

All men. That’s obviously not a coincidence. And we know that Jesus didn’t just choose all men because He was afraid of being considered radical.  Jesus had no problem breaking societal norms, including on the subject of women — as TJH’s (3) and (6) concedes.  Obviously, Jesus wasn’t (isn’t) sort of sexist. It was to women, after all, that Our Savior first appeared after His Resurrection. Matthew 28:1-10 is abundantly clear that (a) Jesus appeared first to the women who came to His empty Tomb, and (b) these women weren’t considered Disciples.

So we have to say that Jesus purposely restricted His ordained Twelve to only men, and this can’t be simply waved away by talking about first century culture, since Jesus and the early Church were about as counter-cultural as it gets. There’s also no question that the Roman Empire contained pagan priestesses — female religious leadership (including in a distinctively sacrificial capacity) wasn’t exactly unheard of.  That reasoning alone is sufficient: Jesus deliberately set things up this way.  So even if we can’t understand why, we’ll still listen and obey Him.  But fortunately, we’re not completely in the dark as to the why, either.

II. Likely Reasons Why Jesus Set Up the Priesthood as All-Male

First, we should always avoid the trap that equality equals sameness. The equality between men and women is an equality of complementary, rather than similarity. St. Paul, using the image of the Church as the Body of Christ, talks about the difference in 1 Cor. 12:16-19:

And if the ear says, “Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,” it is not for this reason any the less a part of the Body. If the whole Body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the Body, just as He desired. If they were all one member, where would the Body be?

Note well what St. Paul warns: that if we mistake equality for sameness, we’ll disable and reduce the Body of Christ to a single organ.  So while it’s true that “Male and female are created in God’s image,” and that “both men and women can image God’s love and beauty;” that equality doesn’t mean that both are called to the priesthood.

Of course, St. Paul’s prediction has come true.  Nearly every church that has ordained women has suffered terribly as a result.  It’s lead to division and in-fighting,  declining vocations, even schisms.  Look at what’s happened to the conservative Anglicans, who have been ostracized for holding to the traditional Anglican belief that the priesthood was male-only.  Look at the numerous warring Anglican factions that have sprung up in response to the question of women’s ordination.  That’s not to say that one side or the other has been blameless here, but it is to say that nearly every time, the decision to ordain women has caused needless scandal and immense damage to the Body of Christ.  So as a pragmatic concern, women’s ordination has been an unmitigated disaster.  What do these groups have to show for their ecclesial hara-kari?

But there’s a deeper, sacramental reason for all of this.  St. Paul outlines the basic contours in Ephesians 5:22-33, in which he explains that a husband’s loving headship is an image of Christ’s loving headship over  the Church:

Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church, He Himself being the Savior of the Body. But as the Church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her, so that He might sanctify Her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the Church in all Her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that She would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. 
He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the Church, because we are members of His Body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This Mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the Church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.

So the priest stands in persona Christi (in the person of Christ) during the Mass.  He proclaims the Gospel, just as Christ proclaimed the Gospel during His earthly ministry.  He consecrates the Eucharist, proclaiming in the words of Christ, “This is My Body.”  Christ instructed His (all male) Apostles to do this in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19).  But the priest isn’t just reciting Scripture or quoting Christ.  Christ speaks and acts through him.  When Christ proclaims those words through the priest, the bread and wine become His own Body and Blood.

So Christ works through the priest in a totally unique way in the sacraments, particularly the consecration of the Eucharist.  This means that the priest’s entire ontological ordering is radically transformed to become an alter Christus, literally, another Christ.  The priest can proclaim with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).

If this view of the priesthood is correct, and it’s certainly the one that the Church has always taken, it has some profound significance for how we understand things.  The priest, representing Christ, needs to be male, in part because “the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the Church.”  The priest serves the role of the husband, and of Christ.  Those are intrinsically masculine roles.

By the way, this is also one of the numerous reasons why the Western Church celebrates clerical celibacy: it better signifies the invisible reality that the man is now bound to the Church, similarly to how a husband is bound to his wife, or a man is bound to his own body.  To oversimplify a bit, we might say that the man has married the Church.  So I would suggest that one reason people end up thinking that women’s ordination is valid is based out of a misunderstanding of what the priesthood is.  Understand that, and the ontological reality that it’s inherently masculine in nature becomes clearer.

Finally, the priesthood is about self-service.  Remember the pragmatic point above: that women’s ordination destroys churches.  The Anglican Eleventh Lambeth Conference admitted that women’s ordination “caused distress and pain to many on both sides.”  For what purpose was so much pain caused to the Body of Christ?  What sort of ministry is it that rends a church into two warring factions, just so that you can have the ability to say you’re a priestess?

III. Final Thoughts

What, then, can be made of TJH’s claim that the “ordination of women is actually a sign of true apostolicity as it carries on the ministry of the faithful women who supported Jesus in his saving work and without whom Jesus would have died alone and the message of his cross and resurrection would not have been proclaimed to the world”?

We would have to say that no Church prior to the twentieth century was truly Apostolic: that somehow, the followers of Christ didn’t know that female leadership was supposed to include ordination.    And worse, that the entire Church fundamentally misunderstood what Holy Orders were supposed to be, for the first nineteen centuries of Christianity.  And not just the Catholic Church either — the Anglican Church TJH is trying to defend also rejected the idea of women’s ordination outright before flip-flopping.  As recently as 1948, the Anglican church, at the Eighth Lambeth Conference, rejected the ordination of Florence Li Tim-Oi as contrary to the tradition and order of the Anglican communion.  They reversed course in 1968.

So this claim is ultimately more radical than even what groups like the Mormons claim. They claim that the Church ceased to be Apostolic in character almost immediately, but that it was restored through a prophet from God.  TJH is left saying that the Church ceased to be Apostolic in character almost immediately, but that this full Apostolicity was restored through a few renegade Anglican provinces ordaining women without permission (and in direct violation of Anglican leadership), only to have some bishops later support the decision.

There is a particular sense in which women (and laymen) partake of the priesthood.  In Baptism, each of us is anointed priest, prophet, and king (CCC 1241).  But this isn’t the same thing as the ordained, sacramental priesthood: there’s more on that distinction here.  It’s also true that as TJH points out in (2), all of the Incarnational graces flow through Mary, which includes the graces tied to Holy Orders.  But that’s different than saying that Mary was or is an ordained priestess.  She wasn’t, and while she accompanied the Twelve, she was never counted amongst their number.

Most of what TJH provided actually contains the same shred of truth: women are called to help guide the Church.  Think of St. Catherine of Siena, writing to the pope to tell him to move the papacy from Avignon back to Rome (which he promptly did). Was she a priest? No.  Was she a Church leader?  Indisputably.

Or look at Mother Teresa, or Mother Angelica, or innumerable other women famous and not, who carried on the Gospel from the time of the Apostles to today.  It would be an incredibly misguided view to suggest that it takes Holy Orders to proclaim Jesus, or to minister in love to one’s neighbor.  All of the examples TJH provides support this: women who weren’t Apostles, weren’t bishops, weren’t presbyters, and weren’t deacons, but still served God in a public and pleasing way.

That should be reassuring not only for women, but for men who aren’t called to the sacramental priesthood.  God’s plan for most of us isn’t to serve Him as clerics, but as laypeople.  Women’s ordination is a misguided push in the wrong direction.


  1. As a woman (and a strong, outspoken one at that!), I have never in my life been offended or felt marginalized by a male-only priesthood. I adore the male-only priesthood, and I will defend it to the death. God bless our priests as they stand in the place of the Bridegroom to minister to and love the Bride!

  2. Joe, this is an excellent summary of the Catholic position on the male priesthood. I look forward to the responses from our Anglican brothers and sisters.

    One of our local priests is a former Anglican clergyman, and is one of the Church’s representatives in negotiations with the Traditional Anglican parishes who are considering coming over via the Ordinariate. We were discussing the precarious state of negotiations at that time, and he was telling us (with wry amusement) that most of the sticking points for the Anglicans came down to the question of Authority.

    According to our priest, the Anglican tradition of latitudinarianism is so deeply ingrained that even Traditional Anglicans can have great difficulty coming to terms with the idea of a single source of Authority who is able to define dogma for the entire Church. Catholics, on the other hand, cannot quite believe the Anglican notion that all dogmas are provisional, and can be overturned on a 50% plus one vote.

    The sticking point for our Traditional Anglicans, in this instance, was the Church’s teaching on the validity (or lack thereof) of Anglican orders. The Church had asked them to cease performing sacramental functions, since (by the Catholic view) they were never validly ordained in the first place. One of the Anglicans was reported to have said, “We’d like to be in communion with [the Catholic Church], but under different terms.” I had to smile at that.

  3. I like the title: “Why *can’t* the Catholic Church ordain women”…

    In London you often see one or two people protesting outside of Westminster Cathedral in favour of female priests. They don’t really seem to understand the problem. It’s not that the Church *won’t* ordain women, it’s that she *can’t*!

  4. Joe, what are the Catholic Church’s reasons for not allowing women to be permanent deaconesses? Deaconesses seem much more justifiable both scripturally and by early Tradition. Are different arguments used against them, or the same (ie that the Twelve were all men)?

  5. Putting my Anglo-Catholic hat on, (though I am more Anglo-Orthodox these days) and speaking as a woman who has no firm views either way on women’s ordination, but who submits to the practice of her church, and acknowledges & respects the experience of my Anglican sisters who have felt called to the priesthood:

    There are some arguments in this post that are strong and some that seem weak. The weaker arguments are those pertaining to ‘effect’, for example that women’s ordination has been divisive and caused suffering in the church so it must be wrong. Defining church dogma (whether provisional or not) is always divisive – we wouldn’t actually need dogma if it weren’t. And sometimes the minority view does eventually win out – e.g. Athanasius being famously ‘contra mundi’ in his battle against Arianism.

    That said, I admire the Catholic resistance to ‘flip-flopping’ and it is hard to claim any sort of right practice when a generation ago our church was declaring an opposite position with fiery passion.

    And there is certainly a lot of pain around this issue. In religious communities where the celebrant can change from day to day, I’ve seen guests walk in and then straight out again when they see a woman at the altar. And there are Anglican religious who when visiting another monastery aren’t permitted to attend a Eucharist celebrated by a woman, regardless of their personal views. So it can be very painful. And what would be even more painful would be to say that the innovation has failed, and that women can no longer be priests, with all the spiritual ramifications for those who have been working as such these past 20 years, and their beloved parishes.

    But leaving aside the issues of emotional and spiritual anguish, the strongest argument against women’s ordination has to be the all-male nature of the Twelve apostles. Other arguments for exclusive maleness from Paul’s letters and from the early church and the Fathers and Tradition are weaker because there is always the odd example of a woman in a leadership role reported alongside the rubric of male priesthood, and even if one thinks that none of those leaders were ever ‘priests’, there is still the suspicion that this was more cultural than eternal, and it is tempting to point to St Peter’s vision about all foods now being permissible as an example of ‘gospel liberty’ taking precedence over the masculinity of Christian sacraments, especially when combined with Christ’s comment that He has many more things to teach that we ‘are not yet ready for’. In this way, the innovation of women as priests becomes easily framed as a legitimate movement and teaching of the Holy Spirit now that we are ‘ready’ for it.

    end part 1

  6. part 2

    The only part of your post that really raises eyebrows for me is your connection between male priesthood and Galations 2:20. Surely it is not only the priest who can speak these words along with St Paul? I hope you acknowledge that the indwelling of Christ is not limited to ordained men! And then if Christ is in we women as well, can we not also stand in His place?

    (For what it’s worth, although the Twelve being male is a pretty strong indication of Christ’s intent at the time, I’ve never personally been entirely convinced that He intended the breaking of the bread to become such a ritualised endeavour restricted to a priestly class. Isn’t it all uncomfortably similar to the rigidity of exterior religious forms that Jesus spent so much time breaking through in people’s hearts? It seems odd that He might intend to recreate something so very similar for His own Bride. But that’s a different discussion.)

    But going back to the Anglican innovations, the next question is ‘by what authority do we discern this move of the Spirit?’. I think we are on shaky ground here, since neither Tradition nor Scripture offers us much help and we are left clinging to the idea that if the majority of the communion feels an innovation is a move of the Spirit, then it is so. Either that, or we appeal to secular wisdom and ethics and ‘natural justice’ but worldly wisdom has one foot in hell most of the time, so on the question of Authority I personally find the Anglican case lacking. Has the Catholic church ever changed its mind on a dogmatic issue? By definition I would assume not.

    As I said, I’m ambivalent on this issue. If I were Catholic I would have no struggle with Catholic teaching, except when witnessing the pain of my Catholic sisters who do feel they have the priestly vocation but who are prevented from expressing it by their mother the Church. Since I personally have a contemplative vocation it’s no great burden on my own life that I cannot be a priest.

    My prayer as always is with the Psalmist : “For my brethren and companions’ sake I will say ‘Peace be within you!’ For the sake of the House of the Lord our God, I will seek your good.”

    with love.

  7. Tess,

    Great questions. On deaconesses, much of the same basic reasoning applies. The diaconate was explicitly restricted to men only when it was created in Acts 6:3. The Apostles order them to choose seven men, and each of the seven chosen is a man. That’s no coincidence.

    Now, it’s true that there were women referred to as deaconesses, but these women were not viewed as possessing Holy Orders. Canon 19 of the First Council of Nicea (the same Council giving us the Nicene Creed), said in relevant part:

    “Likewise in the case of their deaconesses, and generally in the case of those who have been enrolled among their clergy, let the same form be observed. And we mean by deaconesses such as have assumed the habit, but who, since they have no imposition of hands, are to be numbered only among the laity.

    So the Church was quite clear on this point. It’s not as if they just happened to have all men. They explicitly say that these women are to be numbered only among the laity. And they did this as the very first Ecumenical Council, the one Council which nearly every Christians voices allegiance to. For Anglicans to, by majority vote, simply overrule Nicea (and the Apostolic rule in Acts 6:3) is unfathomable.

    The term “deaconess” was entirely honorary, and a reflection of the fact that they ministered in certain sex-specific roles like female adult Baptism (since Baptism at that time was done in the nude). Once these tasks became obsolete, the role of deaconess disappeared. It would be imprudent to try and resurrect it, since people would assume that it was the equivalent to deacon (the Church denounced this false equivalency at least three times in early Ecumenical and regional Councils).

    end part I

  8. part 2

    On Galatians 2:20, the indwelling of Christ is not limited to ordained men, which is good news for both you and me. But that said, priests can affirm these words in a unique way. They stand in the place of Christ, particularly in the Mass and in Confession.

    Peter Kreeft put it this way, in the talk Brandon Vogt linked to above: when Fr. Murphy is celebrating Mass, and says, “This is My Body,” he’s not saying, “This is Fr. Murphy’s body.” Christ is speaking to us through Fr. Murphy, and we should be hearing (and seeing) Him. So Holy Orders constitutes a permanent ontological change in the man distinct from even the change occurring in both of us through our Baptism.

    You’re right that Truth isn’t determined by its popularity, so the simple fact that a teaching divides a congregation isn’t conclusive. But if it’s something optional (and after all, only a fringe would claim that women’s ordination is required), why needlessly scandalize the flock, particularly when this is an issue likely to lead to schism? The example Paul lays out in 1 Corinthians 8:13 and Romans 14:21 is instructive.

    And this is particularly true of women’s ordination, since the priest exists not for his own sake, but for the sake of his congregation. The fact that the women in question are willing to risk creating schism so that they can attempt to be ordained suggests that they fundamentally misunderstand what the priesthood is about.

    As for your parenthetical, it’s true that Christ fulfills the Old Testament priesthood. But it’s also true that the OT priesthood exists as a prefigurement of Christ and the Church, the New Israel. I’ve written on it here, but for now, suffice to say that Isaiah 66:21 clearly shows that the clerical/laity distinction will continue in the New Covenant, and that the writings of the earliest Church Fathers (like Ignatius of Antioch, student of the Apostle John) clearly show that the Eucharist could only be celebrated by clergy.

    If we truly believe that Christ is guiding His Church always (Mt. 28:20), we don’t need to worry that She fundamentally erred on something so basic, and so quickly.
    On that note, and to answer your question, no, the Catholic Church has never changed Her mind on dogma. As Kreeft also says in that talk, She’s not the Author of Truth, or even the Editor, but just the mail-carrier.

    I hope that this conversation has edified you as much as it has me.
    God bless,


  9. Hi Joe,

    I won’t address your points on deacons since you made an entire thread about it, for which I’m very grateful. You do an excellent job with a gentle yet firm approach which I have appreciated ever since Nick of http://catholicnick.blogspot.com/ sent me your way many months ago. (Before I talked to Nick I was a fervent advocate of TULIP theology so you can see I’ve come quite a long way – my soteriology is at least now Catholic, even if my ecclesiology isn’t!)

    I am still struggling with this idea that men can affirm Gal 2:20 in a ‘unique’ way. If we all as baptised believers have Christ in us (and this is my experience as well as my belief), and if ‘there is neither male nor female’, and if Christ Himself is speaking the words of consecration through the priest in the Liturgy, then why is a man more able than a woman to represent Christ at the altar? In all respects it is Christ doing the work, and the nature of the priest is seemingly irrelevant. Isn’t this in fact why the church decided that a Mass is still valid/efficacious even if the priest was not in a state of grace?

    Logically this doesn’t quite work for me. It is like saying Christ cannot work through a holy woman but can work through a male priest in mortal sin.

    This is why I find these subsequent arguments quite weak in comparison to the ‘kingpin’ argument that Christ chose only male apostles. If one tries to explain Christ’s choice (i.e. what is it about men…?) then I fear one will always come up short.

    I generally agree with your argument that we can trust the Holy Spirit at work in the Church not to have got it all so wrong so soon, although it still leaves open the possibility of innovation later on, because such innovation doesn’t claim the past was in error, but rather that some things can be done differently in our churches, without coming into heresy.

    I do fervently agree with you however (as I said in the other thread) that the push for women’s ordination with the consequence of schism and division is regrettable, but then I’m the sort of person who sees more virtue in humbly submitting to Church teaching than fighting for ‘natural justice’ and ‘equal rights’. I think our witness to the world would be far more beautiful if we did not fight like squabbling cats but placed that dreaded word – obedience – at the heart of everything.

    And yes, this conversation has been very edifying! Thankyou so much for your time.

  10. Hi Joe,

    I realised I have one final comment on this subject before I drop it. I was reading Nick’s thoughts on women covering their heads in church here : http://catholicnick.blogspot.com/2011/06/traditionalist-thoughts-on-womens-head.html
    and it occurred to me to wonder why the Catholic church is willing to point to the writings of St Paul and St Luke when defending the uniquely male nature of priesthood for all time, but strangely quiet on the subject of women being instructed by St Paul to cover their heads in church. Paul uses a similar argument in both cases – that it is part of the natural order for men to have headship over women (or at least a husband to have headship over his wife), and also natural for men to have their heads uncovered and women to have their heads covered. 1 Cor 11:13-15

    The obvious question is this: if this clear instruction carries no weight in modern enlightened times, why do we feel that the ban on women’s ordination should be so fervently defended? Is one considered cultural while the other universal & eternal? If so, why?

    with love.

  11. Tess, I’m sure Joe will respond when he’s got a chance. Until then I’ll say a few things, and Joe can elaborate (or even correct me) as needed. I couldn’t get this blog out of my mind tonight, so stopped by. I usually try to avoid posting as I’m not very good at putting things into words.

    Regarding head coverings, women are still supposed to be covering their heads as described by Paul. At no time did the Church ever claim to revoke this. I think most in the Church abandoned it, in the wave of the secular anti-God feminism that was sweeping by (and still exists), when it wasn’t included in latest Canon Law at the time. You can see this same type of looked for implication in Mairtin’s short post, I think, in the other thread when talking about the Canon Law and about it coming and going. CL is not supposed to be some sort of all-encompassing list of Church doctrinal teaching. If I recall correctly, the CL even states that the points in the previous CL still stands unless directly addressed in the new. The new CL did not address head coverings, but that never meant it was no longer still a biblical mandate.

    If I remember right, the Vatican provides head coverings to women at the entrances of locations where they are supposed to wear one. While the doctrinal teachings of the Church remain indefectible by the active grace of God (such as “Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.” CCC 1577), human beings are still sinful and imperfect. There is quite a bit of ignorance and outright dissent that ills the Church today, and much secularization of the Christian community. The Church is a church of sinners. The few, clergy and laity, who still try to remind people concerning head coverings often get things like “Traditionalist” thrown at them or worse. As Pope Benedict hinted at, we may very well see a reduction in the numbers in the Church, but will see greater fidelity to Christ and His Church. From a paragraph in the link you provided:

    “Sadly, even after reading this many will continue to be either angered or saddened by this truth – a truth which in reality is very liberating and satisfying in attaining our perfection in this life and in the life to come. The good news is that more and more Catholics are waking up to what the Church has always understood to be true, even if at times failed to do it’s duty in proclaiming that truth. That said, ultimately it shouldn’t be about law forcing women to wear the veil, but rather the woman doing it freely and for the right reasons, and thus even if not expressly commanded by Church Law that doesn’t take away it’s place in Scripture and Tradition, and thus it is still strongly encouraged and looked upon with favor by the Church.”

    Keep in mind that the current topic lately has been women ordination (I think maybe in result of someone bringing it up in an earlier topic), not head coverings. So the postings are going to be focusing on the former.

  12. Thanks zimmerk, I actually completely agree with what you’ve said, but just wondered if the Church had made some sort of decision not to concern itself with head coverings, or if it was rather in the category of things like contraception, which many Catholics use even though the church teaches against it.

    Personally as a religious I am always wearing a veil (whether in church or not), which I see as a sign of both consecration and obedience, to church and to God; although the obedience part (though profoundly beautiful, especially as a reflection of the obedience of Jesus to God the Father) is often studiously overlooked.

    with love.

  13. Ok 🙂 I was just about to post again saying that reading back over your post I wasn’t sure if I had misunderstood you or not. Looking back it looked like you’re question was about distinction between doctrinal teaching and disciplinary law/custom. I’ve been up all night unable to get to sleep. My mind is caput. Joe might pop in, but I had thought I would try and help out a bit.

    peace and love in Christ

  14. Tess and Zimmerk,

    Here’s what the CDF (in Inter Insigniores) said, in distinguishing the two:

    “Another objection is based upon the transitory character that one claims to see today in some of the prescriptions of Saint Paul concerning women, and upon the difficulties that some aspects of his teaching raise in this regard. But it must be noted that these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value. However, the Apostle’s forbidding of women to speak in the assemblies (1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Ti, 2:12) is of a different nature, and exegetes define its meaning in this way: Paul in no way opposes the right, which he elsewhere recognises as possessed by women, to prophesy in the assembly (1 Cor 11:15); the prohibition solely concerns the official function of teaching in the Christian assembly. For Saint Paul this prescription is bound up with the divine plan of creation (1 Cor 11:7; Gen 2:18-24): it would be difficult to see in it the expression of a cultural fact. Nor should it be forgotten that we owe to Saint Paul one of the most vigorous texts in the New Testament on the fundamental equality of men and women, as children of God in Christ (Gal 3:28). Therefore there is no reason for accusing him of prejudices against women, when we note the trust that he shows towards them and the collaboration that he asks of them in his apostolate.”

    As Zimmerk has noted, canon law no longer requires the wearing of the chapel veil, and there’s no question that the omission of the law was intentional. My understanding is that the specific requirements St. Paul lays out (regarding head-coverings, jewelry, and the like) have no normative force, but that the spirit of what he was teaching is part of the Gospel: namely, that one shouldn’t go to Mass wearing something likely to divert attention from God to themselves.

    Some women will take this principle and wear the traditional chapel veil or mantilla. But I’ve known at least one woman who avoided wearing the veil, for fear that wearing it would be more distracting. As far as I can tell, while she wasn going against the letter of what Paul wrote, she was following the spirit — which is what matters. Hope that helps.

    God bless,


  15. Hi Joe,

    Thanks for that explanation. As usual there are answers for everything!

    It is still a little hard for me to see why the forbidding of women teaching in church is ‘of a different nature’ to the instruction on head-coverings, since both are linked to the ‘divine plan of creation’, and Paul seems quite fervent on both subjects.

    My reason for bringing this up is not to attack the Church on women’s ordination, but because the position seems inconsistent. If something (anything) can be discarded as cultural and no longer normative, then there is less defence to stop Anglicans and others declaring male-only priesthood to be similarly cultural. I really can’t see why these issues are treated differently, while it apparently seems obvious to you!

    with love.

  16. I know this is years and years since this thread was active but I want to put my own two cents worth here…
    The Catholic Church is 100% absolutely wrong about deaconesses…
    The true apostolic church, the Orthodox Church, has always had sacramental deaconesses.


    The Catholic Church’s restriction on women is not founded on scripture or tradition, but on its own mysognestic belief system.

    To say women cannot be priests based on tradition is true, but to say women cannot be ordained at all is lie.

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