If I were founding a Church [pax, Cardinal O'Malley], I would only invite men to be priests, because there are physical, sociological, and spiritual realities that would undermine the introduction of women into the sacerdotal realm. Before proceeding with the rationalization of this construct, it is important to consider whether the priests are to be married or not. If they are married, in the case of a putative woman priest, there is the added consideration of how she interacts with her husband and whether he has any authority over her. Saint Paul has written that wives should submit to their husbands, and if a woman is a priest and a wife, she has a creative journey ahead of her wherein she would either treat God and her husband as rivals for her obedience or she would be forced to ask her husband to submit to her higher claim within the ecclesial hierarchy. (More on hierarchy anon.)
The building of the Church in its initial phase requires massive physical strength and endurance, not to mention focus and practical knowledge. The male missionary sets out towards the unknown with his faith and his wits. He will encounter strangers of various temperaments and cultures of great varieties—but almost all patriarchal in some sense. After wrestling his way across myriad forms of hostile terrain, he can meet the leaders of unknown peoples man to man, and face welcome or death with manly courage. It isn’t that women lack courage or strength, but their particular vulnerabilities at this initial phase of evangelization are obvious.
Once a welcome has been secured, the missionary has to create a living like anyone else. One must fell trees and build buildings, or commission other men to do it for him. A solitary woman asking for other women’s husbands to care for her physical needs would be problematic from the start. One needs to physically survive in the very setting where families themselves are just getting by, holding forth against the world that has yet to care for them as an outpost of the incarnate God. The priest brings this Good News, and yet, like Saint Paul the tentmaker, knows he should not bring a personal burden for the potential flock to carry at the outset. Their grateful care will follow when they understand his message, but suspicion and resentment would cloud the message at the start if it were brought by a woman.
When the flock has been gathered and the catechesis is underway, intimacy will deepen between the priest and the people. This is where the sociological aspect of women priests would become even more complex. Women, by nature, seek relationships with those around them and are usually curious. Either a woman priest would be married, and primarily responsible for the family she is raising, or she would be single. In the first case, for her to have the care of the souls of a growing congregation would essentially mean that she is a working mother whose priestly concerns would take her away from her home and children; if she were single, she would expect access to all other homes, have private conversations (and confession) with persons of all ranks, and expect to attain authority over those souls and within the community. Again, we come to the question of headship, not to mention the appropriateness of these interactions. It doesn’t take a suspicious mind to envision all sorts of difficulties—not that male priests haven’t encountered their share. But the primary problem flows from the fact that authority is divided between husbands and women priests. In that setting, we lose the consistency between the Church and the family, and there is no foundational understanding to the structure of the society that flows from the two.
Finally we come to the spiritual reality that precludes the selection of women as priests. The faith that missionaries are called to share involves a God who became Man, in order to lay down his live for the beloved. The supernatural image that echoes through creation is that he is a bridegroom who loves his bride to the point of death—for he finds her worthy of the shedding of his blood. In that sacrifice, she is renewed and made whole; in union with his consuming love, she bears new life that will endure unto the ages. The priest is a man, in keeping with that reality, because every priest is called to the same sacrificial love. Do women shed their blood for their loved ones? Every day. Do women lay themselves down in service for the good of the beloved? Every day. Do women oblate themselves for the sake of new life that can only flourish through that gift? Every day. So why would God add to that burden? She is already giving life through her spiritual and physical motherhood, and that is enough.
Not only is it enough, but it is what it is by its very essence: motherhood. If a woman attempted to be a priest, she could neither plant the seed nor care for the bride, and that same-sex union would remain sterile. The complementarity that brings children into the world is the same complementarity that brings children into the Kingdom of God. And the same women who insist that the ranks of the clergy would benefit by women would have been the first to rail against a God who asked these women to get up at all hours of the night, to feed the flock, and to clean up afterwards. “Don’t we do that enough, already!?” And aren’t these the same people who have even introduced legislation to mandate men do half the chores at home? And yet every day we see men faithfully, scrupulously purifying the vessels after each Holy Sacrifice—knowing that they alone are the hosts of the banquet.
A Deconstructive Quest
It becomes obvious that in this late period of Church history, those who advocate for women priests assume that the world has been charted, the roads have been built, the structures are in place, and the society is sophisticated enough for her to be educated and independent from the most primal needs of her community. Specifically, they assume that family responsibility is not of enough concern to be in conflict with her aspirations to shepherd the Christian flock, for the priesthood is seen as one more profession that should be available to a modern woman.
Ultimately, one cannot fail, though, to consider the hierarchy that is the backbone of the Petrine Church, for that element is anathema to this same modern woman, and her interest in the institution has not been without its attendant concerns about how authority is wielded. Patriarchy, authority, and power are so jumbled in the post-modern mind to the degree that one cannot discuss the one without attacking the others. Women have admitted that they are challenged by hierarchies and that they prefer more collaborative ways of organizing themselves. Joking aside, if women could “rule the world,” they have openly asserted that the oppressive structures that men have put into place would have to be dismantled.
Already, the rise of feminism has contributed to the deconstruction of so many of our institutions, not to mention our very mental constructs and methods of communicating. Thus, the introduction of women to the ranks of the clergy is not a nod to the gifts of women, nor is it a mere expansion of vocational opportunities that illustrates equality within the Mystical Body of Christ. It is a rethinking of how we wish to treat with the created world—which can either be founded on truth or fantasy. If I were to build a Church, I would plant it squarely on the truth that Christ came to reveal—a truth which bears within it a firm and luminous nuptial reality. I stand with Christ the Bridegroom and count on his Sacrifice to give meaning to my own femininity, which is subsumed as that of a beloved spouse. And that is enough. Please God, just leave the priesthood as it is.