Women and the Catholic Church

Written by Holly

The issue has been debated for years, and probably run into the ground – but remember I’m new to this faith so all of the old arguments are new arguments to me. 🙂  As I study more about the faith, the accusations of the Church degrading women have been weighing on my mind for quite awhile.  Every time this has come up in RCIA I’ve waited to hear horrible things about how the church treats its female members.  But instead I heard the opposite, which in turn actually made me wonder if I was just too dense to recognize women’s oppression when I saw it.  Surely not – I am a women after all?  I mulled over Google searches, the comments from blog readers, and the teachings from my RCIA class.  I would love to tell you that I have come to a solid conclusion on this matter, but of course I can’t.  I can only tell you that I have come to a conclusion that works for me, and I am willing to share it with you.

Your friendly disclaimer – I am obviously not an expert on the Catholic faith. I’m just a very recent convert studying, reading, and learning her way into this beautiful Church.  And this is just a hodge podge of thoughts that have been running through my head on one particular subject out of many. Ok? Good.  Let’s move on.

Let’s just put all the cards out on the table here.  I don’t think the Catholic Church oppresses women.  Yes I am aware that women can’t be ordained.  Yes I understand why many people think that is unfair.  And YES I understand that some of the best leaders in the world are indeed, women.  Women are often leaders of the households as well, juggling schedules, jobs, school functions/volunteering, meals, finances, and a hundred other things.  I think that we can all agree that women are pretty dang amazing.  Now that we have settled that, let’s step away from it for a moment and discuss one of the most loved things about the Church. We will come right back to women, I promise.

If you ask most Catholics what makes our faith stand apart from other faiths they will tell you that aside from Transubstantiation, it is the Tradition that defines us.  Our faith encompasses not only Scripture, but 2000 years of Tradition handed down from Christ himself and his apostles.  Our rich history and preserved Tradition are unmatched anywhere in the world.  Regardless of scandal, human error, attacks, and countless other obstacles the Church is still here, and our Tradition is still in tact.  To understand why women can’t be ordained, one piece of the puzzle is slipped into place by looking into Tradition.  Jesus was a man.  Jesus was the head of the Church.  The job of a priest is to act as the head of the local parish.  Does that mean you have to be a man to inspire and lead? No, it doesn’t.  If that were true, we wouldn’t have nuns/sisters.  As a matter of fact, in this day and age of a major priest shortage many nuns are stepping up and running churches in the absence of a priest.  However, only a priest may preside over Mass, in the way that Jesus presided over the Last Supper.  Only a priest can consecrate a host.  Not a deacon.  Not a nun.  Only a priest.  Which brings us right back to the fact that women can not be ordained.  Why?  It’s a very deep question, but like I said, I believe that a lot of the reason lies in the Sacred Tradition.  Jesus was known for treating men and women as equals – no one would ever accuse Jesus of oppressing women.   However, when he selected the Twelve, they were all men.  Were times different then?  Yes – it was 2000 years ago.  But the Sacred Tradition was set in motion all those years ago and has been safe guarded by the Church ever since.  If we start removing it piece by piece, it will cease to exist.

Many people also say that God would not give only one gender the power to do something so sacred.  But he did – and I’m not talking about ordination.  Women have babies – they bring life into this world.  God didn’t give this power to men.  So why is it so hard to believe that he would give the power of consecration only to men?  A women who gives birth and a priest that consecrates and distributes the Eucharist are each giving life to others, just in a very different way.

There are many ways that women can serve the Church.  Women serve daily as Eucharistic Ministers, cantors, lectors, RCIA directors, and so on and so forth.  Women are parish secretaries, serve on the boards of both parishes and Catholic schools, and work very hard right alongside the priests and deacons.  Pope Francis has talked about needing more women in positions of power, which has made people immediately think that he’s going to start churning out women priests.   I’m thinking (from my limited knowledge) that isn’t going to happen.  People seem hyper focused on the word ordained and seem to think that unless a women is a priest, that her contributions just aren’t “powerful” enough.  It reminds me of the same way people say that a stay at home mother doesn’t work as hard as a working mother.  Both mothers work equally as hard as the other, just in different ways.  The many women that work hard every day in our parishes around the world play just as big a role as the priest up on the altar.  They may not be presiding over Mass, but they are working behind the scenes and making things happen.

And we all know that some of the hardest, and most dependable workers, work behind the scenes.


5 thoughts on “Women and the Catholic Church

    • I agree Andrea! I know Mary is a controversial topic about Catholicism, but it was one of the easiest things for me to understand as soon as it was explained properly. Revered does not equal worshipped. I think if people know that one thing about the Church’s stance on Mary, it clears up a lot of confusion. 🙂

  1. Hi Holly — congratulations on your conversion and welcome to the Church! I enjoyed reading your reflection here. I’m certainly no expert either, but as a “cradle Catholic,” I thought I’d add a bit from my understanding, too. The Catholic Church in its tradition and teaching acknowledges the fundamental differences between men and women — not putting one above the other, but as complementary and necessary to one another. In Genesis, God made man in His image and from man, made woman. The life-giving properties of the marital union reflects God; man and woman together become co-creators of new life with God.

    We see this model affirmed in the coming of the Lord and through relationship between Jesus and the Church. God sent His only begotten Son to us through Mary (the Mediatrix). Jesus established the Church, He is its Head and often referred to as the “bridegroom” to the Church, which is deliberately assigned feminine terms. From the Pope down to your local parish priest, these men act “in persona Christi” during the consecration at Mass, but they do not act alone. They are able to give us the Eucharistic Christ and to spread the message of the Gospel through the tradition and context of the Holy Mother Church. One cannot be without the other; they are both of utmost importance. (This is probably an oversimplification and there’s a lot more out there on the topic. I’d recommend visiting Taylor Marshall’s blog if you haven’t before, as he covers a lot of theological ground on these topics in a very accessible manner.)

    Echoing Andrea’s comment, the reverence due to Mary is something that absolutely sets the Catholic Church apart from other sects of Christianity. Jesus was equally divine and human. As for the rest of us, Mary is held in higher esteem than any other human in the history of humankind, conceived without original sin and Queen of Heaven. I’ve read quite a few conversion stories, and interestingly the image of and devotion to Mary is often a leading reason to bring people to Catholicism. There are a number of female saints, too, demonstrating the Church’s respect for all holy persons, male and female alike. You are spot-on about the different roles that women (and any laity for that matter) may play in the Church. We all bring different gifts to the table.

    I think a lot of the contemporary arguments accusing the Church of degrading women come down to misunderstandings about the Tradition (like you said) and, to take it a step further, are motivated by our culture’s understanding of feminism defined by a sexuality “liberated” from procreation. (While a topic for another day,) the Church’s stance against contraception and abortion is not meant to oppress women, but instead respect and honor the unique gift they have to grow and bring forth new life — something that they teach should occur in the context of a marriage, too, as husband and wife are complementary and necessary to one another. In contrast, the contraceptive culture treats a woman’s fertility like it’s an illness or a disorder, that women should be ready and available to serve as objects of pleasure without the fear or inconvenience of unintended consequences. Abortion is the logical back-up plan for when that fails. How many women have ended up making a painful and regrettable choice on this because they thought it was their only option? To me, that’s what is degrading.

    • Thank you Julia! And thank you for sharing the experience of someone more experienced with the faith. I need to check out that blog for sure! When I read Jen Fulwilers book, she broke down the church’s stance on NFP in a way I’d never heard before, and it was beautifully done. It’s similar to your explanation!, which shows of unity in Church Teaching. 🙂

      • I just finished reading her book, too! (It was great, wasn’t it?) I loved how she broke down coming to a new understanding of the Church’s stance as well. Another great resource to check out is Feminists for Life. It’s a secular organization with the motto that “Women Deserve Better” (than abortion). I’m not affiliated with them, but I’ve visited their website in the past and find that a lot of their reasoning lines up with Church teaching. Their talking points can be a more “neutral” place to start a conversation from, too, if you’re met with counterarguments that we (Catholics) just believe something because the Church tells us to. That’s the funny thing about certain fundamental Truths… they are universal, and the Church has been on point with them for 2000 years, through a variety of shifts in cultural tides.

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