I wish this letter to the editor had appeared in the Arlington Catholic Herald rather than the Sun Gazette (7/22/2010). It never will, so we will share it with you here. For those who are interested in this topic, a good academic source is Ordained Women in the Early Church: A Documentary History by Kevin Madigan and Carolyn Osiek (The Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 2005)
Editor: I congratulate the three newly ordained Catholic priests of the Arlington diocese. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Fr. Weber’s first Masses. And I congratulate the Sun Gazette for publishing a story on their paths that led to the priesthood.
But I take exception to a statement attributed to Fr. Brian Bashista, diocesan vocations director, concerning why women may not become priests.
He is quoted as saying that it’s not a “human precept” but due to divine revelation “by the example of Jesus Christ calling forth men to become priests.”
Consider the time of Jesus Christ some 2,000 years ago. His public ministry lasted three or four years roaming throughout the land without a permanent home.
Consider the role of women during that time period. It would have been considered contrary to the mores of the culture for Jesus to have chosen women to come and travel with him for years. In fact, the women would have been in greater danger than the men if they had done so.
This is not divine revelation, but the reality of the times.
Following Jesus’ death, there were in fact women apostles, disciples, martyrs and, yes, priests. There was Phoebe, a deacon (Romans 16:1). There were women who headed churches in their homes, such as Lydia of Thyatira (Acts 16:15) and Nympha of Laodicea (Colossians 4:15). There were Junia, an apostle, and Thecla, a martyr, just to name a few.
So, contrary to Fr. Bashista’s belief, it most definitely was “human precept” in the form of the male leaders of the Catholic Church for centuries that decided that there would not be female priests. And now Pope Benedict XVI and the men who surround him are about to decree that women who become ordained and the priests that ordain them have committed the gravest of sins and will be automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church.
So, yes, it is a “human precept” - a male precept - that women will not be ordained Catholic priests. The better question is what is the basis for this unfounded fear.