Many readers have written to me about “Catholic women priests.” Here are two of the questions I get the most:
Are there any validly ordained Catholic women priests in America?
Answer: More than 150. Barbara Ann Duff is a validly, as opposed to licitly, ordained priest in Macon.
Doesn’t Scripture forbid women to be priests?
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Answer: Not really. We’re talking about I Timothy 2:11-15 and I Corinthians 14:13. Neither text talks about the priesthood; instead, it’s all about denigrating women. But add in I Corinthians 11:4, and it really gets confusing.
Let’s start with the Letter to Timothy. Most modern Scripture scholars agree that St. Paul did not write it. In fact, of the 14 epistles attributed to him, he probably wrote seven. No matter; somebody wrote it and it crept into the canon of Scripture around the year 325. Let’s see what it says:
“Let a woman learn in silence with full submission.
“I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.”
Next, let’s throw in a snippet from I Corinthians 14:13 (that many Greek manuscripts omit and nearly all Scripture scholars believe shouldn’t be included in the Bible):
“Women should be silent in the churches;
They are not permitted to speak. It is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”
Now, what really gets confusing is this. If we’re going to accept these two questionable texts as the inspired word of God, what in the world do we do with this third one, which everyone agrees was really written by St. Paul?
“Any woman who prays or prophesies -- with her head unveiled -- disgraces her head.” (I Corinthians 11:4)
Whoops! Wait a minute. The Greek word for “prophesy” means to preach; St. Paul makes this clear in I Corinthians 14:3, where he makes the distinction between speaking in tongues and preaching.
“Everyone who prophesies, (preaches) speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.”
What’s it going to be? If I’m a woman, can I speak up in church and preach as long as I wear a veil, or am I relegated forever to the back of the church in silence?
If I am going to take each Scripture text as the literal word of God, how can I handle this contradiction? And it is a blatant contradiction; no doubt about it. In this third text, St. Paul is definitely authorizing and sanctioning the practice of women preachers. He uses the same word in Greek for a man who preaches in church as for a woman who preaches in church. They both “pray and prophesy,” the man with his head uncovered and the woman with her head covered. What a problem.
Our Protestant brothers and sisters settled this issue long ago. They’ve been ordaining women priests and bishops for many years, and, as far as I know, have not had any scandals. They look on this Catholic male chauvinist practice as archaic, impractical and un-Christian. And they’re right.
Even the Catholic Church hesitated once. Back in April 1976 the Pontifical Biblical Commission (the Catholic Church’s authority on sacred Scripture) voted in favor of the view that Scripture does not exclude the ordination of women, and in favor of the view that the church could ordain women to the priesthood without going against Christ’s original intentions. But the men who make the rules voted no.
Now, I know these facts will not satisfy the men who have already made up their minds. They think my opinions (and evidently those of the Pontifical Biblical Commission) are “silly” and “miss the mark.” I don’t write for them. I write for open-minded searchers of wisdom and truth; people who are willing to think “out of the box.” People like Pope Francis. Who knows? Catholics may finally have a leader who’s not afraid to lead.
Dr. Bill Cummings is the CEO of Cummings Consolidated Corporation and Cummings Management Consultants. His website is digitallydrc.com.