A couple weeks ago, on the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene, Fr. James Martin, a Jesuit priest from New York, tweeted a controversial statement on Twitter. He said that the time is right for women to become priests and invoked the name of St. Mary Magdalene, using her as an example of a woman who was sort of like an apostle. In fact, we Catholics often call her the “apostle to the apostles”. This got him under the ire not only of his fellow clergymen, but also many laypeople who disagreed with him. This is not the first time he’s caused this kid of fervor, but I’m not here to discuss those other times. Let’s just focus on this one.
I disagree with this notion. Now, in a way the Christian religion was indeed started by a woman. When Mary said yes to God and yes to becoming a mother to Jesus, she became, in essence, the first Christian. Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus resurrected after he died on Good Friday. Jesus appointed 12 apostles, all men. If he had wanted to use women, he naturally would’ve appointed either his own mother or Mary Magdalene, as they were both worthy candidates considering their status as models for His followers. But they never were appointed. And it’s not like Jesus didn’t treat women differently from the way Jewish people of his time did. He would address them as he would anyone else, as illustrated when he did not admonish Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus, when she sat at his feet when He visited their house. It was considered against Jewish culture for a woman to do such a thing, and yet Jesus did not admonish her.
Women already play a vital role without being priests. I’m not just talking about nuns. Women are teachers at Catholic schools. Women can work in the church offices. My own mother was a receptionist at a church for a couple years. My aunt Paula has also worked at a Catholic church in her diocese. Women are volunteers at hospitals founded by Catholics.
There are many saints who were women, and many of them played very important roles in Church history. Women like Joan of Arc, Clare of Assisi, Catherine of Seina, Blessed Mother Theresa of Calcutta, and countless others changed the world. And yes, some of them certainly did deft societal norms.
A priest has to be male because Jesus was a male. When a priest is offering the bread and wine, he is acting “in persona Christe”, a Latin phrase meaning “in the person of Christ”. He is a stand-in for Christ. Despite the changing attitudes toward women, men and women are still different biologically and physically.
The Catholic Church is not a misogynist organization. We do not hold women back. One only has to look at our reverence of the Virgin Mary. We consider her not only the Mother of Jesus, but the Mother of God and our spiritual mother as well. (I have affectionately called her Momma Mary, and I’ve others do the same) We call her Queen of Heaven and Queen of the Universe. If we held women back, would we put her on this high of a pedestal as a model of obedience? And yet, she does not rule Heaven alongside the Holy Trinity. She is still obedient to her Creator and serves under His laws. Father James Martin implied this in his tweet, and seems to be ignorant of the historical role women have played. He is operating on the current change in women’s status in society.
Fr. James Martin is not in a position to change doctrine. He is only a priest, and not even a bishop or a Cardinal. As it stands he is stepping outside his bounds to even suggest this drastic change to church law. I’m not being chauvinist or sexist by disagreeing with him. I’ve given examples of how women already play a vital role without being a priest. The Catholic Church never needs to “get with the times”. The Catholic Church is a timeless organization, serving a God who is outside of time. It does not need to conform to the current societal norms.