In October, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dismissed Roy Bourgeois from the priesthood because of his participation in the invalid ordination of a woman.
Since then, a Jesuit in Wisconsin has had his priestly faculties
suspended after he celebrated a liturgy with a woman purporting to be a
Catholic priest; and the Redemptorist order has confirmed that one of
its members is under Vatican investigation for alleged ambiguities
"regarding fundamental areas of Catholic doctrine," apparently including
the question of women's ordination.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that only men can receive
holy orders because Jesus chose men as his apostles and the "apostles
did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their
Blessed John Paul II wrote in 1994 that this teaching is
definitive and not open to debate among Catholics.
Yet some Catholics persist in asking why, as traditional distinctions
between the sexes break down in many areas of society, the Catholic
clergy must remain an exclusively male vocation, and what this suggests
about the church's understanding of women's worth and dignity.
Few are as well qualified to answer such questions as Dominican Father Wojciech Giertych.
As the theologian of the papal household, Father Giertych has the
task of reviewing all speeches and texts submitted to Pope Benedict XVI
to ensure they are free of doctrinal error.
Though his office was not
founded until the 13th century, the Dominican claims St. Paul the
Apostle, who corrected St. Peter on important questions of church
teaching, as his original forerunner.
(A copy of Rembrandt's portrait of
St. Paul in prison hangs on a wall in Father Giertych's apartment in
the Apostolic Palace.)
"In theology, we base ourselves not on human expectations, but we
base ourselves on the revealed word of God," the theologian told
Catholic News Service. "We are not free to invent the priesthood
according to our own customs, according to our own expectations."
Father Giertych rejects the idea that the all-male priesthood is a
relic of obsolete social norms, as if such norms could have been binding
"Christ was courageous with respect to the local social
customs, he was not afraid to be countercultural," Father Giertych said.
"He didn't follow the expectations of the powerful, of Pilate, of
Herod. He had his own work, his own mission."
According to Father Giertych, theologians cannot say why Jesus chose
only men as his Apostles, any more than they can explain the purposes of
the incarnation or the Eucharist.
"In the mystery of faith, we need to be on our knees toward something that we received," he said.
Nevertheless, he said, theology can help illuminate the "internal
coherence and beauty of the mystery which has been offered to us by
"The son of God became flesh, but became flesh not as sexless
humanity but as a male," Father Giertych said; and since a priest is
supposed to serve as an image of Christ, his maleness is essential to
Reflecting on differences between the sexes, Father Giertych
suggested other reasons that men are especially suited to the
Men are more likely to think of God in terms of
philosophical definitions and logical syllogisms, he said, a quality
valuable for fulfilling a priest's duty to transmit church teaching.
Although the social and administrative aspects of church life are
hardly off-limits to women, Father Giertych said priests love the church
in a characteristically "male way" when they show concern "about
structures, about the buildings of the church, about the roof of the
church which is leaking, about the bishops' conference, about the
concordat between the church and the state."
Father Giertych acknowledged that a Catholic woman might sincerely
believe she is called to the priesthood, but said such a "subjective"
belief does not indicate the objective existence of a vocation.
None of which means that women hold an inferior place in the church, he said.
"Every baptized person, both male and female, participates in the
priesthood of Christ through the sacrament of baptism, drawing the
fruits of the paschal mystery to one's own soul," he said. "And maybe in
some sense we could say that, in this, women are more apt to draw from
the mystery of Christ, by the quality of their prayer life, by the
quality of their faith."
Women are better able than men to perceive the "proximity of God" and
enter into a relationship with him, Father Giertych said, pointing to
the privileged role played by women in the New Testament.
"Women have a special access to the heart of Jesus," he said, "in a
very vivid way of approaching him, of touching him, of praying with him,
of pouring ointment on his head, of kissing his feet."
"The mission of the woman in the church is to convince the male that
power is not most important in the church, not even sacramental power,"
"What is most important is the encounter with the living God through faith and charity."
"So women don't need the priesthood," he said, "because their mission is so beautiful in the church anyway."
This special relationship, the theologian said, is essentially related to Jesus' maleness.
"I remember once a contemplative nun told me, 'oh, wouldn't it be
horrible if Jesus were a woman?' And it dawned on me that, for a woman,
the access to Jesus in prayer is easier than for us men, because he's
male," Father Giertych said.
"The relationship of love, of attachment,
the spousal relationship to Christ is easier for the woman."