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The New Yorker serves up emotive individualism while propping up priestettes

A long essay about women wanting to be priests caused me to ponder: “Who are the Triune God, the Incarnate Word, the Apostles, the Magisterium, and the Catholic Church to stand in the way of feelings?”

(Image: Mateus Campos Felipe/

I have friends who sometimes, not unfairly, note that I have a certain streak of pessimism, or even cynicism. In my defense, I have occasionally noted that I receive (and look at) daily updates from The New Yorker, knowing that every few months I will find an article of depth, intelligence, and insight. Foolish? Likely. But surely a sign of some sort of optimism and hope.

Alas, the recent article—nay, long semi-fictional account—titled “The Women Who Want to Be Priests” and written by Margaret Talbot (for the “Annals of Religion” section) is not that article. The sub-title is equal parts quavering emotionalism and defiant pomposity: “They feel drawn by God to the calling—and won’t let the Vatican stop them.” After quickly reading the 7700-word-long essay, I though: “Well, who are the Triune God, the Incarnate Word, the Apostles, the Magisterium, and the Catholic Church to stand in the way of feelings? Ordain them ladies already!”

Actually—sarcasm paused—I wondered for a moment as to why this venerable form of priestette posturing and apologia had seemingly disappeared for quite a while. The first decade of the 2000s witnessed a steady stream of such pieces, all of them following the same predictable formula: Jane D., who is now in her 60s (or 70s), was called from the age of 8 (or 12, or 18) to be a priest; she was confused and then enlightened, persecuted and then encouraged; she earned a dozen degrees from trendy, lefty schools; she likely is lesbian; she thinks the Catholic Church is a patriarchal, rigid, mean-spirited institution that demeans and ignores women; she’s into all sorts of trendy stuff and talks a great deal about “social justice”; and she insists that she really is a priest even though the Vatican and the institutional church refuses to acknowledge this “fact”.

So, for instance, here are few snippets from the New Yorker piece:

• “A cradle Catholic who was born and raised in France, Humbert knew that in the Roman Catholic Church only men could be priests—it was an indisputable rule anchored in official teachings and traditions. This was in the early nineteen-seventies…”

• “But, even if many Catholics would welcome women’s ordination, the prospect seems as distant as ever. The Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy, as its traditionalists are forever reminding its would-be reformers. Its governance is elaborately and rigidly hierarchical.”

• “In 2014, when Tropeano was forty, she enrolled in a Jesuit divinity school in Berkeley, California, where most of the other students were men preparing for the priesthood. A friend thought that Tropeano herself seemed very much like a priest in the making.”

• “Moreover, whatever Francis’s own sympathies might be, there is a limit to what he can change when so much of his hierarchy remains intransigent.”

• “Advocates for female ordination point out that Jesus welcomed women into his community. The Holy Roman Empire, however, eroded the faith’s early egalitarianism, and medieval theologians enshrined the idea of women as inferior, impure, and unfit for ministerial service.”

• “Via went on, though, to lead a thriving congregation that is not recognized by the canonical Church. There are dozens of other womenpriests leading their own worship communities. … In 2005, Via and her friend Rod Stephens—a priest who had voluntarily resigned his orders because he is gay and wanted to live with the man he loved—founded a parish in San Diego, the Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community.”

• “She recently started a blog called ‘Becoming Father Anne,’ and likes to call herself a ‘Vatican reject.’ In an e-mail, she explained that she aims to ‘challenge and mock the absurdity and narrow-mindedness of this idea that women cannot live out the role of priest within the Catholic Church.’ She went on, ‘You say women can’t be priests? Watch me. I will strive to be a completely kick-ass priest.’”

Very deep stuff. And on and on (and on) it goes. And, of course, there has to be an appearance by Massimo Faggioli, who is apparently a professor in addition to full-time worker for the cause of St. Joe Biden: “Of the main issues on which Pope Francis has been a hero to liberal Catholics, the most disappointing to them is the issue of women. He is less conservative than some former Popes in saying that women should work, but he is still close to the traditional narrative of separate and complementary—not equal—spheres. In that way, he is a typical cleric born in the nineteen-thirties.” Chronological snobbery, anyone?

Addressing the overwhelming flood of expressive individualism, selective victimization, male-bashing, orthodox-smearing, and hyperbolic ranting in such a piece is pointless. After all, trying to reason with emotive irrationalism is like trying to rope feral cats with cooked spaghetti noodles.

So what’s the point?

Allow me to quote from three pieces I’ve written on this topic. First, from a November 30, 2008 Insight Scoop post:

Why does this rankle me so? Part of it is simply the brazen illogic, self-obsessive bloviation, and disdainful dissent so readily evident in the priestette movement. Their theology is lousy. Their ecclesiology is incoherent. But there is also the fact that these women, in seeking to “empower” women and pursue “justice,” are (unwittingly or not) attacking authentic femininity and making a mockery of not just the priesthood, but of the unique nature of women, especially as embodied by the Blessed Mother.

Secondly, from a November 18, 2013 CWR post:

Hey, it’s the American way! Not happy with being a man? Become a woman. Tired of your wife? Try a new one. Bored with reality? Create your own. On and on it goes. Stories such as this one are symptomatic of several deeper issues, including a disdain for certain—not all—forms of authority and tradition/Tradition. This is easily proven: does anyone think that Noll would be allowed to publish a sympathetic piece about a man claiming that he was the true President of the United States, based on his belief that he won the election of 2012? Naw, that would be whacky. Don’t be silly.

But in the realm of “religion” and “spirituality,” what is actually silly or stupid is often defended in the name of a deeply spiritual and personal “call” or “experience” that transcends the allegedly restrictive bonds of traditional, male-dominated institutions. That stuff is catnip to reporters who cut their teeth on feminist theology and neo-Marxist political philosophy, or have drunk similar, popularized elixers of liberation. (And don’t forget the sacred trump card of the all-powerful “conscience”!)

And, finally, from a November 2, 2008 Insight Scoop post (with minor edits):

Hmmmm…. “the goal”. What is it? Again, applying simple logic, the priestette’s view of the Catholic Church must be a variation of these perspectives: 1) the Church is a man-made institution that must change with the times, or 2) the Church is an institution founded by Christ but under the control of men who hold beliefs contrary to those of Christ. In the first case, the most logical thing to do, as a radical feminist-type, is to simply attack and destroy the Catholic Church. And, of course, there are many feminists and their supporters who do just that; they, I think, are far more logical than women such as Zeman, who seem to operate in a fuzzy, confused world of nostalgia intermingled with feminist politics.

In the second case, it seems absolutely nonsensical to be working to be ordained and given official recognition by the very men who represent and defend the very thing you detest and oppose. Again, it seems more logical to simply scrap the entire thing and say, “Hey, we are the true Church! We don’t need the Catholic Church!” If the bishops suddenly stated, “Whoops! Our mistake! We just realized that women can and should be ordained!”, it would still mean that priestettes would be ordained and recognized by the very authority they detest as patriarchal and male-dominated. It would also mean (to repeat what I’ve already said) that infallible teaching can be fallible, which means the Catholic Church is a complete farce. And who, really, wants to be ordained and given props by a farcical Church (yes, yes, I know—waaaay too many people)?

In all seriousness, I think it’s a fascinating issue. And I’m more and more convinced that the strange mixture of nostalgia and irrational feminism, as well as the obsessive, ideological desire to be in a visible position of “power”, has a lot to do with it. That said, it has nothing to do with theology, even though the entire issue is rooted in theology, especially matters of Christology, anthropology, and ecclesiology. But if there is one thing that seems quite obvious about these women, it’s that they are theologically illiterate. Of course, I’m sure they would beg to differ.

A decade ago, the Reign of Gay was just ascending; now we live in the apparent zenith of the Tyranny of Trans. The intersection between women claiming to be men because they say so and women claiming to be Catholic priest because they say so seems quite obvious. I suspect there will be more pieces like the one foisted upon the world by The New Yorker. Meanwhile, the theological, historical, and simply logical incoherence of it all will remain.

As G.K. Chesterton wrote in New York Times Magazine, nearly a century ago, on February 11, 1923: “My attitude toward progress has passed from antagonism to boredom. I have long ceased to argue with people who prefer Thursday to Wednesday because it is Thursday.”

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About Carl E. Olson 1200 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.


  1. Great article!

    ‘Emotive irrationalism’ describes the noise that has replaced intelligent and reasonable dialogue/discussion.

    • ‘Emotive irrationalism’ – that phrase does have a bit of a ring, I’ll go so far as to say – even a ‘je-ne-sais-quoi- about it that I like.

  2. Ladies, you can hold out your hands all you want. It’s still just bread. But then again, you probably don’t believe in transubstantiation anyway.

  3. I used to wonder about the Church’s insistence that priests be male. Then, I attended a Mass where a young friend was being ordained. When the archbishop came to the part where the vow of obedience is pledged, I realized why women cannot be ordained. While you might get a woman to pledge obedience to one man (the archbishop), you will lose her when you add, “and all my successors.”
    Women cannot be priests. Men cannot be mothers. Which role has more influence on the future of the Church?

  4. A general recently said that we need more women rifle platoon leaders. Women wanting to be priests may be the least of our problems.

  5. Spot on! We have so many people creating their own realities these days that many public schools and universities have now gone Woke, and that is the umbrella non-reality that calls to all the others and invites them to seethe with hate all that is real. They do this in the irrational hope that they will usurp reality and yes, even God. They are doomed in the end to cannibalize themselves, like a cancer of hate eating all other feelings. Desire detached from reality is evil in the making.

  6. Want a great historical account of how we got where we are today? Find the book “Ungodly Rage: The Hidden Face of Catholic Feminism” by Donna Steichen. It’s no longer in print, but you can find used copies. What’s alarming about it paints a picture of what we see going on today in the world, yet it was published 10 years ago.

  7. A feminized world finds its strength in an effeminate world. An imposing array of male authority from the Triune God to the Apostles questioned by editor Olson in its resistance to feelings is the clue. Reality is frequently distressful, and the reality is the fissure in that awesome array of masculine authority is the effeminization of the Apostles, not the originals, rather the ones we’re suffering now, our bishops and cardinals the successors of the apostles. Now naming names is verboten for some, however when a fact is widely known and acknowledged, by the named, it’s okay. Cardinals Gregory, Cupich, Tobin openly accommodate homosexuality. And under that rainbow banner, although they may not openly advocate women priests there’s the propensity among like minded bishops to promote a female diaconate, besides appointing women to many positions of authority that likens these women to priests assuming traditional male roles. So it’s reasonable that bishops so inclined are at least open to consideration of ordained women. Which is a reason why women continue to seek ordination. And among presbyters there are a good number who openly advocate women’s ordination to both diaconate and priesthood. Pope Francis said “never” to female ordination 2015 airplane interview. German Synodality 2021 his tune changed telling Bishop Georg Bätzing to continue the synodal process, and continue to ask questions, make recommendations on all issues. Amazonia Brazil, Amazonia Vatican priestesses presided during the enshrinement ceremonies of the goddess Pachamamma on the lawns later enjoined by ranking prelates within St Peter’s Basilica. “A decade ago, the Reign of Gay was just ascending; now we live in the apparent zenith of the Tyranny”. Olson encapsulates the nexus of Gaiety with female ordination, the prospect of government interference. From the perspective of nature, ordained as it is by God male and female are more than physical biology. Feminine and masculine are inherent behaviors. They are spiritual identities that remain in this world and the next. From this writer’s perspective women tend to be the caring persons they were created to be, offering warmth, understanding, compassion all good traits although generally not in the confessional. More significant is God’s appointed role of Man as the head of family and in Church affairs. Christ, a man, the Exemplar and eternal priest appointed men as his Apostles.

    • Adam was the priest of the Garden of Eden. He was to keep the Garden of Eden. He failed in this task when he did nothing to dissuade and protect Eve from eating the forbidden fruit and caved-in himself by eating of the forbidden fruit. His is the model of failed priesthood. He appears to be the role model of the effeminized clergy that you referred to in your comment.

      • Greg I’m not sure about Adam as actual priest, who has a specific redemptive identity with Christ. Although I see your insightful comparison since salvation was the issue at hand. And his weak acquiescence to Eve, then lamely blaming her. Feminization then is that reference to a like passivity in men unsuited to their ordained role as leaders, protectors of the faithful from error, and those who promote error, a watchful sentinel prepared to meet the wolf to defend the flock. We rarely see that today. Although there are still some manly, faithful shepherds out there. And of course the main responsibility lies with bishops, and most of all with the bishop of Rome. He has the greater responsibility to encourage and lead the faithful, defend the faith, and resolve controversy in favor of the faith. That which is lacking at present.

  8. Also from G.K. Chesterton: ““People talk of the pathos and failure of plain women; but it is a more terrible thing that a beautiful woman may succeed in everything but womanhood.”

  9. Mr. Olson,

    This is so good! Just when I think, “I can’t take it anymore! This world has gone crazy and will never recover—and maybe I’m crazy too, because I think civil and church authorities(oops, I used that word)are all staggering drunk—here your writing comes along with a fine mix of, and accurate snapshot of the insanity with just the right shake of humor. Thank you, this is a keeper.

    PS.—suffer, Berkeley, suffer—

  10. The enemy has not forgotten that The Woman and her children are his enemy , that the Father wound of not trusting in His Goodness can be used through these very women who likely carry such , even in generational lines , not recognizing that they are the ones in most need of healing by taking in the Father Love with trusting gratitude as given in abundance in The Church through The Sacred Heart . – on effects of Father wound

    Good to see the initiatives by good groups such as the KOC to heal the Father wound and in line with the similar efforts of the Holy Father –

    Good to have also come across the clarification about the confusion with regard to the statue incident – persons who seem to know the cultural background being aware that there are double meanings for the name – one to symbolize as ‘Mother earth’ , the other meaning for the pagan goddess and we can truly trust that the Holy Father would have meant the first .

    May men and women be blessed to discern God’s Holy Will , to serve same instead of idols of envy and bitterness and with profound gratitude see how awesome our Father is !

  11. The Church needs more masculinity and patriarchy, not less. It’s emasculated effeminate men like Brokeback Martin and “Uncle” Ted McCarrick who are responsible for the moral, doctrinal, financial and sexual corruption in the Church, which only real men who act like fathers to their flocks will be able to dispel.

  12. “She recently started a blog called ‘Becoming Father Anne.’”
    OK, if you were trying to goad me, mission accomplished.

    The Atlantic sometimes has religion pieces that contain insight along with their Loisy-like and Tyrrell-ish undercurrents. But the New Yorker? LOL, more power to you, but even its cartoons have warped into platform pieces.

  13. Readers here might be interested in this Protestant page, which most deals with male/female sociology. To shore up its bonafides, I’ll not it recently plugged the reissue project of (the quite Catholic) ‘Man & Woman in Christ’ by Stephen Clark.

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