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Pope Francis explains to America Magazine why women cannot be ordained priests

Zelda Caldwell By Zelda Caldwell for CNA

Pope Francis speaks during an interview with the top staff of America magazine at the Vatican Nov. 22, 2022. During the wide-ranging interview, Pope Francis talked about polarization in the church, the role of women, the ministry of bishops, and more. (CNS photo/Antonello Nusca, America Media)

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Nov 28, 2022 / 12:30 pm (CNA).

In an interview published in America Magazine today, Pope Francis unequivocally stated that women cannot be ordained as priests but emphasized the important role they have to play in the life of the Church.

“Many women feel pain because they cannot be ordained priests. What would you say to a woman who is already serving in the life of the Church but who still feels called to be a priest?” asked Kerry Webber, executive editor of the monthly magazine published by the Jesuits of the United States.

The Holy Father was unequivocal on the question of the ordination of women priests:

“And why can a woman not enter ordained ministry? It is because the Petrine principle has no place for that,” the pope said.

“The ministerial dimension, we can say, is that of the Petrine church. I am using a category of theologians. The Petrine principle is that of ministry,” the Holy Father said.

A theology of the ‘Marian principle’

The pope explained that there is another “theological” way in which women play a vital role in Church life.

The dignity of women, he said, reflected the spousal nature of the Church, which he called the “Marian principle.”

“The way is not only [ordained] ministry. The Church is woman. The Church is a spouse. We have not developed a theology of women that reflects this,” Pope Francis said.

“The Petrine principle is that of ministry. But there is another principle that is still more important, about which we do not speak, that is the Marian principle, which is the principle of femininity (femineidad) in the Church, of the woman in the Church, where the Church sees a mirror of herself because she is a woman and a spouse.

“A church with only the Petrine principle would be a church that one would think is reduced to its ministerial dimension, nothing else. But the Church is more than a ministry. It is the whole people of God. The Church is woman. The Church is a spouse. Therefore, the dignity of women is mirrored in this way,” the pope said.

Pope Francis noted that a theology of the Marian principle needs to be developed further.

“This is an abbreviated explanation, but I wanted to highlight the two theological principles: the Petrine principle and the Marian principle that make up the Church. Therefore, that the woman does not enter into the ministerial life is not a deprivation. No. Your place is that which is much more important and which we have yet to develop, the catechesis about women in the way of the Marian principle,” he said.

A third way: the administrative way

Pope Francis said that in addition to the Petrine and the Marian principles, there is another function of the Body of Christ that is particularly suited to women: the “administrative way.”

“There is a third way: the administrative way. The ministerial way, the ecclesial way, let us say, Marian, and the administrative way, which is not a theological thing, it is something of normal administration. And, in this aspect, I believe we have to give more space to women,” Pope Francis said.

The Holy Father then pointed to the women he has appointed, noting that women generally do a “better” job managing things.

“Here in the Vatican, the places where we have put women are functioning better. For example, in the Council for the Economy, where there are six cardinals and six laypersons. Two years ago, I appointed five women among the six laypersons, and that was a revolution. The deputy governor of the Vatican is a woman. When a woman enters politics or manages things, generally she does better. Many economists are women, and they are renewing the economy in a constructive way,” he said.

He then shared two anecdotes about what he called the “nose” (olfato) of women, who have shown themselves to be keen judges of character in evaluating candidates for the priesthood.

“The woman is a mother and sees the mystery of the Church more clearly than we men. For this reason, the advice of a woman is very important, and the decision of a woman is better,” he said.

Ordination of women and the Synod on Synodality

Ahead of next year’s Synod on Synodality, participants in the German Catholic Church’s Synodal Way voted to approve text calling for the ordination of women priests. The document, titled “Women in Ministries and Offices in the Church,” said: “It is not the participation of women in all Church ministries and offices that requires justification, but the exclusion of women from sacramental office.”

Then in September, a document on sexuality was narrowly blocked after failing to get support from two-thirds of the German bishops. That document called for changes to the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, bisexuality, gender identity, and masturbation.

Pope Francis has on several occasions made public his concerns about the German Synodal Way, and his clear enunciation of the Church’s position on the ordination of women follows his Nov. 17 ad limina meeting with German bishops over their controversial synodal process.

Following that meeting, the German Bishops’ Conference president, Bishop Georg Bätzing, told journalists that there was no departure from Catholicism intended. Instead, he said, supporters of the Synodal Way wanted to remain Catholic, “but we want to be Catholic in a different way.”

In a statement released Thursday, the Vatican published concerns raised by two leading cardinals who met with the German bishops.

The main concern is one of union with the Church, explained Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Dicastery of Bishops.

“Several authoritative critics of the current orientation of the Synodal Way in Germany speak openly of a latent schism that the proposal of your texts threatens to entrench in its present form,” he wrote.

The Synodal Way — which is not a synod — risked being not about achieving pastoral innovations but attempting a “transformation of the Church,” Ouellet warned in his statement, published in German by CNA Deutsch.

Ouellet said the Synodal Way’s suggestions “hurt the communion of the Church,” sowing “doubt and confusion among the people of God.”

Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, raised five concerns with the German bishops, including the Synodal Way’s approach to sexuality, power and structure in the Church, and the ordination of women to the priesthood.

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  1. But, but, but Francis, how about meeting with the Four Dubia Cardinals! You have time to meet with your Jesuit cronies who comprise your fan club but not with those who see things differently. What ever happened to “accompaniment.” This has turned into the Echo Chamber Pontificate

  2. Women cannot be ordained priests because of the part of the ordination Mass where the bishop requires the pledge of obedience. A woman might pledge obedience to a bishop, but you will lose her when you throw in “and all my successors.”

  3. There are issues which the Pope cannot bring up but bear heavily on the ordination of women, that is, a feminized Church is a dying Church. We see that right now in the US. Women dominate parishes in numbers and leadership roles. Religion has become a “woman’s thing.” Contrast this with the Muslim religion which is unabashadly male and masculine. It has been a dynamic, aggressive and growing religion for centuries. When the Catholic Church had vigorous masculine leadership, (Loyola, Dominic, etc) it flourished and expanded. Not today, except maybe in Africa, which has yet to be infected with Western fads.

    • I’ve always thought of the Muslim religion as the first Protestants in a way, as the Koran tried to mirror the Bible in structure but not content.
      How masculine is a culture that puts women in a second class position
      to even their own male minors?
      The Catholic Church has been good for me and I’ve never been treated as second class.

    • With all due respect the sentiment of your comment illustrates the reason for the growing number of people registering as ‘nones’ Women have always outnumbered men in terms of congregation. I do not support women as priests but I also find it highly objectionable the way women who do are demonized. As to pointing at islam I am afraid you have shot yourself in the foot. Yes it is a highly masculine creed. It also awards virgins as a prize in paradise allows men numerous wives and loves a good bit of violence. Lets become like them. On the other hand we could as a church acknowledge that first and foremost God created male and female. He did not put the animosity between the sexes. Anyone searching who comes across stirring of the pot between the sexes will walk away.

  4. What is all this no sense words — Petrine principel, Marian principe, and admistative way–? Complete “confusion”. Will some faithful bishop or theologian set this all straight.

  5. A real Kamala-Harris-like word salad by Bergoglio of non-Scriptural and non-magisterial blather about “Petrine principle” and “Marian principle”. This is supposed to be the Pope speaking to defend the infallible doctrine that the priesthood is reserved by Christ Himself to men only? Truly incredible.

  6. Where in the world does this man get his material? This is the first time I have ever heard of a Petrine principle or a Marian principle and applying it to women’s ordination. I think he is purposely sowing confusion to bring chaos to church teaching, and it is probably exactly what the Jesuits at America magazine want. This crowd brings a completely new meaning to the word “jesuitical.”

    • “This is the first time I have ever heard of a Petrine principle or a Marian principle and applying it to women’s ordination.”

      It appears to be a reference, at least in part, to Hans Urs von Balthasar’s book The Office of Peter and the Structure of the Church. In that book (which I read as a Protestant and helped me greatly in understanding what the Church actually teaches about the Petrine office), Balthasar reflects at length on the Petrine, Pauline, Johannine, and Marian dimensions (or characteristics, presence, principles) found in the New Testament. There is a lot to what Balthasar presents, but one point he makes is that each one is vital and has a rather distinct role, but that the Marian is most essential or central, as it embodies perfect discipleship, while the Petrine dimension, while also vital, is more external (my paraphrase here) and focused on governance and such. For me, it is this part of Pope Francis’ interview that makes the most sense, as there are many curious and confusing remarks made throughout the rest of the America piece.

      I should note that Balthasar’s book was first published (in German) in 1974, and was intent on rebuffing many critics (quite a few Catholic) who were attacking the papacy (Paul VI especially, at that time, because of HV). It is, I think, an exceptional book. And, dare I say, more coherent than what you read in the America interview.

  7. We believe, thenceforth the flow of tradition tells us a woman cannot be a priest, that reserved for men chosen to proclaim God in Christ.
    A woman I just listened to, Virginian Hilary Hahn violinist performing with the Stuttgart Radio Symphony Benedict XVI in attendance the Adagio Mozart’s 3rd Violin Concerto. Perhaps it’s the sensitivity of this lovely woman that anyone listening would believe there must be a God.

  8. If Pope Francis is going to say that only men can be priests because of the spousal relationship between the priest and the church as the bride of Christ, then it follows there should be no men in the congregation because the church is the FEMALE component.

    • Balderdash! A less simplistic and ideological understanding is that the feminine nature of the Church refers to the “fiat” of Mary, the same fiat that Mary conveyed to the wine stewards (men!) at the wedding feast at Cana: “do whatever he tells you.” By your literalist logic, if women became priests, this would be the ultimate corruption and triumph of lesbianism–priestesses in a feminine Church.

      Moreover, the Church is not a collected “congregation”; it is a Eucharistic assembly, assembled by the singular Real Presence.

  9. It takes a pretty tight squeeze to derive a method of political succession from the literary essence of an apostle’s role in the Church.

    Big support for the Synodal Way document, as well, I see. This is a runaway train. I’ve heard enough from this man, myself.

  10. The priesthood in Jesus Christ is not “a Petrine principle”, it is a priestly grace.

    God did not design for women not to be priests, as “a Marian principle”.

    Our Lady’s role in Redemption is not merely a mirror of women, she is co-Redemptrix.

    The Church has administrative needs that do not delimit womanhood and feminine vocation, nor define the nature of the feminine.

    The Holy Father wants “to be clear” on women but not on homosexuality and allows the German “synodal way”, to join such issues as if they have any connection.

    The German “synodal way” is a progression from Luther: it is not a Catholic dimension but a novel excursion into “diets” and “elects”.

    The Holy Father must stop diffusing authority and classification. St. Catherine addressed “the Sweet Christ on earth” on his cowardices but this is WORSE.

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