The Pope on Gay Priests, Women Priests and What it Means for Mariolatry

Someone asked Pope Francis this week about the future of gay priests in the Catholic Church. He answered:

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”

Good for him. Since the church requires celibacy for its priests, sexual orientation doesn’t seem all that important to me as a job qualification. And this certainly redirects his predecessor Pope Benedict VI’s statements that homosexuality indicates intrinsic moral evil. After all, we all have intrinsic moral evil. Romans 3:23, Romans 7 and the doctrine of the Fall explain that clearly. So this one shouldn’t be a deal-breaker for the priesthood.

Pope Francis made it clear that there is one attribute that is a deal-breaker though: genitalia. When it comes to women in the priesthood, we can expect no change in Church policy from this Pope:

In reference to the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul said this with a definite formula. This door is closed.

Women have no place in the Catholic priesthood.

The Papal Inconsistency

This isn’t surprising, of course. The Catholic Church is – among other things – decidedly complementarian. This is one reason why I’m never tempted to convert to Roman Catholicism. I’m not complementarian and I haven’t been persuaded by Scripture to change that.

But there’s a bigger issue revealed in Pope’s the pronouncement, one noted by Shayne Moore on her Facebook page:

Am I the only one confused about the Pope’s comments about gays and women? Who [he says] is he to judge if someone is a homosexual and searches his soul and finds good will with God? Yet, somehow women aren’t included in “Who am I to judge” if a woman is called to church leadership out of love and devotion to God and has searched herself and found good will. Rather it was “the church had said no and the door is closed on that.”

Creepy double standard. One [group] wants to love whoever they want and be treated with equality and respect; the other wants to serve God (not themselves) and the Church and be treated with equality and respect. Mr. Pope, you lost me at Hello.

Shayne alludes to something internally inconsistent in the pontiff’s remarks. He feels free to disregard his immediate predecessor’s pronouncement on homosexuality but feels the need to adhere to an older position on the ordination of women.

There’s something even odder, though, about this denial of women taking on clerical leadership. It runs counter to the veneration of Mary that sometimes rises to a form of idolatry, what some people call Mariolatry.

The Pope spoke to this in a follow-up to his comments:

But on this I want to say something. The Madonna, Mary, was more important than the apostles, bishops, deacons and priests. Women in the church are more important than bishops and priests. I think we are missing a theological explanation on this.

Missing a theological explanation on this? I should say so.

Let’s start with finding a biblical basis for raising Mary above the apostles, etc. There is none.

And about praying to her as someone with special access to God, more than any other Christian has ever had? You wouldn’t be able to convince the writer of Hebrews.

And try telling Peter or Paul and Barnabas that Christians should fall at Mary’s feet in prayer. They’d set you straight.

A Female Priesthood

What does this have to do with women in the priesthood, you ask? Everything.

First, I have a hypothesis. If the Vatican allowed women into the priesthood, there might be less need to elevate Mary as some sort of consolation prize for denying women a place in church leadership.

Second, and even more importantly, women are already priests alongside men in the kingdom of God:

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. (1 Peter 2:9.)

The word translated there as “people” is the Greek word “genos“, a word that couldn’t be more indicative of a generic designation of people. It is never used in the Bible to denote men as opposed to women. And the word “nation” is a translation of the Greek “laos“, again always used in the broad sense of people, not a designation of only male people.

This means that the royal priesthood of believers is all women and all men and all girls and all boys in God’s kingdom. Every one of God’s people is special, but none are more special than any other.

So please, Pope Francis, don’t make Mary your excuse for keeping women out of the priesthood.

Instead, make women priests.

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28 Responses to The Pope on Gay Priests, Women Priests and What it Means for Mariolatry

  1. nmcdonal says:

    Needless to say, Tim, I don’t think it’s fair to say equating affirmation of original sin and the ordination of women is a fair or logical sequence. I think the Bible is abundantly clear about original sin and temptation in the life of a Christian (including homosexuality!), and I think you have to admit at least that there is room for disagreement on the issue of women in the priesthood. For me, I’ve tried to see the biblical logic of Egalitarianism, and I can honestly say I think those who espouse it have to sacrifice normal exegetical principles to endorse it. I’m not sure shouting “judging!” does anything to help the debate.

    But you do make a very interesting point about the Catholic vs. protestant difference in ordination toward women – as a protestant, I can freely affirm that a woman is a fellow “priest” in the kingdom of God, equipped by the Holy Spirit to do the work of the ministry as much as I am or any other man for that matter. I don’t believe it follows the Biblical model for women to be elders, but I can also affirm that woman are gifted to teach, counsel, lead small groups, and rebuke me when necessary! When there’s a huge gulf between laity and clergy, that kind of statement isn’t possible.

    Thanks for the food for thought.

    • Tim says:

      I know what you mean about egalitarian exegetics, Nick. I’ve seen it too. I’ve also seen the same in complementarian exegetics. Neither answers all Scriptural issues raised by the topic of women and men in leadership and service in the Body of Christ. Like you, I’ve read some awfully smart cookies on both sides. Each thinks their understanding makes the most sense of the matter.

  2. Aimee Byrd says:

    This complementarian would like to take your argument to another level– Let’s get rid of the priesthood altogether since it is fulfilled in Christ! Doubt we will EVER hear the pope say that one 🙂
    Thanks for pushing us to think about these issues, Tim. Although I hold a different position on the whole egalitarian/complementarian debate, I like how you challenge us to think more critically about these issues rather than fall into a stereotype. This is needed!!
    Mohler posted an article putting the pope’s comments in context (umm, the media wouldn’t want to do that, would they?):

    • Tim says:

      Good point about the office of priest, Aimee. The New Testament model does without the office entirely. Thanks for the Mohler link too. I’ll have that at the top of my reading list later today.

      • Tim says:

        Just read the that great Mohler article, Aimee; thanks for the link. He saw it the same way I did: Francis was not speaking about homosexual acts and a refusal to judge those. He was talking about those who identify as gay but are seeking God. The two categories are not mutually exclusive, of course. And when it comes to members of the priesthood, merely being gay should not be a disqualification. I think that is the notable part of his comment. Those who read more into it should, as Mohler points out, listen more carefully.

        • Aimee Byrd says:

          I’m telling you Tim, you would love “The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.” I don’t think you will agree with Butterfield on everything, but you would enjoy interacting with her thoughts and experience. You are definitely one who doesn’t have to agree with everything he reads to enjoy it, and there is a lot in there you will like.

        • Tim says:

          I’m going to search the library database for it, Aimee.

    • Judy says:

      Thanks for this link, Aimee. It’s helpful context. What I find implicit in media reaction to the Pope’s remarks is that the church is known more for its opposition to homosexuality than for its desire to see people searching for The Lord. Mohler makes sure we all understand that the Catholic Church still sees homosexuality as sin. In my opinion the Pope had the right emphasis. Our first desire should be to see people searching for The Lord. Naturally, the secular press will make it about homosexuality, but shouldn’t we make it about Jesus?

  3. janehinrichs says:

    We are neither male nor female, Jew now Gentile . . . That is what I think about it. I am part of a denomination that doesn’t allow women preachers. I don’t agree with it but I am not called to be a preacher. If I was I guess I’d find a different denomination. Sadly I think all this keeping women out of leadership goes back to that one passage where Paul says women should be silent in church and shouldn’t be teaching “men.” I’ve read it was for that particular church and that men meant their husbands not men in general — good advice for all of us married folk know what happens when wives try to teach their husbands anything…it just doesn’t work out well for anyone.

    God doesn’t separate secular and spiritual things like we do. We don’t have a problem with women professors, women teachers, etc, but whoa to women teaching/preaching males in the church (just makes no sense).

    Anyway, that was a tangent! I appreciate this post Tim. And I too am tired of the focus on sexuality — why does the church these days focus so much on one sin over another? In Ezekiel we are told the sin of Sodom was greed and lack of hospitality — that is what caused the fire and brimstone.

    Oh well, good post Tim.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks for bringing in the Galatians 3:28 principle. Jane. I almost included a short discussion on that as well, but the post was getting long as it is. Still, that’s an important passage to look at when considering the issue of men and women in the kingdom of God.

  4. Jeannie says:

    Really interesting points here, Tim. I didn’t know that Pope Benedict had said homosexuality was an indication of intrinsic moral evil! I’m glad that Pope Francis takes a gentler view; what I have seen and heard of him so far I’ve found generally encouraging. But as someone who leans to the egalitarian side I can never agree with the prohibition on women priests. I just think it’s wrong.

    • Tim says:

      I’m very encouraged by him as well, Jeannie. If humility is the mark of a servant in the kingdom, he is certainly a servant of God.

  5. Judy says:

    I had a similar reaction to yours, Tim. The reasons that churches reject homosexuality and women leaders in the church are different, I realize, but many in both demographics feel unwelcome among the leaders of God’s poeple. That is a shame. Every believer has been given gifts for the benefit of the Body, and the only limits on the exercise of these gifts that I see in Scripture is that they are to be expressed in an orderly fashion. And now I’ll read Amy’s link above for another perspective.

    • Tim says:

      I think you’re right about the ways we should exercise the gifts God has given us, Judy. If a person can serve the body with the abilities God has provided, then the body should gratefully and graciously accept God’s blessing through that person’s service.

  6. Linda Fern says:

    Tim, you’ve done it again! Thank you so much for this post. And also for Aimee’s link to the article by Dr. Albert Mohler of the Southern Baptist Seminary. I think I understand the Pope’s words a lot better now. As a “Southerner” (and you may know what that means) I was taught in my Sunday School class (way back in the 1950s) to love everybody – red, yellow, black and white – and I did just that. And we were also taught to love the sinner not the sin. I think LOVE is very important.

    Yrs aff’ly,
    Linda Fern

  7. jamie says:

    Well said, Tim.

  8. Mary Anne says:

    Sometimes I think it will be such a RELIEF when we’re all with God and just don’t have to bother about things like this any longer, feeling marginalized or like a second-class citizen in the faith. We’ll finally be home in all the ways that matter and we’ll all be welcome. What was the old song? “Gonna sit at the welcome table . . .”

  9. Tim, thank you for the thoughtful post. I don’t usually read through the comments but I did on this one and I am struck by the intelligence and respectfulness of all who commented. This is quality dialogue and I am very grateful.

    • Tim says:

      I too am grateful for the comments people leave here, Marshall. They are among the most thoughtful and insightful comments I see on the internet. My readers are certainly high caliber folks!

  10. Gail Wallace says:

    Just wanted to say THANK YOU for your support of women as full and equal partners with men in the kingdom, Tim. It means more than you know to have men like you speaking up for us. Blessings on behalf of the 526 followers of The Junia Project!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Gail. To me, this is an issue of sound doctrine. If I thought the Bible taught otherwise, I’d say so, but it looks to me like scripture does not restrict leadership just to men.

  11. Don Johnson says:

    Strictly speaking the Catholic church and the Orthodox church are not Complementarian, as the latter is a construct of some in Protestant churches. This is because these groups have entirely different methods of coming up with doctrine. The RCC and EOC have something called Sacred Tradition (ST) which controls the way they understand Scripture, they of course believe that ST correctly interprets Scripture while Protestants deny ST considered as a whole thing by each group does any such thing, else they would be either RCC or EOC. And the RCC ST is different than the EOC ST, if this was not obvious. I think it is best to think of the RCC and EOC doctrinal systems as different from any Protestant system. However, in any specific conclusion, the RCC system will come to the same conclusion as a Protestant system, but the way they can reach that conclusion can be very different. Note that this difference does not necessarily mean that it is not valuable for Protestants to study Catholic or Orthodox authors, they can have great insights; but we as Protestants need to realize that when their ST says something is the case, those authors cannot deviate from that understanding and faithfully remain in their faith.

    • Tim says:

      I get that they don’t call it comp doctrine, Don, but they think women and men occupy complementary but exclusive positions in the church. Hence it’s complementarian in the dictionary sense of the word. As for whether they can deviate or not, all the Pope needs to do is call another Vatican council and propose changes. Who knows what will happen. No one thought V2 was going to go as far as it did.

  12. “If the Vatican allowed women into the priesthood, there might be less need to elevate Mary as some sort of consolation prize for denying women a place in church leadership.”
    Not really seeing how their elevation of Mary is based on denying ordination to women. The elevation of Mary instead has much more to do with their Christology and their ecclesiology.

    There are, of course, Anglo-Catholics who would agree that women should be ordained but nevertheless still highly venerate Mary.

    I do not think the Catholic Church is likely to change its stance on the issue in recent future as for now to do such, for them, it would alter significantly the sacraments and render them questionable at best.

    However, I did read last year a Lutheran pastor’s blog on Patheos commenting on Marian veneration and the need for it. This particular Lutheran pastor was actually a woman pastor in the ELCA.

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