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Is a womans vocation as valid as a mans?

Is a woman’s vocation as ‘authentic’ as that of a man?

Inferior motives?

Read here who I am!

“The priestly office cannot become the goal of social advancement;
no merely human progress of society or of the individual can of itself give access to it: it is of another order.”
Inter Insigniores

This was said in addressing the problem of certain women feeling called to the ordination of the priesthood. I have a problem with this. It may be true that many supporters of the ordination of women are supporting it simply in the name of the social advancement of women; in fact, all supporters do so to some extent. But if I were an individual woman who felt called to the priestly ministry, I’d be horribly offended at that remark. I’d feel like it was being implied that I wanted to be a priest simply because I was jealous that I (and other women) hadn’t been allowed it yet, even though men are.

Has no one the right to be ordained?

If no one can claim a right to the priesthood (as these documents argue, again and again), then why is there no question of men being ordained? If, in response to someone saying “I, as a black person, have as much right to become a public leader as do white persons,” you argue that “No one has a right to public leadership!”, you’re evading the point altogether.

Let me explain this further. There is no ‘right’ to the priesthood, no. But then again, there is no ‘right’ to Christian eternal life whatsoever, is there? So, if someone wished to argue “Women cannot be Christian—arguing that women have an equality with men is evading the issue, because no one has the right to become Christian”, it still doesn’t answer the huge question of why only men are permitted for this.

I realize that example may sound farfetched to some of you, but it flows along with the example of the black person aspiring to be a politician, or any of a thousand other examples we could come up with (not all of the purely ‘secular’, either). If I ask you, “Why can women not be priests?” and you answer “It is because no one has a right to the priesthood”, you haven’t answered my question. The question needs a specific answer addressed to the idea of women being priests. Not a generalized answer, that doesn’t even answer why men can be priests, let alone why women can’t be.

Admitting that no one has a ‘right’to the priesthood, it is obvious that there is still a right to have one’s call examined. I believe the question now is why are only men’s vocations being examined by the Church? Why not that of women?

See also the discussion about the ban on women’s ordination and discrimination.

Just a question of feelings?

“A vocation within the Church does not consist solely or primarily in the fact that one manifests the desire for a mission or feels attracted by an inner compulsion . . . ”
Commentary by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on Inter Insigniores

If ‘feelings’ play no role whatsoever in the “authentic” calling to this ministry (as these documents again and again state), then how do these callings occur? Except in areas and in times where boys were roped into seminaries and the priesthood early on (for instance, many a priest in my time was sent to seminary when he was eleven), it would seem to me—and I may be mistaken about this—that ‘feeling called to the ministry’ is the very thing that gets a man going on his way to the priesthood. You can say “Just because you feel like being a doctor, doesn’t mean you have the skill”, and it makes sense.... but twisting it into saying “Feeling led to being a doctor ultimately doesn’t matter” doesn’t. You don’t go after a goal you don’t feel called to seek.

Is a vocation only authentic if authenticated by the Church?

“A vocation within the Church does not consist solely or primarily in the fact that one manifests the desire for a mission or feels attracted by an inner compulsion. Even if this spontaneous step is made and even if one believes one has heard as it were a call in the depths of one’s soul, the vocation is authentic only from the moment that it is authenticated by the external call of the Church.”
Commentary by the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on Inter Insigniores

The document is saying essentially that the ‘inner compulsion’ is merely ‘spontaneous’, i.e. it could have been caused by what someone said to you or what you ate tonight. I love this sentence: “Even if this spontaneous step is made and even if one believes one has heard, as it were, a call in the depths of one’s soul”—it just strikes me as almost sneering. ‘You petty fool, feeling called to the priesthood is just a whim; it is the Church that decides whether or not you will be a priest. Know your place.’

The Church is the authenticator of vocations to the extent that the community of believers play a role in assessing new candidates. This is why at ordinations the bishop still asks the people whether they judge the ordinand to be worthy. Nowadays the question is usually answered by the rector of the seminary where the person was trained, but even then he speaks on behalf of the assembled faithful. The bishop's final call does add some kind of institutional approval, but to state that vocations are only authentic ‘when candidates are externally called’ by the Church, makes no sense.

If this Church is the authenticator of vocations, and vocations are only authentic ‘when they are externally called’ by the Church, what happens in cases where you have useless or corrupt bishops? Wouldn’t there be countless cases of a bishop ignoring or even opposing someone with a true calling? But if a ‘true calling’ is only one that is called by the Church, then these ignored callings are not real and the bishop cannot logically be attacked for ignoring them.

Secondly, what if you have a priest who was not called? I’ve often heard the notion that, up until Vatican II, the priesthood (as well as religious sisterhood) was sometimes used as a place for people with psychological problems who couldn’t fit into society or into marriage quite normally. While old catechisms usually stressed three different vocations: the religious, the married, and the single state, how many in reality thought that the single state was commendable and an actual vocation? And not simply a lack of calling, or even lazyness or something ‘wrong’ on the part of the single person? Thus, if there are priests who were not called by God and should not be priests (or, preferably, should have been something else)....and how many of us can say we haven’t met priests like this.... then how is that compatible with the idea that the Church’s external call is the authenticator of every priestly vocation? Does this mean the Church was wrong? It used its power to authenticate callings on the wrong person?

I don’t believe so. I believe the system by which a person becomes a priest is not exclusively in the hands of the local church hierarchy—and thus, when callings turn out not to be right, it is not the fault (or just the fault, I should say) of that hierarchy.

On a final note....if the Church is the sole authenticator of vocations, why does the Church “not have the power to ordain women”? The document states that the Church, not specifically God, is the sole arbiter as to whose ‘callings’ are authentic and whose not. I don’t believe that holds water at all, because the Church states right now that it does not have the authority to ordain women to the priesthood. If it is the sole decision maker, how does it not have the authority?

However, I don’t believe this is the genuine position of the Church. At least, as far as I have ever heard or seen, God is the ‘authenticator’ of vocations, not ‘solely’ the Church.

John Wijngaards


Overview Signs of a Vocation A woman's journey Steps to take Answering critics Writing your story
Six options for Catholic women who feel called to the priesthood?

There is no more 'man' or 'woman' in Christ. Gal 3,28

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Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

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