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Postscript from 'Women Priests in the Catholic Church?' by Haye van der Meer


Women Priests in the Catholic Church?
by Haye van der Meer, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1973, pp. 157-159.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

In the preceding pages I hope to have made clear that there is still much to be done for a genuine proof either pro or contra. Some things are still far from clarified, at least not in the measure that the thesis of the dogmatic theologians could be said either to be certainly proved in a sober, methodical fashion, or to be certainly incorrect.

It was not my intention to reduce to nothing the difference between man and woman, which certainly always exists even if it be alterable. I have only sought to investigate whether this distinction — which earlier was clearly exaggerated to a fault and was portrayed as fixed in this manner for all times — is relevant for the question of whether woman is excluded from ecclesiastical office.

As F, Leenhardt has correctly said, the unsuitability of woman for the contemporary pastoral office is obvious. But that is at least partly because the pastoral office in its traditional forms is formed by man.(1) This book, then, was not written to come to the aid of those young women who would like to be ordained to the priesthood now, as St. Catherine of Siena perhaps wished to in an earlier age.(2) For such young women desire to be something which they can have experienced affectively only as something typically masculine. The theoretical and speculative considerations which they would employ, perhaps along the lines of this work, can change nothing, for the affective experience also counts on the psychological plane. Thus they have, in my opinion, somewhat unhealthy desires. Their demands point to the fact that they have still not been able to identify with their own sex. God preserve us from such unbalanced priests.

It is therefore too early for us to try to portray concretely what it would be like if a woman stood at the altar or sat in the confessional. For we too know the spiritual office only as masculine and would feel uncomfortable in such performances. But would that always remain the case? Are there no slow changes?

One of the Dutch women pastors, Domina Van Wilsum, tells how a child in her congregation visited relatives in another congregation. When the male pastor from this other congregation called at the home, the child said in amazement, “How can this man be a pastor? That can’t be right; he’s a man!” (3)

But the question is not whether woman can exercise the masculinely formed pastoral office but whether the pastoral office must be only male and can be only male. Women would in any case have to fill the pastoral office in a feminine way. Very relevant here is Barth’s exposition that the content of the command of the Lord in 1 Cor. 14, 37, is just this: that a woman always must conduct herself as a woman:

The command of the Lord, which is for all eternity, directs both man and woman to their own proper sacred place and forbids all attempts to violate this order. The command may be given a different interpretation from that of Paul, for it is the living command of the living Lord. Yet if it is to be respected at all, it cannot even for a moment or in any conceivable sense be disregarded in this its decisive expression and requirement.(4)

The present work was undertaken out of an admittedly un-Augustinian and un-Thomistic, yet justified masculine humility, out of the doubt whether we men can work better with one another than with the help of women; whether we men do justice to the fullness of the tasks of office; whether we really can represent sufficiently the “fullness of Christ’s divinity.”(5)

Perhaps there were times in which the male could fulfill these tasks. But just as the individual male — according to C. G. Jung — with his growth to adulthood expresses, or should express, more and more his anima aspect (the feminine in him), while in the female the animus should increase in influence,(6 )so it may be thought that, in a Church and in a humanity growing to the fullness of the eschaton, men should also be making more place for women, and women should become more fitted to represent the man Christ. This inversion of course does not lie on the biological, physical level (for that would be a perversion), but on the psychic and spiritual. But who would assert that the representation of Christ must realize itself on the biological, physical plane?

That was the background of this work. Has the author been successful in bringing more clarity? He would be content if he could say with Augustine: (7)

In many ways the question has been compressed. Everything I have said I have said so that the difficulty of the question would be magnified. You see that [this question] is valid, and almost insoluble.


1. Leenhardt and Blanke, Die Stellung der Frau (see chap. II, n. 73, above), pp. 3-4.

2. Krebs, “Priestertum der Frau” (see chap. I, n. 5, above), p. 199.

3. Cf. Katholieke Illustratie, 17 June 1961.

4. Barth, CD III/4, p. 156.

5. Therefore the solution suggested by Charlotte von Kirschbaum does not appear adequate to me: “The matter does not concern the supplementing of the profession of pastors with a number of female members. . . . The woman should be a servant of the word within the congregation, not over it. In her person she will create not greater distance but greater bonds between office and congregation.” Der Dienst der Frau (see chap. I, n. 17, above), p. 28.

6. Cf. Thurn, “Animus und Anima” (see chap. 5, n. 123, above), pp. 50 ff.

7. Augustinus, Sermo 244: PL 38, c. 1149.

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