Responsive image
Nederlands/Vlaams Deutsch Francais English language Spanish language Portuguese language Catalan Chinese Czech Malayalam Finnish Igbo
Japanese Korean Romanian Malay language Norwegian Swedish Polish Swahili Chichewa Tagalog Urdu
Progress Report to the House of Bishops from THE COMMITTEE TO STUDY THE PROPER PLACE OF WOMEN IN THE MINISTRY OF THE CHURCH October, 1966 Appendix B, part 2. In 'Women Priests: Yes or No?' By Emily C. Hewitt and Suzanne R. Hiatt

Progress Report to the House of Bishops


October, 1966

Appendix B, part 2. In Women Priests: Yes or No?
By Emily C. Hewitt & Suzanne R. Hiatt, Seabury Press, New York, 1973 .

" The creation of the Committee to Study the Proper Place of Women in the Ministry of the Church was authorized by the House of Bishops in September, 1965, and its members were subsequently appointed by the Presiding Bishop. The Committee consists of: The Bishop of Rochester, Chairman; Mrs. Irvin Bussing of California, Secretary; The Bishop of New Hampshire; The Bishop of Oklahoma; Mrs. Charles M. Hawes III of the Virgin Islands; Rev. Dr. Alden D. Kelley of Bexley Hall; Mrs. Theodore O. Wedel of New York.

" Of the women serving on the Committee, one has been an executive in public relations and advertising, another has been engaged in professional Church work for many years, both in this Church and on an ecumenical level, and the third has recently received a Bachelor of Divinity degree.

" The Committee presents this preliminary Report, indicating the direction of its thinking’ and making some initial recommendations to the House of Bishops.

"Scope and Urgency

" The Committee presents this preliminary Report, indicating the place of women in the Church’s ministry demands the facing of the question of whether or not women should be considered eligible for ordination to any and all Orders of that Ministry. No one would deny that women are part of the lay ministry of the Church, and the Committee does not think that another examination of the status of Deaconesses alone would do justice to the matter.

" The Committee is convinced that a number of factors give the question a new urgency, require a fresh and unprejudiced look at the whole issue, and warn against uncritical acceptance of beliefs, attitudes, and assumptions that have been inherited from the past and strongly persist at the present time. Three such factors seem especially important:

" a. The growing place o f women in professional, business, and public life, in medicine, in teaching, in politics and government, in the Armed Forces, even in high executive positions within this Church.

" b. The development o f new forms o f ministry that permit greater flexibility and call for many more specialized skills than is the case when the ministry is limited largely to one priest in charge of one parish, a generalist rather than a specialist. As one member of the Committee put it, “We need to stop talking or thinking of the ministry as though it were a single unitary vocation. Rather, we need to think of the many functions of ministry which are needed today-the sacramental ministry, preaching, theological and Biblical research, teaching, pastoral work and counseling, social service, etc. In an age of specialization and of a tremendous explosion of knowledge we must face the fact that no one person can possibly be adequate in all these areas . . . . We need to encourage specialization according to a person’s gifts and interests and organize our corporate life to use specialists.” This fact requires consideration of how women may be used in a changing and increasingly specialized ministry.

" c. The growing importance of the issue in ecumenical relationships. The question is being discussed in many parts of the Anglican Communion . . . . The initiation of a study of the experiences of ordained women was urged by the World Conference on Church and Society, meeting at Geneva in the summer of 1966. In this country, the Consultation on Church Union has reached the point of considering the drafting of a plan of union, involving this Church and a number of others that now admit women to the ordained ministry, and the question of the ordination of women in such a united Church obviously must be faced as the negotiations proceed.

" Nor does it seem that the question of the ordination of women in the Orthodox and Roman Churches can be regarded as finally and forever decided in the negative, particularly in view of other changes that have occurred, especially in the Roman Church.

" There is a sentence in one of the official documents of Vatican ii that reads, “Since in our times women have an ever more active share in the whole life of society, it is very important that they participate more widely also in the various fields of the Church’s apostolate” [The Documents of Vatican II, Walter M. Abbott, S.J., General Editor, (New York: Guild Press, 1966), p. 500.] The Archbishop of Durban, South Africa, Dr. Dennis Hurley, recently predicted that “there are going to be some fantastic developments in the role of women in the Church.” ( See Christian Century, September 15, 1966. ) And in an interview with the Secretary of this Committee, given on October 11, 1966, the Rev. Dr. Hans Küng, Professor in the University of Tubingen (Germany) stated, “There are two factors to consider regarding the ordination of women to the Sacred Ministry of the Church. The first is that there are no dogmatic or biblical reasons against it. The second is that there are psychological and sociological factors to be considered. The solution to the problem depends on the sociological conditions of the time and place. It is entirely a matter of cultural circumstances.”

" Burden o f Proof

" The Committee has become increasingly convinced that the burden of proof is on the negative in this matter.

" For, to oppose the ordination of women is either to hold that the whole trend of modern culture is wrong in its attitude toward the place of women in society, or to maintain that the unique character of the ordained ministry makes that ministry a special case and justifies the exclusion of women from it.

" Reasons Given Against the Ordination o f Women

" Mental and Emotional: The alleged mental and emotional characteristics of women are said to make them unsuitable to serve as clergymen. Such arguments are never very clear, consistent, or precise. Sometimes, the weakness of women is stressed, despite the fact that women are healthier and live longer than men. Or, it is claimed that women think emotionally rather than rationally and that they over-personalize problems or decisions.

" The same sort of arguments could be used to show that women are unfit for almost any business, professional, or public responsibility. They were used against the admission of women to higher education, to the practice of medicine and law, and against women suffrage. They are still being used against the admission of women to the House of Deputies of the General Convention.

" None of these negative arguments has been borne out in any other walk of life. Women have proved to be capable, often brilliant, lawyers, statesmen, scientists, and teachers. They have enriched the practice of medicine, and politics have neither been redeemed nor debased by their participation.

" As experience has demonstrated, only experience can show the extent to which women might fulfill a useful role in the ordained ministry, as well as ways in which their role might be different from the role of men. Here, as in other callings, women would need to be better than men in order to compete with them.

" Emil Brunner states, “It is absolutely impossible to put down in black and white, as a universal rule, which spheres of activity ‘belong’ to women and which do not. This can only become clear through experience; and for this experience, first of all the field must be thrown open.”

" Because the field has not been thrown open, any judgment based on the Church’s experience with professional women workers is limited and inadequate. With the highest respect for the contributions these women are now making, the Committee is convinced that an absolute bar at the level of ordination has a deterring effect upon the number of women of high quality who enter professional Church work or undertake theological study, and that the same bar places theologically trained women in a highly uncomfortable and anomalous position.

" Marriage Versus Ministry: There is alleged the impossibility or impracticality of combining the vocation of a clergyman with domestic responsibilities, with marriage, as well as the bearing and care of children. Would it be possible for a wife and mother of a family to bring to the priesthood the required degree of commitment, concentration, and availability?

" First, it must be said that many women choose careers and never marry, others combine marriage and careers. The Church recognizes that the latter is an entirely legitimate vocation, both in the secular world and in the Church itself.

" Secondly, the question of married women is partly answered by the fact that married men are permitted to serve as bishops, priests and deacons in the Anglican Communion. Such permission implies an acknowledgment of the strong claims that the wife and family of a married clergyman rightfully have upon his time, his money, and the conduct of his vocation. All would grant that a clergyman has a duty, as well as a right, to take into account his wife’s health, or his children’s education, in considering a call, in negotiating about his salary, ín determining his standard of living and the amount of money he will give away.

" While other, and perhaps more serious, problems might exist for a woman who wished to combine ordination with marriage, the Commission is by no means convinced that such a combination would not prove practical in many instances. Even such demanding professions as teaching and medicine are finding ways of using skilled and trained married women with children, both on a part-time and a full-time basis. Many intelligent women find that they are better wives and mothers by combining an outside calling with the care of a family. Many also can look forward to years of full-time professional work after their children are grown.

" The Commission would ask whether the leadership of the Church does not possess resourcefulness and imagination similar to that displayed by other institutions in using married women, if not often as ministers in charge of parishes, yet as assistants, or for the specialized types of ministry that are sure to develop much more rapidly in the future. It is thought unlikely that any great number of women would seek ordination, considering the very real difficulties involved. But difficulty is not impossibility, and at the least there need be no fear that women will “take over” the Church.

" Theological Arguments: Then there are certain theological objections which seem to the Committee to present a strange mixture of tradition and superstition.

" Biblical: Some of the objections rest on a rather literal approach to the Bible and fail to take into account the degree to which the Bible is conditioned by the circumstances of its time. It is not necessary to dwell upon the Creation Story, in which woman is created after man and taken from him, nor be influenced by the fact that women were excluded from the covenant-relation of God with Israel, any more than one would support polygamy or slavery because both have clear sanction in the Old Testament. Nor is one moved by the familiar argument that our Lord chose only men to be his apostles. Any sound doctrine of the Incarnation must take full account of the extent to which Jesus lived and thought within the circumstances and environment of his own time. To deny such facts is to deny the full humanity of Jesus and to subscribe to a grotesque Docetism. Our Lord did choose women as close associates, even if he did choose men as the transitional leaders of the new Israel. The Committee also believes that St. Paul, as well as the authors of Ephesians and the Pastoral Epistles, were sharing in the passing assumptions of their own time, as well as advising wise strategy for the First Century Church, in recommending that women keep silent at services, cover their heads, and be subordinate to their husbands; just as St. Paul thought it wise to send a run-away slave back to his master. Much more permanent and basic are St. Paul’s words, “There is neither Jew nor Greek . . . slave nor free . . . male nor female; for you all are one in Christ Jesus.”

" Image of God: Then, there is a cluster of theological objections based on the assumption that the female is a less true or complete image of God than the male; and that, therefore, woman is less capable, or is quite incapable, of representing God to man and man to God in the priesthood, and of receiving the indelible grace of Holy Orders.

" This line of reasoning has a number of curious sources. In the Bible, God is thought and spoken of as “he,” for the most part, as would be entirely natural in a culture first militant and warlike, always patriarchal, and with a developing monotheism. Even so, God can be compared with a mother who comforts her child.

" Jesus Christ was born a man. Obviously, God’s unique child would need to be born either a man or woman; and, again, in a patriarchal culture, only a man could fulfill the role of Messiah, Lord, or Son of God. When one calls God personal, one can mean no more than that human personality is the best clue we have to the nature of God. Perhaps male personality is a better clue than female personality in a masculine-dominated society, but who would presume to project such sexual differentiation upon the very nature of God? The first of the Anglican Articles of Religion states that God is “without body, parts, or passions.” To call God “he,” implies no more than to call the entire human race “man” or “mankind.”

" The view that the female is a less true or complete image of God than the male is sometimes still supported by a tradition coming from Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas, which holds that woman is an incomplete human being, “a defective and/or misbegotten male.” This tradition was based upon the prescientific biology which held that woman was an entirely passive partner in reproduction. On this subject, the Rev. Dr. Leonard Hodgson has commented, “We should be unwise to base our theological conclusions on notions of a prescientific biology which has never heard of genes or chromosomes.”

" Emotional and Psychological Pressures: The Commission is also aware that all the intellectual arguments against the ordination of women are connected with and reflect strong emotional and psychological pressures. These pressures may point to profound truth about men and women and their relationship to each other. Or, they may reflect magical notions of priesthood and Sacraments that linger on in the most sophisticated minds.

" Or, they may reflect the fact that our deepest emotional experiences in the life of the Church, experiences often associated with the birth and baptism of children, maturity and Confirmation, worship and Sacraments, the pastoral ministry in times of crisis, joy and sorrow, are all closely associated with an episcopate and a priesthood that is exclusively male. Or, they may illustrate the sad fact that historical and psychological circumstances frequently make the Church the last refuge of the fearful and the timid in a changing world and that, the more rapidly the world changes, the stronger become the pressures to keep the Church safe and unchanged. Or, they may represent a threat to the present ordained ministers, to their wives, to lay men or lay women. The Commission is disturbed by the scorn, the indifference, the humorless levity, that is occasioned by the question of seating women in the House of Deputies, let alone their admission to ordination.

" Finally, one cannot place much weight upon the common opinion that women themselves do not wish to be ordained. Who knows? Most women obviously do not, just as most men do not wish to become clergymen. But some women do. Kathleen Bliss has written, “This is not a woman’s question, it is a Church question.” The Church’s answer must be determined, not primarily by what is good for woman, but what is good for the Church.

Support our campaign Sitemap Contemporary theologians Join Campaign activities Go back to home page

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

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

You are welcome to use our material. However: maintaining this site costs money. We are a Charity and work mainly with volunteers, but we find it difficult to pay our overheads.

Visitors to our website since January 2014.
Pop-up names are online now.

The number is indicative, but incomplete. For full details click on cross icon at bottom right.

Please, support our campaign
for women priests
Join our Women Priests' Mailing List
for occasional newsletters:
An email will be immediately sent to you
requesting your confirmation.