Why The Catholic Priesthood Got It Wrong.

A response to Marc Barnes: Why The Catholic Priesthood Is Composed of Dudes.

There has been a terrible video circulating around Facebook feeds, retweets and blog posts the past few days.

(If you can endure the whole thing, I’ll give you a prize)

I’ll be honest: I think argument presented in this video is utterly pathetic.

In Sum:

  1. I experience a sense of calling to tell the Gospel message.
  2. The Apostle Paul is part of a sexist, patriarchal tradition which stands in the way of God’s call.
  3. You need to rethink teaching in light of what God is doing in me.

Really, it just seems to be an essentially liberal argument garbed (literally) in religious dress. This is an issue of justice and equality, end of story.

So the BadCatholic responded as only a Good Catholic could:

Inadequately.

He argues that sine God’s desire is to be united with humankind in a kind of marriage, and since Jesus commissioned a group of male apostles to be sent “as Christ” in the world:

Thus the priests, sent as Christ, are also sent as the bridegroom. The priest is a man, as Christ was a man, as a bridegroom is always a man…The role of bridegroom is not something that can be separated from maleness, just as the role of bride cannot be separated from femaleness, and thus the priest — insofar as he participates in the very role of the Divine Bridegroom, Jesus Christ — must be male.

He leaps from consistent Biblical language which seems pretty clear about what God is doing in the world, to a pretty unnecessary understanding of Apostolic ministry.

So, before Jesus died he tells his disciples, distraught with news of his approaching death:

I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

-John 16:7,13

Jesus promises the Spirit to all his followers. He does not promise to establish some kind of eternal priesthood. It is the case that the Apostles minister in the power of the Spirit, yet this Spirit is also given to the whole church. To every believer.

The only objection Marc offers to this idea is that Jesus confers the power to forgive sins upon the Twelve, who are the Priesthood of the New Testament.

Your average Christian does not have the power to go to his brother, his girlfriend, or the man he met on the street and forgive his sins. It follows that this power given — for it was given — was given to a very special group of people. The Church calls them priests.

Marc, what if you are wrong, and that all the congregation of God’s people who share in one Spirit, Baptism and Lord are able to express God’s forgiving love in the world? To say with certainty that any repentant person is forgiven by God?

There seems scant evidence in Scripture for some mystical, magical Priesthood who alone possess the ability to be the Persona Christi on earth. Indeed, it seems to me that since the Spirit was given to all people, then all who are part of Christ are witnesses to him and thus join his ministry as his body upon the earth.

If there is no Biblical role in the Church of a Persona Christi, and if God’s gifts are given to all his children (Acts 2:18), then there is no good reason to have Priests at all, let alone female ones.

And to those who are sharing this (annoying) video: There are better arguments to use than a poorly thought-out viral cliché. Let’s ask the bigger questions and reach for the harder answers.

Can you imagine Church without Priests?

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3 Comments

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  1. Actually, it has already been both imagined and implemented: The Society of Friends. They claim themselves to be christian, and they meet without any kind of leadership at all.

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    • Here in the UK, Quakers have a very varied theology. Many would not call themselves Christian, though I’m sure you aware that historically the case was different.

      And does a different understanding of priesthood imply no leadership at all? I am part of a Baptist church, where we believe all the faithful are called to be ‘priests’ of a sort.

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  2. I think the second part of your response to the first comment is a bit weak. The priesthood of all believers is distinct from the ordained priesthood. If you’re asking people to imagine church without priests, I think you need first to define what you mean by a priest. 🙂

    Personally, I like the video. It gives lighthearted expression to a heartfelt need, and I think there is in fact something theologically sound in the notion advanced by the lyrics that the fact that God is calling women into the priesthood should give pause for those who play a part in the process of ordination through human affirmation of that call should reconsider the basis of the tradition they have inherited and the interpretation of scripture upon which it is based.

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