The priest as father of the church community


Thursday, April 19, 2018

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In the Roman Catholic Church, as well as the Orthodox churches, the priest is regarded as the father of the church community. This is why the title “Father” is given to him. So why am I on this topic today? I wish to respond to Reverend Devon Dick who wrote in favour of an ordained ministry for women in his Gleaner column of Thursday, April 12.

Reverend Dick sees the fact that Roman Catholics honour the Blessed Virgin Mary but disallows women for ordained ministry as an irony. But understanding the priest as the father of the community clearly demonstrates that there is no irony that the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches emphasise the motherhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary and at the same time reserve the priesthood for males alone. Indeed, as father of the church community, the priest's role is not simply functional.

Reverend Dick balanced his comment by referring to the Seventh-day Adventists who see Ellen G White as their prophetess, yet they also have a male-only ordained senior clergy. I cannot answer for the Adventists, but I can attempt to give the Roman Catholic position on the matter. To a large extent, it falls in line with the Orthodox churches, which also have apostolic succession, in that it was either an apostle or a patriarch (successor of an apostle) who initiated the church in their places of abode.

Reverend Dick points to the fact that there is no scriptural command to exclude women from the priesthood. But the Roman Catholic Church gets its divine inspiration from both the scripture and divine oral tradition. Indeed, while Jesus Christ spoke out against the useless traditions of the Pharisees he did not rule out tradition altogether as the scriptures itself points to divine tradition.

We read in John 21:25, “But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

And St Paul, in 2nd Thessalonians 2:15 wrote “Stand firm, brothers, and safeguard all traditions whether written or word-of-mouth.”

The concept of a male-only priesthood is not an article of the Roman Catholic faith. Individual Roman Catholics are free to disagree with the rule, but the official position comes from two segments of divine inspiration. First, God came into the world in the form of flesh and elected to be male. The priest is supposed to fully represent Jesus Christ, even if he cannot match up to Christ's sinlessness because of the priest's humanity.

Second, Jesus Christ appointed only men, so that was clearly his wish. The Church, therefore, has no authority to appoint women. Further, when a priest celebrates mass, he represents Jesus Christ in the Eucharist; and Jesus happened to be male. In this respect, Jesus is the bridegroom of the Church, who makes a supreme sacrifice for his bride. And only a man can be a husband.

The concept of God as the bridegroom of his chosen people goes back to the Old Testament. We read in Isaiah 54:5-6, “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer, the God of the whole Earth He is called. For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off, says your God.”

While the concept of the priest as the father of the religious community goes back to the Jewish tradition, Jesus Christ never made culture prevent him from carrying out his divine mission. He had some very harsh things to say to the Scribes and Pharisees. He also ate and healed on the Sabbath, among other things.

A male-only priesthood in Western countries runs absolutely counter to an ongoing attempt to abolish gender roles entirely in the West over the last 50 years or so. The idea of the priest as the father, and therefore male, runs counter to a world where production alone is what matters, whether done by a man or a woman, even if a woman has to gain thick muscles akin to a man to do the job or achieve success as athletes.

Conversely, too many boys in Jamaica are becoming soft and over-feminised. Is this because we have confused gender roles among the younger generation? This is why in 2006 I wrote and voiced the song Man fi look like man. Today the situation is worsening in that there is a great need for male role models. And churches that have less men in leadership positions do not help to solve the problem, which has reached crisis proportions. The situation has become so acute that today, many young men and women complain that they find it difficult to find real and natural opposites for relationships. In my opinion, the concept of women in the ordained ministry is part of that whole pattern.

More than a hundred years ago, when women were oppressed all over the world, women's liberation was most necessary. But during the Second World War the women had to do all the manual jobs in many parts of Europe and the USA as the men were either at war or at home due to disability or injury. When the war ended in 1945 and the men came back for their jobs, the die had been cast, and this is where women's liberation started to go off the deep end. By 1970 women's liberation activists were publicly throwing away their brassieres and not wanting babies to 'interfere' with their careers.

Reverend Dick argues that while Jesus did not appoint women as apostles he did not appoint people other than Jews either. First, Jesus did not move outside of Jerusalem in his ministry, but he commanded his apostles to go to the ends of the Earth baptising in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. That action of Jesus Christ clearly indicated that nationality was not an issue.

Should the ordained ministry include men and women? It all depends on what your view of the ordained ministry is.

Michael Burke is a research consultant, historian and current affairs analyst. Send comments to the Observer or

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