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Re-writing the Gospels: Cardinal Ladaria’s Argument against Ordaining Women

You would be forgiven for thinking that leading the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) requires a thorough knowledge of theology. And yet that does not appear to be currently the case. In a recent interview, the head of the CDF, Archbishop Luis Ladaria SJ, made a series of affirmations that are either groundless or outright mistaken. “Christ wanted to confer this sacrament [i.e. Holy Order] to the Twelve apostles, all men, who in turn passed it on to other men,” the Spanish Jesuit stated.

It would be hard to pack more mistaken affirmations in such a short sentence. Did Jesus “ordain” the Twelve? He didn’t. Did the Twelve “ordain” successors? They didn’t. Were the Twelve the original model for an institutional ordained ministry? Again, they were not.

Instead, the New Testament (NT) witnesses to a variety of functions, ministries, and institutional arrangements (itinerant preachers, teachers, and apostles; deacons; [councils of] elders; house patrons; etc.) are mentioned, many if not all of which were open to women to fill (including “deacon” and “apostle”!).

Finally, Ladaria jumps from the tacit, erroneous assumption that the Twelve were the original and exclusive model of “ordained” ministry to the equally mistaken conclusion that their “maleness” was essential to the very “substance” of said ministry. Again, this is entirely baseless: Ladaria might as well have argued that only circumcised Jewish men can be ordained ministers.

What similar statements from the Vatican routinely pass under silence is that the NT mentions many women as prominent disciples (Mary Magdalene being perhaps the foremost) and important ministers in the primitive church. At the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul greets a number of women, some of whom he designates by title: Junia, an “outstanding apostle” (!); Priscilla, a “co-worker in Christ” (a term Paul uses as a synonym of “apostle”), as well as Mary, Tryphena, Tryphosa, and Persis, all of whom are said to “have worked very hard in the Lord.”

Few lines earlier Paul greets Phoebe, a “deacon”; and 1 Tim 3:11 even has a list of character requirements for women deacons (at times mistakenly translated as “[male] deacons’ wives”). As we know from elsewhere in the NT, “deacons” fulfilled important and high-profile functions such as preaching, teaching, as well as distributing alms and food during the common meals.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28): this is one of Paul’s most profound and revolutionary passages, and it is immensely regrettable that 2,000 years on it is still contradicted in practice within the Catholic Church, due to an ideological position based on ancient misogynistic prejudices, contrary to the NT evidence and deaf to Jesus’ liberating message.