Why are only men allowed to be priests or deacons in the Church?

Steven PutmanQandA

Priestly Ordination of Men

 Question: Why are only men allowed to be priests or deacons in the Church?

Answer: One of the most debated and — in some circles — contentious teachings of the Church is that only men can be ordained as priests and deacons. Critics see it as a way of strengthening a patriarchal system in which women have little or no voice. Those who support this teaching look to New Testament teaching (where we read of Jesus choosing only men to be apostles) and the long-standing practice of the Church. This was certainly the perspective of St. John Paul II who, in his 1994 apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, closed the discussion on the possibility of ordaining women as priests.

In the letter, he reflected on the dignity of women and their call to share in the life and mission of the Church, but he concluded by solemnly declaring that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitely held by all the Church’s faithful” (no. 4).

This position has been upheld by Pope Francis in interviews, most notably as he returned from his 2016 visit to Sweden.

The ordination of women to the diaconate is another question and one which is being studied. In 2016, Pope Francis created a 12-member commission to study the question from several perspectives (theological, liturgical, historical, etc.). The commission issued an initial report for Pope Francis who later said that the commission had not yet produced a “definite response” to the question because of a lack of agreement on the role of female deacons in the Early Church.

For now, however, regardless of what changes might come from ongoing study and debate, the Church continues to reserve ordination to the diaconate to men only, recognizing a vital link between the diaconate and the priesthood and the lack of certainty about the presence and function of female deacons throughout history.