Renewal of vows for non-Catholics; Rationale regarding women priests



Q. Can a Catholic priest officiate at the renewal of vows for a non-Catholic couple? (City and state withheld)

A. I've never seen any "rule" on this, but if asked by a non-Catholic couple I would have no hesitancy doing what you say -- listening to them repeat their marriage vows and then saying a prayer to bless their union. This, of course, assumes that the couple is in a marriage considered valid by the Catholic Church.

I would not participate if, for example, either of the parties was remarried with a former spouse still alive -- because that would be inconsistent with the Catholic Church's views on marriage and divorce.

Q. I know that currently women are not ordained as priests in the Catholic Church. I have always wondered why this is, as we live in a society that emphasizes gender equality. I have asked many people about this but have received vague answers -- or answers that don't fully address the issue.

Would you explain why women are not allowed to be ordained in the Catholic Church? I am open-minded to the answer, and I just want some peace on the matter. (Richmond, Virginia)

A. The fundamental reason why the Catholic Church ordains only males to the priesthood is historical: Jesus chose only men in selecting the Twelve Apostles and the church feels bound by that choice made by Jesus. And so, an all-male priesthood has been an unbroken tradition in the 2,000 years of the church's history.

In his 1994 apostolic letter "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis," St. John Paul II declared that "the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women."

There are those who say that women might well make better priests because they seem more equipped to minister to people pastorally and more likely to be sympathetic in the confessional. But the debate is not over who might make better priests but over what Jesus intended.

Some might argue that Jesus felt bound by the customs of his day that limited power in society to males and that, if he were living now, he would have chosen women for priestly ministry.

But the fallacy of that argument is this: Jesus broke all kinds of cultural barriers and regularly rejected societal customs.

He spoke to a Samaritan woman, which was forbidden to Jews; he welcomed Mary Magdalene as one of his closest followers, revealed his risen body to her first and asked her to spread the news of his resurrection; he freed the woman caught in adultery from being stoned.

So Jesus was clearly not afraid to go beyond the expectations of his time -- which leads one to think that if he wanted to select women for the priesthood he would have done so, regardless of what the surrounding culture thought.

The church's unbroken tradition of an all-male priesthood has nothing to do with "gender equality," which the church supports, but everything to do with Jesus and the history of the church.

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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at [email protected] and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.