As a Catholic, a feminist, and the grown-up version of my third grade self who dreamed of being a priest (and eventually Pope), I am simultaneously elated and deflated by the promise of Pope Francis. His bold criticisms of capitalism and inequality are breathtaking.
Yet, much like the eager waiting that marks the season of Advent, I (naively) hold my breath awaiting the papal inclusion of women on the altar — not merely as servants — but as leaders and interpreters of scripture.
Whenever women’s ordination is raised, the Church trots out the dusty and inadequate argument that men are priests because Jesus was a man. This seemingly irrefutable based-on-biology conclusion is really a simple argument based on a difference of body parts. This ideal — something I’ve labeled the St. Peter Principle — suggests that our penislessness means that women (by natural law, of course) are to be denied priesthood.
But, if we want to embark on this biology-based argument of body parts and priestly rights, we cannot deny Mary’s vaginal delivery of Jesus. It is interesting and significant that Jesus is born into his earthly presence. (Also interesting, the Catholic Church recently revised the Nicene Creed recited during Mass from “born of the Virgin Mary” to “incarnate of the Virgin Mary.”) Jesus does not magically/miraculously appear one day in a pouf of theatrical smoke. Rather, Jesus grows in Mary’s uterus and passes through her vagina before taking his first breath in the world he is destined to save. And, while centuries of Christian men have discussed the details of Mary’s labor and delivery (Did she experience pain even though she has no Original Sin? Her “maidenhead” must have still remained intact?), they don’t dispute that Mary delivered vaginally — although they probably wouldn’t use those words.
The symmetrical miracles of Jesus emerging from womb and tomb are the essence of the Catholic faith. And, the womb (just like the Eucharist) is more than a symbol; it is material flesh. For Catholics, we must acknowledge that the original body and blood of Christ was given to us by a woman. The birth of Jesus is the essential Eucharist — and his body and blood was delivered vaginally.
Regardless of centuries of phallocentric dogma erected by men to exclude us, women — in a fulfillment of our spiritual and biological legacy and destiny — belong on the altar as Catholic priests. It is our birth right.
Dawn DiPrince is a writer, teacher, mother, and community activist. She is an outspoken and practicing Catholic and is a vocal advocate for motherhood issues, LGBTQ rights, law enforcement accountability, and immigrant rights. DiPrince is active in local progressive politics and was awarded the community’s Pride award for her work in passing same-gender domestic partnership benefits for City employees. DiPrince currently works for a local museum and writes regularly on issues of politics, labor, Catholicism, women and social justice.