In a statement, the priests, including a number of members of the Association of Catholic Priests such as Fr Tony Flannery, said they believed the example given by the Church in discriminating against women “encourages and reinforces abuse and violence against women in many cultures and societies”.
“In the Catholic Church women, despite being equal to men by virtue of their Baptism, are excluded from all positions of decision making, and from ordained ministry,” the priests said.
They said that, in 1994, Pope John Paul II had declared that the exclusion of women from priesthood could not even be discussed in the Church and that had been reaffirmed “and even strengthened” by Pope Benedict by insisting it was definitive “and that all Catholics were required to give assent to this view”.
“Pope Francis has said that Pope John Paul II had reflected at length on this matter, had declared that women could never be priests and that, therefore, no further discussion on the ordination of women to ministry is possible,” the priests said.
The 12 signatories said they believe the situation is very damaging as it alienates both women and men from the Church “because they are scandalised by the unwillingness of Church leaders to open the debate ”.
“This alienation will continue and accelerate,” they said. “We are aware that there are many women who are deeply hurt and saddened by this teaching. We also believe that the example given by the Church in discriminating against women encourages and reinforces abuse and violence against women.”
The priests said women form the bulk of congregations at Sunday Mass and were more active in the life of local churches than men.
“The command of Jesus, ‘Go, teach all nations’, was addressed to all his followers, and by failing to accept the full equality of women, the church is not fulfilling this commission,” they said.
“Survey after survey indicates that a great many people are in favour of full equality for women in the Church. But it has managed to silence priests and bishops, because the sanctions being imposed on those who dare to raise the question are swift and severe. We believe that we can no longer remain silent because to do so colludes with the systemic oppression of women within the Catholic Church.”
They called for a free and open discussion on full equality of women in all facets of Church life, including all forms of ministry.
“If this were to happen, the credibility of the Catholic Church would gain strength,” they concluded.