Can Women Ever Be Catholic Priests? The Loophole

1. The infallible teaching of Pope Saint John Paul II is as follows:

“Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

In my opinion, this teaching meets all of the conditions for Papal Infallibility and for the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Other authors think that the teaching is infallible only under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. In any case, infallible teachings are irreformable; they cannot change.

2. However, a close reading of the text reveals a kind of “loophole”, such that women might be ordained as priests, in the distant future, under certain conditions. The teaching is not that women cannot be priests, but that the Church lacks the authority to confer priestly ordination on women. Since the Church’s authority is from Christ, when Christ returns, He has the ability to give the Church this same authority. There is no teaching which places the ordination of women priests beyond the authority of Christ, as if it were an absolute evil (which God could not choose because it would be contrary to His nature). However, for this to occur, certain conditions must be met.

3. First, it must be the case that Christ’s return at the end of the tribulation is not the same as His return for the general Resurrection and Judgment. For there will be, as far as we know, no Mass, no Sacraments, and no sacramental priesthood after the general Resurrection. The time for ordained priests is between the Divine Ministry of Christ, when all Seven Sacrament were established, and His Return for the general Resurrection and Judgment.

Though this is a minority opinion, some faithful theologians hold there are two returns for Christ, with a space of time between. A first Return at the end of the tribulation, and a second Return much later, for the general Resurrection and Judgment. Between the two Returns, Christ reigns from Heaven and the Church reigns on earth. This view is not millenarianism, which holds that Christ reigns as an earthly king for a thousand years (or any length of time). The difference is that Christ ascends to Heaven a second time, leaving the Church to reign over the world. This time period is mentioned in the Book of Revelation:

{20:4} And I saw thrones. And they sat upon them. And judgment was given to them. And the souls of those beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God, and who did not adore the beast, nor his image, nor accept his character on their foreheads or on their hands: they lived and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
{20:5} The rest of the dead did not live, until the thousand years are completed. This is the First Resurrection.
{20:6} Blessed and holy is he who takes part in the First Resurrection. Over these the second death has no power. But they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him for a thousand years.
{20:7} And when the thousand years will have been completed, Satan shall be released from his prison, and he will go out and seduce the nations which are upon the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog. And he will gather them together for battle, those whose number is like the sand of the sea.

The Antichrist and the false prophet were thrown into Hell at the end of chapter 19. Then those who suffered and died under the Antichrist are rewarded with an early Resurrection, the “First Resurrection”. This is a true permanent resurrection, given to all the Saints and Martyrs of history. But most of humanity are still fallen sinners, so the Church and Her Sacraments are essential to their path of salvation.

4. Notice that those of the First Resurrection are given another blessing, to be “priests of God and of Christ”. This cannot be merely the priesthood of all believers, as these faithful souls have the great blessing of an early Resurrection. The priesthood of all believers would go without saying. These are ordained priests, given the Sacrament (if they did not receive it earlier in life) after the Resurrection. For the Resurrected Just have a true human nature, body and soul, and though glorified, they are still able to receive Sacraments.

Those of the First Resurrection are not only men. They are those who suffered death “because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the Word of God”. The Church has many women Saints and Martyrs, who suffered for Christ. Therefore, if this interpretation of Revelation and its eschatological conclusions are correct — and presently it stands only as a minority opinion — then women will be ordained priests in the Catholic Church between the two Returns of Christ.

5. My date for the first Return of Christ is in the early 25th century. So we are closer to that time than to the time when Christ established the Sacraments, closer to that time than to the time in the past of St. Thomas Aquinas.

I believe that Pope Francis will soon permit women deacons in the Catholic Church. So we will have about 400 or so years of women deacons, and then, subsequently, women priests and deacons.

6. Supporters of Two Returns

These authors support the idea of two returns for Christ, not the idea of women priests during that time (which seems to be unique to my theology). Fr. Gobbi of the Marian Movement of Priests:

“Millenarianism (Latin, mille, 1000) is the condemned position that Jesus Christ would come down to earth in the flesh (in his glorified body) and reign as an earthly king with his saints for a literal one thousand years before the end of time. Various offshoots of this heretical and excessively literal interpretation of Revelations 20 also manifested itself in the early Church, e.g. ‘carnal millenarianism’, the added Jewish-Christian error of carnal pleasures and excesses as part of the thousand year reign; and ‘mitigated or spiritual millenarianism’, which in general retained the literal thousand year reign of Christ visibly in the flesh, but rejected the aspect of immoderate carnal pleasures.

“Any form of belief that Jesus Christ will return in his resurrected body to the earth and rule visibly on earth for a literal one thousand years (millenarianism and its many forms including mitigated millenarianism) has been condemned by the Church and must be categorically rejected. This anathema does not include, however, the strong Patristic belief held by many Church Fathers and Doctors of a ‘spiritual’, ‘temporal’, ‘second’ (but not final) or ‘middle’ coming of Christ to take place before the end of the world.” [Fr. Gobbi talk at 1996 international clergy retreat]

It is important to note that the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (while under the direction of then-Cardinal Ratzinger) was specifically asked whether two Returns for Christ was excluded by magisterial teaching on millenarianism and ideas proximate to millenarianism:

Fr. Albert Roux: “There is the erroneous belief, among some, that Fr. Gobbi’s explanation of the intermediate coming of Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom falls into the category of ‘mitigated millenarianism,’ which ‘cannot be taught safely.’ ” [Rev. Albert G. Roux, ‘In Defense of the Orthodoxy of The Marian Movement of Priests, Our Lady’s Messages and Fr. Gobbi’, (St. Francis, Maine: MMP, 2001).]

Fr. Gobbi: “Brother priests, I think then, that on this theme as well we are in full accord with Sacred Scripture and with the teaching of the Church. We must indeed open ourselves to this new perspective. I was told that the following question was addressed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: ‘Is the return of Christ in glory to be interpreted as his return for the Last Judgment, or rather on this earth?’ The answer was as follows: ‘The Church has never taken an official stand on this subject, therefore one can interpret either way.’ ” [Fr. Gobbi talk at a 1996 clergy retreat.]

Father Joseph Iannuzzi, OSJ, in his book, The Triumph of God’s Kingdom in the Millennium and End Times, argues for this same type of period of time, a Millennium during which the faithful reign in peace and holiness. He cites Papias, an early Christian author and a disciple of John (the author of the Gospel and of Revelation) as asserting that he received from John the teaching of a millennium, a thousand year reign, for the Church on earth, apparently referring to the same assertion as in Revelation 20. [The Triumph of God’s Kingdom in the Millennium and End Times, (McKees Rocks, PA: St. Andrew’s Productions, 1999), p. 17.] The early Church Father, Saint Justin Martyr, says much the same:

“I and every other orthodox Christian feel certain that there will be a resurrection of the flesh, followed by a thousand years in the rebuilt, embellished, and enlarged city of Jerusalem, as was announced by the Prophets Ezekiel, Isaias and others.” [Ibid. p. 30]

“a man among us named John, one of Christ’s Apostles, received and foretold that the followers of Christ would dwell in Jerusalem for a thousand years, and that afterwards the universal and, in short, everlasting resurrection and judgment would take place.” [Ibid. p. 16, 31]

Fr. Iannuzzi argues, throughout his book, for the idea of a reign of holiness for the Church on earth, between two Returns of Jesus (which he calls two instances of judgment). He bases his conclusion on an analysis of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the teachings of the Magisterium. He does not cite any sources in private revelation at all on this point.

7. My Position

As I explain in chapter 11 of my book, The Second Part of the Tribulation, this idea of two Returns for Christ explains the text of the Book of Revelation more precisely than any other position. The figurative thousand years (which I hold is not literally 1,000 years) cannot be identified with the present time because it is clear that the Antichrist and the false prophet are thrown into Hell at the start of that time, and that Satan is bound. Clearly, the Antichrist has not yet reigned, and so has not yet been sent to Hell for the evils of his reign. And just as clearly, Satan is not presently bound, but is permitted to do much harm. So that time of peace and holiness is in the future.

More Reading:
* Does the General Judgment Immediately Follow the Second Coming?
* The Second Part of the Tribulation

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.