Jimmy Carter Repeats: Catholic Ban on Female Priests Leads to Discrimination

Fred Lucas | July 9, 2013 | 4:07pm EDT
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Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

(CNSNews.com) – Former Democratic President Jimmy Carter repeatedly pushed his position that the Catholic Church's opposition to female priests is the cause of various forms of discrimination in interviews with Time magazine and Reuters in June, and in remarks at a conference in Atlanta that month.

Carter told Time, for instance, that the lack of female priests in the Catholic Church could directly influence an employer to pay women less than men.

“I think that what major religious leaders say is used by others who discriminate against women as justification for their human rights abuses,” Carter told Time magazine in a June 23 interview. “For instance, if an employer, who might be otherwise enlightened, if he is a religious person and he sees that, he might be a Catholic, and a Catholic does not let women be priests, then why should he pay his women employees an equal pay [as men]?”

Carter, a Democrat who served as the 39th president from 1977 to 1981, made a similar statement in an interview with Reuters leading up to the Carter Center’s  conference “Mobilizing Faith for Women: Engaging the Power of Religion and Belief to Advance Human Rights and Dignity” held on June 27-29 in Atlanta.

“How many Catholic priests do you know that are women? None,” Carter told Reuters in an interview published on June 27. The news service said the actual interview was conducted on June 20.

Carter went on to say, “The root cause is two-fold. The major religions preach women are inferior to men, and the other thing is just the general condone-ment of violence in society. The U.S. is one of the prime examples of constant war.”

At the Carter Center forum, the former president made similar comments about Catholics and Southern Baptists, the latter which he formerly belonged to before leaving in 2000 to join the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

“In the Southern Baptist Convention there’s a policy that women cannot be pastors, they cannot be deacons, they cannot be chaplains, and in some of the Southern Baptist seminaries or universities, it’s prohibited for a woman to teach a classroom that has boys as students,” Carter said. “And we know that the Catholic Church ordained back in the third or fourth century that women could not serve as priests. They could be teachers. They could be nurses. But they can’t be priests.”

Pope Francis.  (AP Photo)

He added, “Well, this leads to much of the abuse of women. In marriage, some men consider their wives to be inferior to them and they therefore sexually abuse and economically abuse their women almost as slaves. And in some countries, we know, both Christian and Islamic and others, laws preclude women from serving as equals.”

In the Time article, Carter said the policy against female priests has been a long-standing problem.

“This has been done by the Catholic Church ever since the third century, when the Catholic Church ordained that a woman cannot be a priest, for instance, but a man can,” Carter told the magazine. “A woman can be a nurse or a teacher but she can’t be a priest. This is wrong, I think.”

“As you may or may not know, the Southern Baptist Convention back now about 13 years ago in Orlando, voted that women were inferior and had to be subservient to their husbands, and ordained that a woman could not be a deacon or a pastor or a chaplain or even a teacher in a classroom in some seminaries when men are in the classroom, boys are in the classroom,” Carter continued. “So my wife and I withdrew from the Southern Baptist Convention primarily because of that.”

Carter criticized Islam as well for discriminating against women.

“What has been the case for many centuries is that the great religions, the major religions, have discriminated against women in a very abusive fashion and set an example for the rest of society to treat women as secondary citizens,” Carter told Time. “In a marriage or in the workplace or wherever, they are discriminated against.”

“In the Islamic world, that varies widely depending on what the regime is in the capital,” said Carter.  “Sometimes they try to impose very strict law, misquoting I think the major points of the Qur’an, and they ordain that a woman is inferior inherently. Ten-year-old girls can be forced to marry against their wishes, and that women can be treated as slaves in a marriage, and that a woman can’t drive an automobile, some countries don’t let women vote, like Saudi Arabia.”

Carter also cited areas where he believes Islamic practices are more moderate.

Pope John Paul II, who served as pontiff from 1978 until his death in 2005. (AP)

“I would say Turkey is more moderate and Indonesia is more moderate,” Carter told Time. “Some of the countries in which we’ve held elections these last couple years have been more moderate, like Libya and Tunisia, they are trying to reach out to women. Egypt is doing a little bit, not enough, so I think that this ordination, you might say of religious leaders, that women are inherently inferior before God, and also the turning of our society almost all over the world to much more dependence on violence, are the two things that shape the negative aspects of what we are trying to address in this conference.”

The Catholic Church has always taught that only men can be ordained to the priesthood because it is a vocation established by Jesus Christ Himself in His selection of the 12 apostles, all males, and the institution of the Mass during the Last Supper with the 12 on the night before His suffering and crucifixion.

In a 1994 letter, Ordination Sacerdotalis ("On Ordination to the Priesthood"), Pope John Paul II explained the Church's nearly 2,000-year-old teaching on the male priesthood and stated, "Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

"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. Luke 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." (OrdinatioSacerdotalis 4).

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