A retired Bishop has come out in support of the ordination of women priests and says he has felt this way since his own ordination 53 years ago.
Bishop Crowley, formerly Bishop of Middlesbrough but now retired and living in London, also said the time is ripe for further church examination on “the key theological premises regarding the exclusion of women from the priesthood”.
In a letter to The Tablet following Gerald O’Collins’ “measured response to the recent pronouncement from the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith which has restated that the Church’s teaching definitively excludes women from the priesthood”, Bishop Crowley wrote that “as far back as 1965” (the year he was ordained): “I had sensed on a purely instinctive, subjective level, that whether someone was married or single, male or female, should not be determinative in admitting someone to the priesthood.”
However he said it was made clear to him at the time that he should not express his personal views publicly but, now that he is retired with no public teaching role in the church, he feels able to do so.
He wrote: “Though there might yet be a shift in the Church’s insistence on compulsory celibacy for her priests, on the question of women’s ordination the full weight of the church’s long teaching and tradition sits firmly tight on opening up that possibility”.
He said “a growing number of theologians” and “a number of bishops … would want this burning issue to be at least looked at again in a calm, open and public discussion within the church” in a debate which “is already manifestly happening around the world among many lay people and some priests.”
Pat Brown of Catholic Women’s Ordination has welcomed Bishop Crowley’s comments about admitting women priests.
Ms Brown said: “There’s no theological or logical reason why women can’t become priests. Women and men were made equally in the image of God. If you don’t believe that then you’re not a Christian.” She continued: “Women were present at the Last Supper, Jesus spoke to the woman at the well and Mary Magdalene. [Not wanting female priests] is based on misogyny and prejudice.”
Ms Brown said: “Sometimes I think the situation [on women priests] is improving, especially in Europe but some people won’t open their hearts and ears to understand that women are called by the Holy Spirit to become priests.”