In general religious use, ordination is the process by which a person is consecrated (set apart for the administration of various religious rites). The ordination of women is a controversial issue in religions where either the rite of ordination, or the role that an ordained person fulfills, has traditionally been restricted to men because of cultural or theological prohibitions.
In the Old Testament Miriam, Deborah and Huldah are described as a prophetesses. Eve, Esther, Sarah, Ruth, Naomi, Rachel, Rebecca and Abigail are also important figures. In the New Testament there is evidence that women such as Phoebe took important roles in the early church, but the nature of those roles remains disputed. Mary, Martha, Elizabeth, Eunice, Dorcas and Lydia of Thyatira are also mentioned by name. In later centuries women have often been excluded from becoming office-bearers and preachers, although there are notable exceptions such as Catherine of Sienna, Julian of Norwich, Hildegard of Bingen and Teresa of Avila. This only began to change in the mid-nineteenth century (see Some beginning dates for ordination of women below).
In Roman Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Anglicanism, ordination is distinguished from religious or consecrated life and is the means by which a person is included in one of the priestly orders: bishop, priest, or deacon. In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches ordination to the priesthood is restricted to men only and some Anglican dioceses do not allow women to be ordained.
In Protestant Christian denominations that do not have a priesthood, ordination is understood more generally as the acceptance of one for pastoral work. About half of all American Protestant denominations ordain women and about 30% of all seminary students (and in some seminaries over half) are female.
Orthodox Judaism does not permit women to become rabbis (instead, the women in leadership positions are often Rebbetzin, wives of a rabbi), but female rabbis have begun to appear in recent years among more liberal Jewish movements, especially the Reconstructionist, Renewal, Reform, and Humanistic denominations.
Roman Catholic Church and ordination of women
The official position of the Roman Catholic Church, as expressed in the current canon law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church, is that: “Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination.” Insofar as priestly and episcopal ordination are concerned, the Church teaches that this requirement is a matter of divine law, and thus doctrinal.
The requirement that only males can receive ordination to the permanent diaconate has not been promulgated as doctrinal by the Church’s magisterium, though it is clearly at least a requirement according to canon law. In asserting this position, the Church cites her own doctrinal tradition, and scriptural texts.
In 1976, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith discussed the issue of the ordination of women and issued a Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood which concluded that for various reasons, the Church “… does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination”. The most important reasons stated were first, the Church’s determination to remain faithful to its constant tradition, second, its fidelity to Christ’s will, and third, the idea of male representation due to the “sacramental nature” of the priesthood.
The Biblical Commission, an advisory commission that was asked to study the exclusion of women from the ministerial priesthood from a biblical perspective, had three opposing findings. They were, “that the New Testament does not settle in a clear way… whether woman can be ordained as priests, [that] scriptural grounds alone are not enough to exclude the possibility of ordaining woman, [and that] Christ’s plan would not be transgressed by permitting the ordination of women.” In recent years, responding to questions about the matter, the Church has issued a number of documents repeating the same position.
1994, Pope John Paul II declared the question closed in his letter
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, stating: “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may
be removed regarding a matter of great importance…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
In 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a clarification, explaining that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, though “itself not infallible, witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church…. This doctrine belongs to the deposit of the faith of the Church. It should be emphasized that the definitive and infallible nature of this teaching of the Church did not arise with the publication of the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.” Instead, it was “founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium,” and for these reasons it “requires definitive assent.”
The Church teaching on the restriction of its ordination to men that masculinity was integral to the personhood of both Jesus and the men he called as apostles. The Roman Catholic Church sees maleness and femaleness as two different ways of expressing common humanity. Contrary to the common phrase “gender roles,” which implies that the phenomenon of the sexes is a mere surface phenomenon, an accident, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that there is an ontological (essential) difference between humanity expressed as male humanity and humanity expressed as female humanity. While many functions are interchangeable between men and women, some are not, because maleness and femaleness are not interchangeable. Just as water is necessary for a valid baptism, and wheaten bread and grape wine are necessary for a valid Eucharist (not because of their superiority over other materials, but because they are what Jesus used or authorized), only men can be validly ordained, regardless of any issues of equality.
Pope John Paul II, in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, explained the Roman Catholic understanding that the priesthood is a special role specially set out by Jesus when he chose twelve men out of his group of male and female followers. John Paul notes that Jesus chose the Twelve (cf. Mk 3:13–14; Jn 6:70) after a night in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12) and that the Apostles themselves were careful in the choice of their successors. The priesthood is “specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. Mt 10:1, 7–8; 28:16–20; Mk 3:13–16; 16:14–15).”
Pope Paul VI, quoted by Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, wrote, “[The Church] holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.”
Concerning the “constant practice of the Church,” in antiquity the Church Fathers Irenaeus, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Epiphanius, John Chrysostom, and Augustine all wrote that the ordination of women was impossible. The Synod of Laodicea prohibited ordaining women to the Presbyterate.
Positions dissenting against the official view
Arguments for the Catholic ordination of women are manifold. One argument is based on equality. Some sacramental theologians have argued that ordaining men but not women creates two classes of baptism, contradicting Saint Paul’s statement that all are equal in Christ. This argument does not give credence to the distinction between equal dignity and different services within the Church.
Another argument is based on the theological position that there is a fundamental unity between the different levels (deacon, priest, and bishop) of the sacrament of Holy Orders, as taught by the Second Vatican Council. So, if history shows that the deaconesses known to have existed in the Early Church had actually received the sacrament of ordination, then because of the fundamental unity of Holy Orders, women can also be ordained as priests and bishops. (This same argument is sometimes used in reverse, against the historical possibility that deaconesses received sacramental ordination.)
Whatever argument is used in favor of the priestly ordination of women, there is the problem of reconciling this position with Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Based on the clarifications from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the official point of view is that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, without itself being ex cathedra, authoritatively and bindingly teaches that: (1) the Church cannot ordain women as priests due to divine law; and that (2) this doctrine has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium.
dissenting view is that, according to section 25 of the Second
Council’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, the
“ordinary and universal magisterium” is exercised by “the Pope in union
with the bishops”. In other words, it is an instance of the Pope
‘publicising’ what he and the other bishops, as the ordinary and
universal magisterium’ have already consistently taught through the
Some supporters of women’s ordination have claimed that there have been ordained priests and bishops in antiquity. The official Church position on this is that “a few heretical sects in the first centuries, especially Gnostic ones, entrusted the exercise of the priestly ministry to women: this innovation was immediately noted and condemned by the Fathers who considered it as unacceptable in the Church.” In response to that position, some supporters of women’s ordination take the position that those sects weren’t heretical, but, rather, orthodox. 
There is at least one organization that calls itself “Roman Catholic” that ordains women at the present time, Roman Catholic Womenpriests even though several independent Catholic jurisidctions have been ordaining women in the United States since approximately the late 1990s. There are several others calling for the Roman Catholic Church to ordain women, such as Circles , Brothers and Sisters in Christ , Catholic Women’s Ordination , and Corpus , along with others. While there have been excommunications connected to Roman Catholic Womenpriests, that has not deterred that organization from continuing to ordain women. Official Roman Catholic Church sources claim that the Roman Catholic Womenpriests organization has freely decided to separate from the Roman Catholic Church. However, the RC Womenpriests organization sources say they still associate with the Roman Catholic Church and are working to change it. It should be noted that the Catholic Church does not believe these women to be validly ordained. That is to say, the Church believes that these women have not been successfully ordained priests, and are merely simulating orders.
Eastern Orthodox and ordination of women
Eastern Orthodox churches follows a similar line of reasoning as the
Roman Catholic Church with respect to ordination of priests.
Regarding deaconesses, Professor Evangelos Theodorou argued that female deacons were actually ordained in antiquity . Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote:
The order of deaconesses seems definitely to have been considered an “ordained” ministry during early centuries in at any rate the Christian East. … Some Orthodox writers regard deaconesses as having been a “lay” ministry. There are strong reasons for rejecting this view. In the Byzantine rite the liturgical office for the laying-on of hands for the deaconess is exactly parallel to that for the deacon; and so on the principle lex orandi, lex credendi — the Church’s worshipping practice is a sure indication of its faith — it follows that the deaconesses receives, as does the deacon, a genuine sacramental ordination: not just a χειροθεσια but a χειροτονια.
On October 8, 2004, the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church of Greece voted  for a restricted restoration of the female diaconate.
There is a strong monastic tradition, pursued by both men and women in the Orthodox churches, where monks and nuns lead identical spiritual lives. Unlike Roman Catholic religious life, which has myriad traditions, both contemplative and active (see Benedictine monks, Franciscan friars, Jesuits), that of Eastern Orthodoxy has remained exclusively ascetic and monastic.
Anglican Communion and ordination of women
The Anglican hierarchy disagrees with the Roman Catholic hierarchy on whether women can be ordained as priests. The majority of Anglican provinces ordain women as both deacons and priests; however, only a few provinces have consecrated women as bishops (although the number of provinces where women bishops are canonically possible is much greater). U.S. Episcopal churches ordain women as both priests and bishops. The breakdown within the Anglican communion (and United Churches in full communion) as of April 2008 can be seen in the following table:
Some provinces within the Anglican Communion, such as the Episcopal Church in the United States of America (TEC), the Anglican Church of New Zealand, and the Anglican Church of Canada, ordain women as deacons, priests and bishops. The Anglican Church of Australia, though the Church’s Appellate Tribunal, ruled on 28 September 2007 that there is nothing in the Church’s Constitution that would prevent the consecration of a woman priest as a diocesan bishop in a diocese which by ordinance has adopted the Law of the Church of England Clarification Canon 1992, which paved the way for the ordination of women as priests.
11 April 2008 the Archbishop of Perth, the Most Revd Roger Herft,
announced the nomination of the Venerable Kay Goldsworthy, Archdeacon of
Perth and Registrar, as a bishop in the Diocese of Perth. She will be
the first woman ordained as a bishop in Australia: her episcopal
ordination is scheduled for 22 May in St George’s Cathedral.
Some Anglican provinces ordain women to the diaconate only. Other provinces ordain women as deacons and priests but not as bishops — this has been the stance of the Church of England for some years. Several Anglican provinces (such as the Church of Ireland, and the Scottish Episcopal Church) have removed canonical bars to women bishops — but have not yet consecrated any.
The first woman ordained to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion was Florence Li Tim-Oi, who was ordained on 25 January 1944 by the bishop of Hong Kong. It was thirty years before the practice became widespread.
In 1974, eleven women were ordained to the priesthood in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, by three retired ECUSA bishops. Four more women were ordained in 1975 in Washington D.C. These ordinations were ruled “irregular” because they had been done without the authorization of ECUSA’s General Convention.
Two years later, General Convention authorized the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate. The first woman bishop in the Communion was Barbara Clementine Harris, who was ordained bishop suffragan of Massachusetts in February 1989. Penelope Jamieson of the Anglican Church in New Zealand was ordained Bishop of Dunedin a few months later as the first female diocesan bishop.
first female primate (or senior bishop of a national church) is
Katharine Jefferts Schori, who was elected presiding bishop of the
Episcopal Church USA at its 2006 General Convention, and began her nine
year term as Presiding Bishop and Primate on November 1, 2006. By late
2007 the Episcopal church had elected 14 women to serve as bishops.
Ordination of women has been a controversial issue throughout the Communion. The Continuing Anglican Movement was started in 1977 after women began to be ordained in ECUSA. However, by 2007, twenty-three of the thirty eight provinces of the Anglican Communion ordained women as priests, and eleven of those had removed all bars to women serving as bishops.
Within provinces which permit the ordination of women, there are some dioceses which do not, or which ordain women only to the diaconate (such as the Diocese of Sydney in the Anglican Church of Australia, and the dioceses of Quincy, Illinois, the diocese of San Joaquin in California, and Fort Worth, Texas, in the USA).
Most Anglican provinces have taken steps to provide pastoral care and support for those who in conscience are opposed to the ordination of women as priests and/or bishops. The Church of England, for example, has instituted “flying bishops” to cater to parishes who do not wish to be under the supervision of bishops who have participated in the ordination of women.
Protestant churches and ordination of women
key theological doctrine for most Protestants is the priesthood of all
believers. The notion of a priesthood reserved to a select few is seen
as an Old Testament concept, inappropriate for Christians. Prayer
belongs equally to all believing women and men.
However, most (although not all) Protestant denominations still ordain church leaders, who have the task of equipping all believers in their Christian service (Ephesians 4:11–13). These leaders (variously styled elders, pastors or ministers) are seen to have a distinct role in teaching, pastoral leadership and the administration of sacraments. Traditionally these roles were male preserves, but over the last century, an increasing number of denominations have begun ordaining women.
The debate over women’s eligibility for such offices normally centers around interpretation of certain Biblical passages relating to teaching and leadership roles. This is because Protestant churches usually view the Bible as the primary authority in church debates, even over established traditions (the doctrine of sola scriptura). Thus the Church is free to change her stance, if the change is deemed in accordance with the Bible. The main passages in this debate include Galatians 3.28, 1st Corinthians 11.2–16, 14.34–35 and 1st Timothy 2.11–14. Increasingly, supporters of women in ministry also make appeals to evidence from the New Testament that is taken to suggest that women did exercise ministries in the apostolic Church (e.g., Acts 21:9,18:18; Romans 16:3–4,16:1–2, Romans 16:7; 1st Corinthians 16:19, and Philippians 4:2–3).
Examples of specific churches’ ordination practices
The Baptist Churches’ in Germany and Switzerland (Bund Evangelisch-Freikirchlicher Gemeinden, Bund Schweizer Baptistengemeinden) ordain women.
Southern Baptist Convention does not support the ordination of women;
however, some churches that are members of the SBC have ordained women.
Baptist groups in the United States that do ordain women include American Baptist Churches USA, North American Baptist Conference, Alliance of Baptists, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and Progressive National Baptist Convention.
Community of Christ. A revelation was approved at the church’s 1984 World Conference which called for the ordination of women, and granted women access to all the offices of the priesthood. Although this caused many congregations to break off from the main body of the church, forming dissident congregations and in some cases new denominations, women have been ordained in many nations since then.
Currently the Council of Twelve Apostles has four female members. In addition, in 2007, Becky L. Savage became the first female member of the church’s First Presidency. Following the legislative action of the 1984 World Conference, the church changed the name of one of it’s priesthood offices from evangelist-patriarch to evangelist, and it’s associated sacrament, the patriarchal blessing, to the evangelist’s blessing.
Christian Connection Church. An early relative of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, this body ordained women as early as 1810. Among them were Nancy Gove Cram, who worked as a missionary with the Oneida Indians by 1812, and Abigail Roberts (a lay preacher and missionary), who helped establish many churches in New Jersey. Others included Ann Rexford, Sarah Hedges and Sally Thompson.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although Mormon women are not directly given the Priesthood, they indirectly play a role in their husbands’ priesthood, and there are recorded acts of women doing priesthood ordiances in the absence of men in LDS Church history. Men must be married in order to serve as a bishop, and their wives play a crucial role in their calling. Women can hold any position in the church that does not require the priesthood.
The Cumberland Presbyterian Church. In 1888 Louisa Woosley was licensed to preach. She was ordained in 1889. She wrote Shall Woman Preach.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). The church bodies that formed the ELCA in 1988 began ordaining women in 1970 when the Lutheran Church in America ordained the Rev Elizabeth Platz. The ordination of women is now non-controversial within the ELCA.
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), which is the second largest Lutheran body in the United States, does not ordain women.
The Lutheran Evangelical Protestant Church (GCEPC) has ordained women since its inception in the year 2000. Ordination of women is not a controversial issue in the LEPC/GCEPC. Women are ordained/consecrated at all levels including deacon,priest, and bishop in the LEPC/GCEPC.
The Independent Old Catholic Church of America (IOCCA), ordains women.
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia reversed its earlier (1975) decision to ordain women as pastors. Since 1993, under the leadership of Archbishop Janis Vanags, it no longer does so.
The Lutheran, United and Reformed Churches in Germany (EKD) ordain women and have women as bishops.
The Independent Evangelical-Lutheran Church in Germany does not ordain women.
The Lutheran state Churches in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Norway and Iceland ordain women and these Lutheran churches in Europe have women as bishops already. However, while the Church of Sweden was the first Lutheran church to ordain female pastors in 1958, there is still considerable debate in this church as to the legitimacy of the ordination of women into the pastoral office. In fact, in 2003 the Missionsprovinsen (Mission Province) was formed within the Church of Sweden to support those who oppose the ordination of women and other developments seen as theologically problematic.
Many Old Catholic Churches within the Utrecht Union in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Netherlands ordain women, but two churches have left the union because they do not do so. Other Old Catholic Churches do not ordain women, but accept this in other Old Catholic Churches of the Union. These are not to be confused with the Roman Catholic Church which does not ordain women (see above).
The Pentecostal church in Germany allows ordination of women.
The Presbyterian Church (USA). In 1893, Edith Livingston Peake was appointed Presbyterian Evangelist by First United Presbyterian of San Francisco. Between 1907 and 1920 five more women became ministers. The Presbyterian Church (USA) began ordaining women as elders in 1930, and as ministers of Word and sacrament in 1956. By 2001, the numbers of men and women holding office were almost equal.
The Presbyterian Church in America does not ordain women. In 1997, the PCA even broke its fraternal relationship with The Christian Reformed Church over this issue.
The Orthodox Presbyterian Churches do not ordain women.
The Reformed Churches in Switzerland and in the Netherlands ordain women.
The Salvation Army ordains women.
The Charismatic Church of God ordains women as Missionaries, Evangelists, and Pastors.
The United Church of Canada. Divided during the 1930s by this issue inherited from the churches it brought together, the United Church ordained its first woman minister, Lydia Gruchy, in 1936.
The United Church of Christ. Antoinette Brown was ordained as a minister by a Congregationalist Church in 1853, though this was not recognized by her denomination. She later became a Unitarian. Women’s ordination is now non-controversial in the United Church of Christ.
The United Methodist Church does ordain women. In 1880, Anna Howard Shaw was ordained by the Methodist Protestant Church; Ella Niswonger was ordained in 1889 by the United Brethren Church. Both denominations later merged into the United Methodist Church. In 1956, the Methodist Church in America granted ordination and full clergy rights to women. Since that time, women have been ordained full elders (pastors) in the denomination, and 21 have been elevated to the episcopacy. The first woman elected and consecrated Bishop within the United Methodist Church (and, indeed, the first woman elected bishop of any mainline Christian church) was Marjorie Matthews in 1980. Leontine T. Kelly, in 1984, was the first African-American woman elevated to the episcopacy in any mainline denomination. In Germany Rosemarie Wenner is since 2005 leading bishop in the United Methodist Church.
The United Reformed Church in Great Britain ordains women.
The Unitarian Universalist Association. The Unitarian Universalist Association has a long history of welcoming women to the ministry, reaching back to 1963 and its predecessor, the Universalist Church. In 1999, it became the first major religion in the US with women outnumbering men in the clergy.
The Universalist Church. Olympia Brown became the first woman to be ordained as a minister in 1863, as an ordained Universalist minister.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church officially does not ordain women. Recent votes at the worldwide General Conference Sessions turned down a proposal to allow ordination of women. There was a strong polarization between nations, with Western countries generally voting in support and other countries generally voting against. A further proposal to allow local choice was also turned down. In practice, there are numerous women working as ministers and in leadership positions. The most influential co-founder of the church, Ellen G. White, was a woman.
Women as bishops
Some Protestant and Anglican churches have allowed women to become bishops:
1980: United Methodist Church
1989: Anglican Church of New Zealand
1989: Episcopal Church in the U.S.
1992: Maria Jepsen Evangelical Lutheran Church in Germany
1996: Lutheran Church in Sweden
1997: Anglican Church of Canada
1998: Moravian Church in America
1998: Presbyterian Church in Guatemala
1999: Czechoslovak Hussite Church
2000: African Methodist Episcopal Church
2003: Nancy K. Drew The Lutheran Evangelical Protestant Church (GCEPC)USA
Unknown: Evangelical Lutheran Church of Denmark
Unknown: Protestant Churches in German Lutheran, Reformed and United churches (EKD)
Unknown: Protestant Church of the Netherlands
Unknown:Lutheran State Church in Norway
Unknown:Lutheran State Church in Denmark
Judaism and ordination of women
See also Role of women in Judaism
Jewish tradition and law does not presume that women have more or less of an aptitude or moral standing required of rabbis. However, it has been the longstanding practice that only men become rabbis. This practice continues to this day within the Orthodox and Hasidic communities but has been revised within non-Orthodox organizations. Reform Judaism created its first woman rabbi in 1972, Reconstructionist Judaism in 1974, and Conservative Judaism in 1985, and women in these movements are now routinely granted semicha on an equal basis with men.]
The issue of allowing women to become rabbis is not under active debate within the Orthodox community, though there is widespread agreement that women may often be consulted on matters of Jewish religious law. There are reports that a small number of Orthodox yeshivas have unofficially granted semicha to women, but the prevailing consensus among Orthodox leaders (as well as a small number of Conservative Jewish communities) is that it is not appropriate for women to become rabbis.
The idea that women could eventually be ordained as rabbis sparks widespread opposition among the Orthodox rabbinate. Norman Lamm, one of the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy and Rosh Yeshiva of the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, totally opposes giving semicha to women. “It shakes the boundaries of tradition, and I would never allow it.” (Helmreich, 1997) Writing in an article in the Jewish Observer, Moshe Y’chiail Friedman states that Orthodox Judaism prohibits women from being given semicha and serving as rabbis. He holds that the trend towards this goal is driven by sociology, and not halakha.