When Do You Call A Priest A Priest?

Many issues that come to me lend themselves more to discussion among NPR's incredibly intelligent audience than to any pronouncements by me. This is the first of those. I don't see a clear right or wrong, and hope that you will help guide us. - Edward Schumacher-Matos

It's a thorny question that has divided many Christian denominations since they began — who can be called a priest? Several listeners emailed our office about "Female Priests Defy Catholic Church At The Altar," a June 12 report on All Things Considered.

Producer Lily Percy shared the story of four women who were ordained as Catholic priests in a Maryland church. Percy explained why the four Maryland women deliberately broke church laws, and she still decided to call the women "priests" in her piece.

That got listeners' attention.

"First let me say I am a practicing Roman Catholic since birth, but strongly support the idea that women should be allowed to receive the sacrament of Holy Orders and become priests," one listener wrote. The women ordained in Maryland only show the "outward sign of desire" to become priests, the listener argued, and are not actually priests.

Another listener's objections were stronger.

"You inaccurately report that women became priests at a recent ceremony in a Protestant [sic] church building," the listener wrote. "Nothing of the sort happened. Women priests are an impossibility."

"These women don't have a problem with the Catholic Church — their complaint is against the God who created them; even HE cannot violate the truth," the listener continued.

We asked Percy to share how she decided to call the women priests, and she wrote the following response:

"The Roman Catholic Women Priests identify themselves as Roman Catholics and as priests and as I was telling their story in the piece, I addressed them as such. Although the Vatican has said that any woman who tries to be ordained or any bishops who ordain women would be excommunicated, as of today, no member of the Roman Catholic Women Priests has personally and officially been excommunicated by the Catholic Church."

Readers, what are your thoughts on this issue? Would you call those women priests? If not, what alternative names might you propose, and why?

— Compiled by Andrew Maddocks, Office of the Ombudsman

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