Dear Cardinal Sean O’Malley:

In what has already become an infamous “60 Minutes” interview, you stated to Norah O’Donnell: “If I were founding a church, I’d love to have women priests. But Christ founded it, and what he has given us is something different.”

As women born well after Vatican II, we are constantly asked: “Why would any young, educated woman choose to stay in a Church that purposefully denies her equality?” We stay because we believe that Jesus did give us “something different.” Jesus gave us the Gospel message of equality and social justice, where all people are made in God’s image and welcomed at the table.

Unfortunately, the Catholic hierarchy has given the Church only misguided, theologically dubious doctrines that have been refuted time and time again. You may not have founded our faith, but in today’s Church you do have a voice, authority, and a vote, which is something denied to women.

Thanks to the work of historians and theologians, including the Vatican’s own Pontifical Biblical Commission in 1976 that concluded there is no theological basis to exclude women from the priesthood, we believe that Jesus did not ordain anyone, male or female, but actively sought out the companionship, conversation, and witness of women.

In all four gospels, Mary Magdalene was the primary witness to the central event of Christianity — Christ’s resurrection. In John’s Gospel, Jesus called on Mary Magdalene — a woman — to preach the good news of his resurrection to the other disciples. The Scriptures also mention eight women who led small house churches, including Phoebe, Priscilla, and Prisca. And, not least of all, Mary of Nazareth, who answered her vocational call from God and first brought Jesus, body and flesh, into our world.

Cardinal Sean, please stop making Jesus your partner in gender discrimination. As Catholics, we believe “every type of discrimination … based on sex … is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God’s intent” (Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, #29). By perpetuating a system that excludes women from sacramental ministry, and denies women their baptismal equality, the Catholic Church implicitly gives permission to the rest of the world to oppress and dominate women.

As you mentioned in your interview, women do have important roles within the Church: the majority of lay ministers and church administrators are women. However, until the vocations of women are not just valued in our Church, but recognized and empowered at every level, as equals to men, the hierarchy will remain of place of painful discrimination.

We implore you to stop endorsing the tragic message that the Roman Catholic Church, the world’s largest organized faith community, chooses to oppress women because it’s what Jesus wanted. Furthermore, we would welcome a personal meeting with you in order to have a conversation about women’s ordination, and the true poverty of a Church that excludes the theology, leadership, and vocations of half its members.

Erin Saiz Hanna and Kate McElwee
Co-directors of the Women’s Ordination Conference

Founded in 1975, the Women’s Ordination Conference is the oldest and largest national organization that is working to ordain women as priests, deacons, and bishops into an inclusive and accountable Roman Catholic Church. Erin resides in the Greater Boston area; Kate lives in Rome.