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Did John Paul II’s refusal to ordain women go against his consistent teaching on the dignity of the individual person?


John Paul II talks a lot about "the dignity of the person" and how wrong it is to deal with people as members of some class (race, culture, gender, age) rather than as individuals. Doesn’t he himself violate this principle with his insistence that women may not be ordained?


You have misconstrued the pope’s teaching on the dignity of the person. He does not mean that we always must deal with people as individuals or that it is degrading to deal with people as members of classes. That would be absurd (one cannot expect the same things of children that one can of adults, for example). John Paul deals with people as members of classes every time he speaks or writes to some such group as “Catholic young people” or “my brother bishops and priests.”

The pope’s point is that we must recognize the dignity of each human being as a person—that is, as an essentially social being with a vocation to know and to be known in a personal way, created for community and called to communion with the Persons of the Godhead. Recognizing another’s personal dignity means, among other things, recognizing the moral responsibilities we all have toward one another and the personal rights that follow from these. We must never accord or deny fundamental human rights on the basis of class membership.

The vocation to the priesthood, moreover, is not a right. It is not based on the human worth of the individual but on a gift from God. No one, male or female, has by virtue of his or her human dignity any right whatever to the priesthood. Therefore, no one’s human dignity is wronged or slighted by not receiving it.

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