By John-Henry Westen and Patrick B. Craine

July 12, 2009 ( – A grouping of twelve ex-world leaders convened by billionaire Richard Branson and Nelson Mandela who refer to themselves as “The Elders” has attacked the Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and any other religious tradition that refuses to permit women to become ministers, priests, or bishops. In the media campaign for the new initiative, former US President Jimmy Carter notes that he left the Southern Baptists because women are “prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.”

“We believe that the justification of discrimination against women and girls on grounds of religion or tradition, as if it were prescribed by a Higher Authority, is unacceptable,” says a statement by The Elders.

The group describes itself as “an independent group of eminent global leaders” who work together to promote peace and the “shared interests of humanity,” and to fight human suffering. In addition to Mandela and Carter, “the Elders” include ex-UN Secretary General Kofi Annan; former Irish President and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson; Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who serves as chairman; former Prime Minister of Norway, Gro Brundtland; former Brazilian President Fernando Cardoso, and others.

“We especially call on religious and traditional leaders to set an example and change all discriminatory practices within their own religions and traditions,” says the release.

Carter has been the most prolific on the matter. Writing a column for the UK Observer which has since been republished elsewhere, Carter claims: “During the years of the early Christian church women served as deacons, priests, bishops, apostles, teachers and prophets. It wasn’t until the fourth century that dominant Christian leaders, all men, twisted and distorted Holy Scriptures to perpetuate their ascendant positions within the religious hierarchy.”

Carter ties in the refusal to ordain women to the priesthood with abuse of women, saying that the decision to restrict ministry to men “provides the foundation or justification for much of the pervasive persecution and abuse of women throughout the world.”

But Carter’s claims are “ridiculous,” says John Paul Meenan, Professor of Theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom Academy in Barry’s Bay, Ontario. Asked about Carter’s claim that women were ordained in the early Church, Meenan told LSN, “There’s absolutely no evidence of that,” adding that there is also no evidence that at any point the Church decided to “not allow” women clergy, as Carter claims. “So Jimmy Carter would have to provide evidence that there were female bishops, priests, and deacons in the early Church, and I can tell you that that’s never going to happen because there is no evidence.”

“What we see in Scripture is that Christ only ordained men to the priesthood, the Apostles. And even in the post-Gospel writings, … especially St. Paul, but the other writings, the overwhelming evidence of Scripture is that only men were priests. There was never any evidence that women were priests or deacons, and never mind bishops. That’s just ridiculous.”

Many of “the Elders” have spoken out against what they consider religious discrimination against women in videos produced for the campaign. Former Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso says in his video, “the idea that God is behind discrimination is unacceptable.”

Mary Robinson, further, describes what she perceives can be the effect of religion and tradition on women’s lives. “They are submissive,” she says. “To be well thought of by God they must accept their role.”

Meenan, however, contests the notion that a male priesthood “discriminates” against women. “There’s nothing discriminatory about [God choosing men to act as priests],” he said. According to the Church, “The priesthood is sort of a supernatural analogy of [the] male/female distinction. That’s not discriminatory, it’s just a natural and a supernatural distinction, what it means to be male and female.”

Meenan explained that the Church views the priesthood as “a continuation of Christ’s incarnational work in His humanity” and “since Christ came as a male we continue the priesthood in the male line.”

The Roman Catholic Church has been one of the most steadfast and vocal proponents of the male priesthood, but the Church also maintains that her teaching in fact promotes the dignity of women, in that she is handing on the religious tradition passed down by Christ.

According to Professor Meenan, Christianity ought to be credited for promoting the dignity of women. “It is the Church that invariably improved the lot of women in the lands that were converted and Christianized,” he said. “Disorders that crept in (subjugation of women, etc.) were just that: disorders, and never part of Church teaching.”

The late Pope John Paul II affirmed the Church’s teaching on male ordination, but in so doing also championed what he called the true fullness of the dignity of women. In his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, on the male priesthood, the late Holy Father John Paul II declared that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women,” because this tradition was given by Christ Himself.

In limiting the priesthood to men, he wrote, Christ “exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time.”

“The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church,” he writes further on, “although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable.”

See Carter’s article:

The words of God do not justify cruelty to women

See related coverage:

Nelson Mandela’s Group of Global “Elders” a Who’s Who of Pro-Abortion, Pro-Population Control Movement

Jimmy Carter’s Leaving Southern Baptists Seen as Political

Clinton, Carter to Lead Faction of Baptists Away from Biblical Truth on Life and Family