Responsive image
The Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church

The Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church
Unmasking a Cuckoo’s Egg Tradition

by John Wijngaards

Darton, Longman & Todd, London 2001, ISBN 0-232-52420-3. 204 pages, £ 10.95
Continuum, New York 2001, ISBN 0-8264-1339-0. 204 pages, $ 22.95.
(Reduction when ordered on the Internet through Amazon or for American readers through Continuum).

publisher's description on the cover of the book


In this book John Wijngaards explains in a methodical and eminently readable fashion how the practice of not ordaining women in Catholic Tradition came in from outside the Church. It was a ‘cuckoo's egg tradition’.* It did not find its origin in Sacred Scripture or in other Christian sources, but in pagan Roman law which had excluded women from holding any public responsibility.

The issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood will not go away. Throughout the Catholic Church, unease with the current position is increasing. Many Catholics instinctively feel that women should be ordained. Would Jesus have refused women? they ask themselves. Does the exclusion of women from holy orders not contradict the full equality of men and women in God’s sight?

In this landmark book the biblical scholar and historian John Wijngaards shows how this Catholic intuition has been proved right. He examines the historical evidence and the traditional arguments that underlie the Vatican’s position. Scripture itself leaves the question open. During the early centuries there were natural developments in the Church, such as the sacramental ordination of women deacons, which would have led to priestly ordination in the course of time. However, social prejudice prevailed and was eventually institutionalised by the Church’s adoption of principles from ancient Roman Law which barred women from holding any position of leadership or authority.

The non-ordination of women thus became what the author calls ‘a cuckoo's egg tradition’, a tradition that entered church practice not from Christian but from pagan sources. In a brilliant and original analysis, Wijngaards traces the authentic Catholic tradition preserved in the sensus fidei, the sacramental ordination of women deacons, the age-long devotion to Mary Priest, and the persistent witness of women called to the priesthood. At the same time, prejudice against women hardened in countries dominated by Latin culture. When the Church adopted the framework of Roman law, it resulted in a pagan idea being mistaken for authentic doctrine.

The author looks at the Vatican’s case for rejecting the ordination of women, critically examining the historical evidence and the theological arguments that underlie Rome’s position. He includes extracts from key historical records, and supplies website links to comprehensive documentation, making this the most complete and authoritative resource on the issue, indispensable for anyone with an interest in the future of the priesthood and the place of women in the Catholic Church.

* ‘Cuckoo’s egg tradition’ is a new theological term coined by the author.

Further information on the book:

How to order

The book is available from ordinary bookshops.
It can be ordered on the Internet through Amazon or Continuum.
Here are the addresses of the publishers.

Darton, Longman & Todd
1 Spencer Court
140-142 Wandsworth High Street
London SW18 4JJ .
Telephone: 01462 - 673470
Fax: 01462 - 482742
Email: mail@darton-longman-todd.co.uk

Continuum International Publishing
370 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Telephone: 212-953-5858
Fax: 212-953-5944
Email: info@continuum-books.com
For a 25% discount in the USA, order the book through Katy Lockwood-Holmes, saying you saw the book on the womenpriests’ website. This is a temporary promotional offer.

Women Deacons Support our campaign Sitemap Contemporary theologians Join Campaign activities Go back to home page

Kateusz, Mary and Early Christian Women

JOIN AS A MEMBER by donating monthly, and as a Thank You we will send you a free copy of Dr Ally Kateusz, Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden Leadership (Palgrave MacMillan, 2019).


We are a network of scholars and volunteers who fight for gender equality in the Christian Churches and other religions.

Donations from taxpayers in the USA, UK, Netherlands, are tax deductible:

UK: Registered Charity Number 1053251;

Netherlands: KvK no. 41056067;

USA: Registered 501(c)3 non-profit, EIN: 26-3430065.