As a 20-something Catholic woman with a master's degree in theology, I found the article "Female priests push Catholic boundaries" (Dec. 11) relevant and provocative.

Having shown a religious interest at a young age, I often was asked whether I would want to be a priest when I grew up. It seemed to me a possibility at the time.

When the question of the ordination of women first became especially prominent in the 1970s, Pope Paul VI called for a team to research and explain the church's teaching on the subject.

Looking into such fields as history, sociology and psychology, in addition to theology, some questions raised were: What is the priesthood? Have women been ordained before?

Did Christ allow for it? Is it in the Scriptures? What did the Apostles do?

What has the teaching of the church been over the centuries? How does the church acknowledge and affirm the participatory role of women in the church and in contemporary society?

After thorough consultation, it was determined that it is not in the church's power to ordain women -- not just that it won't, but that it can't. There is nothing the church can do to "make" the ordination of women valid.

This is because the Catholic Church does not manufacture what is true, but looks at the way things are, the way God has given them to us.

And that is one of the main reasons I am still a practicing Catholic. I want to know what is true, not just what I want to be true.

Over recent decades, a number of intelligent but sensitive Vatican documents have further explained the church's teaching on ordination, as well as on the essential and irreplaceable role of women and the laity. (These articles are readily available in print form and online.)

Over time, the question "So, do you want to be a priest?" has become, to me, offensive. It implies that the ordained ministry is the only way to be "in" the church, and that my current roles as a lay Catholic woman are somehow inadequate.

All Catholics have an essential part to play in the church, and not just inside the church building. There are unique things that a single woman or a religious sister or a mother can do that a priest cannot.

Similarly, there are family fathers, single men, and nonordained, consecrated men (brothers, monks, etc), who each have their own important contribution to make.

We all have to work together, in our various roles, to be one body of Christians.

The news article also made numerous references to the declining number of male Catholic priests as one of the reasons to ordain women.

This runs contrary to accessible, easily verifiable evidence that the enrollment of young men in U.S. Catholic seminaries has actually increased in recent years. Many seminaries have more men enrolled this year than they have had in decades; some are even full.

Being of the same generation, I am especially proud of these men, who have grown up hearing nothing but ridicule of their church in the public arena, yet have found a love for their Catholic faith and have answered a call to give their lives in service of others.

It is what we are all called to do in our various states of life. As a woman, I look forward to working alongside these priests in the future -- without being one.

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Katherine Thomas is a Twin Cities bookseller and religious educator.