Anglicans believe that the sacred, threefold ministry of Deacons, Priests and Bishops is limited to males. To explain this, we must delve somewhat into the differences between the Catholic and the Protestant traditions of Christianity.
A Protestant minister is a minister. A Catholic priest is both a minister and a priest. The difference is both subtle and great. A “minister” is a preacher, pastor, teacher, counselor (and, of course, administrator). But he does not serve at the altar, he does not administer the Sacraments, and he does not stand in the unbroken line of descent from Christ’s Apostles.
The last point, the Apostolic Succession, is important. The threefold Apostolic Ministry has been a hallmark of the Church Catholic since the earliest days. However, the Protestant part of Christendom chose to discard this hallmark at the Reformation. It thereby discarded catholicism and the Sacraments, and kept for itself only ministers, not priests.
It is unarguable that the Deity is not sexual, as that term is understood by human beings. Nevertheless, Christ was, in His human nature, a male. He consistently taught to think of God as a Father. One cannot ignore this consistent imagery, plus the fact that Christ did not choose to include women among His Apostles, and thereby established the principle of a male priesthood. For two thousand years the Church Catholic has followed His lead in this matter.
There is certainly no bar to women in ministry. Christ had many women in His following and they undoubtedly ministered in various ways to His disciples. There would seem to be nothing in Christ’s teachings or practices to prohibit women from serving as ministers in many aspects of Church life -- as teachers, counselors, administrators, etc. They do serve in many of these areas in Catholic bodies. But in Catholicism, of which Anglicanism is a part, that ordained ministry carries with it priesthood, and thus women cannot be accepted into ordination. The Priest serves at the altar, and the altar is not just another piece of furniture, not just a repository for cross, flowers and a Bible. It is the place where the great Sacramental Mysteries of God are celebrated. When the Priest stands at the altar to celebrate the Last Supper, the Eucharist, the Mass, he does so as Christ’s icon, as Christ’s “other self”; he stands in the place of the God who came to us in human form as a man. When he pronounces the absolution, he is the delegated successor of the Apostles, men to whom Christ gave the power to “remit” and to “retain”.
The inability of women to serve in this way has nothing to do with their physical, mental or moral ability to serve. Many could do all the things that priests do. In individual cases, they might do them better than given individual men. But the form of the priesthood was set by Christ, not by men, and we must remain loyal to Him.
The categorical principle of priesthood in no way stigmatizes women as inferior. It is a mystical, dominical and theological differentiation between women and men, just as real as the physical differentiations between women and men. God has highly honored women. He chose Mary to be the Mother of Christ, making her that mysterious and paradoxical figure, “the Mother of God”. Christ highly honored women. He loved Mary and Martha. He forgave and loved Mary Magdalene. To women was entrusted the honor of discovering the empty tomb and thus being the first witnesses to the Resurrection. But, as God in His wisdom chose to send His Son to the world as a man, so Christ, in His divine wisdom, chose to use men as His Apostles and the prototypes of the priesthood. The pattern has been set for us. Can we change all this? The Catholic has always believed we cannot.