No doctrinal basis exists for barring women from holding the priesthood in the LDS Church, University of Utah law professor Edwin Firmage says.

Speaking at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, Firmage said, "Within my own religious tradition, I long for that time when four black people, three of them women, will sit on the stand as general authorities at general conference."Only men hold the priesthood and are general authorities in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"No reason exists in Mormon doctrine, I believe, to prevent full priesthood participation by women, with every office and calling in the church being open to them," he said at the annual Monsignor McDougall Lecture at the cathedral.

"Imagine - four black general authorities, three of them female," he said. "This profound visual message of healing would transcend in immediate healing power every sermon ever given in our holy house, the Mormon Tabernacle."

Firmage said great religious traditions have brought "a savage suppression of femininity for at least two or perhaps three millennia."

"At the time of Jesus, women were not allowed to study Torah, scripture," he said. "Women were not obligated to offer morning prayer, along with children and slaves."

Yet "Jesus was a feminist," Firmage said. "He gathered women disciples as well as men. He associated directly and intimately, publicly, with women. In what must have been a carefully deliberate act, Jesus appeared first to a woman after the resurrection, Mary Magdalene, who announced this event of awesome proportion to Christians ever after.

"As one compares the attitude Jesus expressed toward women, in contrast to the severe discrimination of that time, religious leadership today, with notable exceptions, should appear in public only in sackcloth and ashes," said Firmage. "I applaud the elevation of a black divorced woman to a bishopric of the Episcopal Church in our own country. Barbara Harris is a beacon for us all."