Thursday, March 17, 2005

Catholic ordination of women priests?

Some Catholics hold the opinion that the Catholic Church's current prohibition of priestly ordination of women is merely an eccesiastical discipline that may change in the near future. I've read this view from works written by Catholic priests. When I was a sponsor in RCIA, I heard the Catholic deacon imply this to the RCIA group. Other Catholics I've known have asserted to me that this is not an infallible dogma of the Catholic faith, so therefore women may one day be allowed to become Catholic priests. They say that a priest told them this, so it must be true.

I want to quote from a priest, who I believe speaks with more Catholic authority on the matter:

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, John Paul II, 22 May 1994 - Apostolic Letter
"... the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.... Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." (4)

In terms of Catholic dogmatic theology, this is a dogma that is part of what is called fides catholica ('Catholic faith'). It is infallible and immutable by virtue of the constant and universal teaching of the magisterium, called the Ordinary Universal Magisterium. It is Catholic dogma which is immutable, not merely a discipline or a changeable doctrine of the Church. I'm astonished every time a Catholic deacon or priest asserts, even after the pope's definitive declaration above, that this may change in the future. Such claims by the clergy shows that our seminaries aren't doing a very good job teaching dogmatic theology, specifically with regard to what the words "definitively held by all the Church's faithful" means.

According to Dr. Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma,

1. The highest degree of [theological] certainty appertains to the immediately revealed truths. The belief due to them is based on the authority of God Revealing (fides divina), and if the Church, through its teaching, vouches for the fact that a truth is contained in Revelation, one's certainty is then also based on the authority of the Infallible Teaching Authority of the Church (fides catholica). If Truths are defined by a solemn judgment of faith (definition) of the Pope or of a General Council, they are "de fide definita."

2. Catholic truths or Church doctrines, on which the infallible Teaching Authority of the Church has finally decided, are to be accepted with a faith which is based on the sole authority of the Church (fides ecclesiastica). These truths are as infallibly certain as dogmas proper.

Some Catholic theologians had some honest doubt as to what Pope John Paul II meant by his definitive declaration in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), so they sent a dubium (a request for clarification) to the Holy See. In 1996, the Holy See responded to this clarification request with the following responsum ad dubium:

Responsum ad Dubium (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, 1996)

Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.

Responsum: In the affirmative.

This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.

Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Feast of the Apostles SS. Simon and Jude, October 28, 1995.

+ Joseph Card. RatzingerPrefect
+ Tarcisio BertoneArchbishop Emeritus
of VercelliSecretary

If you ever hear a Catholic, whether layperson, deacon, or priest tell you that the Church may one day ordain women into the priesthood, please correct them, as they they are in conflict with infallible Catholic dogma according to the pope.

God bless,


Other references:
Letter Concerning the CDF Reply (Joseph Ratzinger, 1996)
Inter Insignores Congregation for Doctrine of Faith, 1976


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