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Introduction: Roma Locuta, Causa Finita? by Leonard Swidler from 'Women Priests'

Introduction: Roma Locuta, Causa Finita?

by Leonard Swidler

from Women Priests, Arlene Swidler & Leonard Swidler (eds.), Paulist Press 1977, pp. 3-18.
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

Leonard Swidler received a Ph.D. in history from the University of Wisconsin and an S.T.L. from the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Tübingen. He is co-founder and editor of the Journal of Ecumenical Studies, Professor of Religion at Temple University, and author of Freedom In the Church and Women In Judaism. For updated information on Swidler's life and work, click here!

Roma locuta, causa finita? It might in the matter of the Roman Declaration on the ordination of women priests more accurately be stated: Roma locuta, causa stimulata! A gradual increase in the number of Catholics in favor of women priests has been recorded in France from 1968 to 1976: 25% in 1968, 28% in 1970, 30% in 1974, 37% in 1976, with 42% of secular priests polled in 1976 in favor also.(1) The jump from 1974 to 1976 probably reflects the snowballing discussion the subject has been experiencing in recent years. Unfortunately no post-Declaration poll is available for France. In the United States a poll was taken in 1974, showing 29% of Catholics in favor of women priests, almost the same figure as in France at that time. Then in February and March, 1977, after the Declaration, a Gallup poll of U.S. Catholics was conducted on the same question in three stages, with the following results in favor of women priests: February 18—31%; March 4—36%; March 18—41%. As Father Andrew Greeley pointed out, there was a 10% favorable increase within a month in the wake of the Vatican Declaration.(2)

Of course truth is not something that normally is determined by votes of the people. However, there is a special pertinence to the above impertinences. One of the major arguments of the Declaration against women priests is that because the priest is to be an image of Christ (a male), a woman could not be such an image, for the “faithful could not recognize it with ease” (par. 27). But now it would seem a rapidly approaching majority of the faithful would recognize a woman priest as an image of Christ. Further, since, as the Pontifical Biblical Commission pointed out (IV,2) and the Vatican Declaration itself intimated (par. 13), the Bible does not settle the question of women priests one way or the other, the Declaration places a strong emphasis on Tradition as the norm determining the acceptability of women priests. But even in very traditional pre-Vatican II theology manuals a “certain criterion” listed for determining what is Catholic Tradition is the “consensus of the faithful”: "Consensus fidelium est certum Traditionis et fidei Ecclesiae criterium”(3) It would seem that a major shift in the “consensus fidelium” favorable to women priests is rapidly approaching.

It would be inappropriate to pose some sort of crisis-creating contradiction between this Vatican Declaration and the burgeoning shift in the “consensus fidelium” on women priests. As Karl Rahner recently pointed out, “the Declaration, despite its approval by the Pope, is not a definitive decision; it is fundamentally reformable; it can (which does not a priori mean ‘must’) be erroneous.”(4) Rahner goes on to offer a careful analysis of what the present book is all about. He asks what the Catholic theologian’s attitude ought to be toward the present Declaration, and replies: She or “he must bring to such a decree the appropriate respect; he likewise has however not only the right but also the duty to probe it critically and in certain circumstances to contradict it. The theologian respects this decree in that he attempts to evaluate as objectively as possible the arguments it puts forth . . . even to the possibility that he would judge its basic position in fact to be in error. There is (not counting earlier times) a whole series of declarations in the 19th and 20th centuries by the Roman Congregation of the Faith which among others have been shown to be in error or at least long since left behind. Such progress in knowledge is absolutely necessary for the Church’s effective proclamation, and factually is absolutely unthinkable without such a critical collaboration of theologians.”(5)

However, Rahner also cautions that too much is at stake to let this critical process drift on too slowly: “Indeed one may well say that such a revision process in the last 150 years has not infrequently proceeded too slowly—to the injury of the Chureh—because theologians have exercised their inalienable office too fearfully and even under the threat of ecclesiastical disciplinary measures. With today’s increasingly rapid evolution and change of consciousness in civil society such a revision process in these circumstances is all the more urgent and demands even more than before the honest and courageous work of the theologian, even when it is tedious and above all when little thanks and recognition from the side of the Roman Magistenum can be reckoned with.”(6)

This book then, is a scholarly attempt by forty-four North American Roman Catholic theologians to enter into serious dialogue with the Congregation For the Teaching of the Faith concerning its Declaration on women priests. In so doing they are, as Rahner put it, exercising not only their right, but, more importantly, their duty. Indeed, Vatican II called upon not only professional theologians, but “all Catholics wherever necessary to undertake with vigor the task of renewal and reform.... Their primary duty is to make a careful and honest appraisal of whatever needs to be renewed and done in the Catholic household itself” (Ecumenism Decree, 4).

Setting In Time and Space

The Vatican Declaration on women priests did not fall out of some abstract logical Roman world, nor did it result from discussions and actions of ordaining women by non-Roman Catholic Churches, nor even from the Women’s Liberation Movement (though the latter two were contributory infuences). Rather, it came as a response to the movement for full Christian personhood for all Catholics, women included, flowing from the creative thought and actions of Vatican II. The Council’s notions of participation of the laity in all aspects of the life of the Church, of collegiality, of the Church as the People of God, naturally led women to seek full exercise of their gifts as firstclass members of that Church, of that People. That logically meant some women would be expected to experience a call to the priesthood—and in a non-discriminatory Church they ought to be able to have that call tested and respond to it if found authentic. Thus it was long before the birth of the Women’s Liberation Movement (e. 1969) or before Catholics were talking seriously to non-Catholics who ordained women that pioneer Catholic women and men began to raise the issue of women priests.

This question-raising began at least with the petition to the Preparatory Commission of the Second Vatican Council (which began in 1962) submitted by the Catholic laywoman, Gertrude Heinzelman, a Swiss lawyer and member of St. Joan’s International Alliance, which in its 1963 and 1964 Conventions also petitioned the Council concerning women priests.(7) About the same time a most thorough-going Catholic study of the question of women pricsts was completed by the Dutch Father Haye van der Meer, S.J., as his doctoral dissertation written under the direction of Karl Rahner SJ, in Austria.(8) In 1963, this time in Peru, another Catholic study was published, by Father José Idigoras, S.J.(9) By the end of Vatican II more and more journal articles began to appear;(10) in 1967 Sister V.E. Hannon in England completed another book-length study of women priests,(11)and in 1970 Ida Raming earned her doctorate of Catholic theology in Germany with her dissertation an analysis of the canon law mandating only male priests.(12) All of these studies concluded in favor of women priests. By this time studies and articles began to appear with ever growing rapidity, as is outlined in the bibliographical essay in the present book.

As far off as India the Catholic Church’s concern for women in official Church ministries, including deaconate and priesthood, could be found up to the eve of the Vatican Declaration: “The present situation, therefore, in which all women are excluded from her ministries, only because they are women, should be rectified. This step should be taken without hesitation because: a) theological research recognizes that no valid reasons can be given against the installation of women in lay ministries, nor against their ordination as deacons (whereas the admission of women to the presbyterate remains a matter of discussion).(13) Even stronger: ”In the new order which Christ has created, women share fully in all the aspects of his redemptive priesthood. This implies of necessity that women should also participate in the sacramental priestly ministry.(140 And this in a periodical published by the Catholic Bishops Conference India which goes to all bishops, priests, religious and many Catholic laity of India. This issue was a special one on “Ministries In the Church,” and was so enthusiastically received that it had to be reprinted. It was the result of many months of serious study on the part of various scholars and consultants of church groups, some of which were directed by a number of Catholic bishops of India in person or through representatives. Then the issue was distributed to all the Catholic bishops of the Far East.

It should now be clear that the impetus of the Catholic movement for women priests did not initially, nor does it now exclusively, come from America, as was suggested by a spokesman at the Vatican press conference upon the release of the Vatican Declaration.’’

At the present time a large and strong support for women priests has developed in America, as is only partially indicated by the above-mentioned polls, a flood of articles, statements and open letters in response to the Declaration which are favorable to women priests has poured forth from Catholic organizations, theologians and laity.

Foreign Critiques of the Declaration

But as before the Declaration, so also after, Catholic support for women priests comes from many places in the Catholic world. Hence, to put the present book in a special context as well as a temporal one, a number of representative brief quotations from geographically scattered Catholics outside of America in response to the Vatican Declaration are presented here. Because of distance and the relative shortness of time after the Declaration almost only European reactions were available at the time of printing. There is one response from Brazil, one from India, and the rest are spread over Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Spain, and England.


One response came in terms of the Church ministries women are performing, particularly in developing countries—much as was stated in the Fall of 1976: “The Church in India in her missionary situation cannot afford to neglect the rich resources of women, and their great capacity for many ministries must be fully utilized.(16) The Catholic Radio of the Netherlands took up this theme when it broadcast that, ”This Declaration must be resented as a slap in the face by certain women in pastoral positions, and nuns who, for the most part, in particular in developing countries and in the immense extent of Brazil and elsewhere, are nothing other than the image of Christ and his representative in carrying the Good News there where a priest rarely penetrates.(17)

A nun from the very country mentioned, Brazil, raised a challenge to the Declaration from a very poignant, personal, and pastoral point of view: “if I consider the reality of a country like Brazil where the population is dispersed in an immense territory, and where there exists the need of apostolic work to respond to the needs of that portion of the People of God who display a great desire to know Jesus Christ, I clearly perceive a call in that situation. And that call is to a person who is not a priest, a nun for example, able to carry out a sacramental ministry in the overcrowded towns or in the strung out regions where at times the priest would not be able to appear but every two or three years.

“Why should that nun who is engaged in the pastoral task not be able to proceed to celebrate the eucharistic mysteries with the lay people she has catechized and with whom she lives in a community of faith?

“That impossibility is far from being evident when I read the Gospel, and I believe it is necessary to attempt to criticize it more and more in light of the situation and the concrete needs of 1977. It is above all necessary to discern Jesus’ will of salvation for ALL humanity. What does it say to us today?”18


The Declaration was charged with ecumenical insensitivity on a broad geographical basis, ranging at least from Spain, France, and England to Belgium. At one end of thc spectrum was a moderate chiding by Henri Fesquet of the Catholic daily Le Monde for the omission of ecumenical concern: “Finally, it is difficult not to take seriously the arguments of those non-Catholic Churches which do ordain women. Is it not opportune, after all, to begin to probe the historical, exegetical and philosophical motifs used to justify that which in the highest degree is the result of a mentality and a subjective affectivity? Rome, whether it knows it or not, has a celibate theology. Not only does it not wish to ordain women priests, it also refuses the exercise of the priesthood to Western married priests.”(19)

The London Tablet even more strongly criticized the dearth of ecumenical awareness throughout the Declaration: “Where the Holy Office’s old style is likely to be most clearly discerned, especially in the English-speaking world, is in the almost complete ignoring of the ecumenical aspect of the question. It is of course widely and reasonably argued that the recent Anglican departure from age-old practice in the matter has also been heedless of ecumenical considerations, but recent correspondence between the Pope and Archbishop Coggan, together with informal high-level talks, have, while recognising Anglican change as a ‘new and grave obstacle,’ shown anxiety not to take it as a pretext for closing doors so heroically prised open in the past decade. There is no trace of this anxiety in the declaration, which uses the words ‘ecumenical problem’ only once, on page 4, very much en passant. This is in line with the fact—an open secret—that the Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity was not consulted about the text.”20

A Spanish Professor of Ecumenism found not only violation of the ecumenical spirit by omission, but also by commission: “From the ecumenical point of view it seems to me that after Vatican II at least one can no longer say: ‘there is a continuous tradition in time universal in the East and West . . . in not conferring priestly ordination except on males.’ The Anglican Lutheran, Calvinist Churches . . . they also are Churches (Ecumenism Decree 3, 19) and they recognize the ordained ministry of women.”(21)

But a Belgian criticism of the Declaration’s ecumenical violations was strongest of all, accusing Rome of a haughty attitude: “How will the sisterchurches react to the haughty attitude of Rome affirming alone a doctrine contrary to others and invoking on this point ‘its fidelity to the Lord,’ as though this fidelity is not also their concern? Was it really necessary to write a statement, and in such a peremptory manner, on this subject? Would it not have been better to seize, in all humility and thanksgiving, this occasion of walking along together towards Unity by searching with other Christian Churches, and with their help, another dimension, possibility and ministerial perspective that may exist for today’s world, so much transformed by profound social changes?”(22)


Many commentators on the Declaration criticized its use of the Bible, both in general and in specifics. On the moderate side was the critique raised by Father Yves Congar, who in an interview responded: “If someone asks me, Is it [male priests only] of divine law? I know nothing about it! But if I am pressed, I would rather say it is not. For what is of divine law? That which is in the Bible, what is attested to there. But in the Bible there is nothing formal or explicit, nothing for or against.”(23) One Spanish Scripture Professor succinctly concluded, “Does the living and existential reading of the Bible oblige us definitively to exclude women priests? We believe not.”(24) Another Spanish theologian stressed the socio-cultural context of biblical statements and its pertinence in this matter: “I believe that the historical data of the lack of women in the ministerial priesthood is profoundly conditioned by the socio-culture.... Theoretically I see no major difficulty preventing the ministerial priesthood of women.’’(25) Karl Rahner made much the same point about the importance of the culture and social environment in the question of women priests: ”In a brief essay it is not possible to spell out in detail the historical material that makes it understandable that Jesus and the Apostles in their concrete cultural and social milieu could not think of (without undertaking the then impossible) appointing women as community leaders and presiders at the eucharistic celebrations—indeed that such a development in that situation could not even turn up as a possibility."(26)

Another Spanish biblical scholar hammered at the uncritical method interpretation employed by the Declaration: "Women should keep silent in the church." This expression of 1Cor 14:34-35 which, when read in its context, cannot be other than a rubric for thc well-ordering of the liturgical assembly, or at most a condescension to the social conventions of the moment, has been raised up by theology to a categorical principle which is powerful, even absolute. In virtue of it women remain excluded from the sacrament of Orders and even the use of speech in church....

“Here we have a typically uncritical use of the Bible which ignores a series of relativizing principles that a healthy hermeneutics has been introducing into the reading of the Sacred Scripture.”(27)

A Swiss theologian and a German theologian, Hans Küng and Gerhard Lohfink, pungently applied a reductio ad absurdam to the Declaration’s biblical interpretation method: “Are we to think that only married and gainfully employed Jews (whenever possible fishermen from Lake Gennesaret) will now be considered for the office of priest or bishop in the Catholic Church? It is hard not to be ironic when faced with the hermeneutic employed in the recent Roman Declaration on the Ordination of Women. Its determining principle: norms are derived directly from historical facts. ‘Jesus Christ did not call any women to become part of the Twelve’—and so the Church can admit no women to priestly ordination. Such a hermeneutic is dangerous. Used consistently, it leads not only to oddities like the above but to a rocking of the entire constitution of the Church. For in the judgment of serious exegetes the calling of the Twelve is not a calling to ecclesiastical office the historical Paul ‘ordained’ no priests at all, not even men, Peter and all the apostles, according to the unambiguous witness of Paul, took their wives on their mission journeys...."(28)


If the use of the Bible by the Declaration was roundly criticized by many Catholic scholars, perhaps even more so was its use of the notion of tradition. The anger of the commentators was often evident here. Perhaps the mildest reproof came from a Spanish theologian who wrote that, “The tradition which is presented here is no more than custom and not the tradition which was presented at Vatican II.”(29) A Swiss Professor of Theology in effect accused the Congregation of the Faith here of right-wing reactionarism: “The concept of tradition which is used here also appears doubtful. It recalls ultimately, in its rigidity and its misdirectedness, the conception of Archbishop Lefevre, which was rejected without equivocation by Rome.”(30)

A Dutch Catholic called the Vatican to return to Vatican II’s notion of tradition: “The Biblical Commission already previously declared that Scripture does not exclude the ordination of women. But the Congregation for the Teaching of the Faith has cooked up a new recipe: tradition, understood as separated from Scripture. That conception of tradition was abandoned by nearly all theologians of the period following the Vatican Council II." (31) A group of Belgian Catholics also charged the Declaration with abandoning Vatican II and falling into the primitive logical error of petitio principli: ”The document had to rely on Tradition taken as an independent factor, and apart from the Scriptures. This way of arguing—which we presume would have been definitively abandoned since Vatican II—reveals itself in this case as begging the question: the same authority that by its own action created and perpetuated a tradition now tries to justify it by arguing with this sole historical fact, the fact of a custom of which she bears alone the responsibilty.(32)

The German theologian Karl Rahner calmly dismissed the claim that the tradition of only male priests was necessarily divine when he stated, “that the actual attitude of Jesus and the apostles in the strict sense of the word implies a norm of divine revelation does not appear to be proved. This praxis (even if it has stood unchallenged for a long time) can clearly be understood as a ‘human’ tradition, as other traditions in the Church which once were unchallenged, stood for a long time, and then nevertheless through a social and cultural evolution became obsolete.”(33)

An Indian Jesuit argued that ordaining priests was an early change in tradition warranted by pastoral need; true to primary concern of missionary countries to preach the gospel, the priest advocated ordaining women on similar grounds—with a homey footnote: “I hope the Vatican ‘No’ to women’s ordination will not be the last word that comes from Rome.... Tradition has been constant. But what happened in the early centuries of the Church? When the faithful grew in numbers and the Bishops—successors of the Apostles—could not cope with the work, could not attend to the Sacramental needs of the believers, helpers—priests—were ordained. Tradition was changed.

“Need should be the strongest argument today. When priests are not enough in many parts of the world, ordained ladies, especially Sisters, could come to our rescue. The sacramental life of the Christians is a forceful reason to alter tradition.... Some priests have to say two, three and at times even four Masses on Sundays, in far away places. If some of our Bishops should have to do a similar task, their tired feet and bodies would give their learned minds additional wisdom and courage to cast their votes in favour of women’s ordination.”(34)


In the wake of the Declaration a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, raised in a very personal way the question of discrimination against women, sexism, in the Catholic Church. She reflected: “I ask myself, if I had to have a daughter again, would I bring her to be baptized in a Church which practices discrimination against women.”(35) In the French Catholic paper Le Monde the specific charge of sexism was levelled at the Declaration: “If the document recalls—and very rightly so—that the admission of women to the ministry does not reside in a personal right, nor even in the dignity of the person called, even less in her superiority, it then bases this condition (and this is a test of prime importance) on sex. This is precisely the definition of sexism, a sexism that has become largely condemned and abandoned.”(36)

Authority of the Declaration

Just what authority the Declaration was to be given was often the subject of reflection ranging from analytic to even sarcastic comments by Catholic theologians. One of the milder analyses—which still found the Declaration far from definitive in authority—came from Spain. The editorial spoke about the need to interpret the data of Revelation, taking into account the sociocultural circumstances, what is of permanent value and what is not, and then added: “The document undertakes this task of interpretation, but its reasoning does not produce very convincing results.... The arguments have a relative validity. They express in every case a preference and a greater congruence in favor of a male priesthood, but not an absolute incompatibility of women with the sacred ministry.”(37 )

Another Spanish Professor of Theology insisted on the ambiguity of the question of women priests, that it therefore should be declared ‘open’ and further studied: “It is well known that in these questions it is not possible to describe the position as definitive. There is a collective process which has to follow its course. There are arguments for and arguments against. Today neither one nor the other appears to be doctrinally clearly proven. In such cases it seems to me prudent to leave the ‘question open,’ in the hope that ‘additional reflection’—and the same cultural and social evolution—will offer more mature data which will allow a more elaborated decision.”(38)

Still another Spanish theologian—one who had previously published substantively on women in the Church—dismissed the persuasiveness of the Declaration: “The Sacred Congregation of the Faith, withal, does not have the competence to fix doctrinally such a question. A matter of such seriousness belongs to the Pope in person or in an Ecumenical Council. This document then is reduced to a Declaration, clothed with the authority lent by the commission and favorable perusal of Paul VI, but whose fundamenal force lies in the theological arguments it adduces. These are not convincing.(39)

The English Catholic Month likewise found the Declaration unconvincing in its arguments that attempted to project the past into the future: “But it [the Declaration] aims to go further, believing that these same arguments are so theologically well-founded that no change in the traditional practice is possible. At this point, it becomes open to criticism; it is only as good as its theology. In all the areas into which the Declaration delves, there are counter-arguments and amplifications to be put to the positions it expresses.”(40)

The Spanish Catholic weekly periodical Vida Nueva in putting out a special issue on “El Sacerdocio de la Mujer” insisted on entering into dialogue with Rome on the subject of the Declaration: “In the case at hand, the Roman document on the priesthood of women, we feel obliged to offer to the proper authority a humble reflection as an act of service, of better service that of an intelligence which does not refuse to obey, but which also refuses to suffocate itself at the same time. Nothing more and nothing less.”(41)

Herbert McCabe, O.P., editor of England’s New Blackfriars could hardly contain his scorn for the Declaration. He wrote: “We refer, of course, to the ludicrous Declaration on Women and the Priesthood which takes about 6000 words to say that nothing must ever happen for the first time. It is full of superb non-sequiturs of which my favourite is the argument that the equality of the sexes is irrelevant since the priesthood is not a human right. The argument, of course, is not whether anybody has a ‘right’ to the priesthood but whether anybody has the right to refuse it to someone simply on the grounds of her sex.”(42)

Writing in a French Catholic journal from Lyon, editor Donna Singles took an equally firm stand but developed it with less acidity. She closed her long editorial with the following: “We are persuaded that the last word has not yet been said, that the Church is embarked, whether it wants to or not, upon a process which places it more and more in the position of having to accept and welcome the presence of women at all levels of public life of the Church and in all actions of the New Covenant. The institution cannot return to the past. It is already too late, for the idea is well launched now that there is no solid theological reason prohibiting Christian women from participation in all areas of the life of the Church. One day it will happen. The walls of resistance are already beginning to collapse. Is it, the more the Magisterium resists, the more it seems to give the impression that it is not in accord with the profound will of Christ? Too harsh an image? Perhaps, but the categorical refusal of the Magisterium to ordain women makes one think that it is perhaps motivated by some sentiments connected more to a nostalgia for the past and to personal reluctance than to the will of the disciple to follow his master.’’(43)

But the statement on the authority of the Declaration that combined most of all a firm stance, nuanced respect with biting humor, and an optimistic outlook was made by Sister Maria Jesús Romero, President of the Spanish Conference of Women Religious. In somewhat terse language she wrote: “Although it is not a dogmatic definition, it is a document which merits our complete attention. It demands our obedience (though this should not be thought to be enthusiastic), but does not prohibit our reflection (though this should not be understood as less respectful).

“To begin to speak about equality between man and woman in order immediately to determine on an inequality reminds one of the classical system of yes, but. . . ,’ which some readers would find positively distasteful. In fact, between equality and inequality there is introduced an element of asymmetry: the man and the woman are equal but different, but they are different in different ways....

“For the future one can not only think about the possibility, but also the need to ordain women.”(44)


Though Vatican spokesmen said various persons were consulted during the writing of the Declaration, in standard Vatican fashion no names or other specific information was forthcoming; all was veiled in secrecy. The apparent lack of consultation was vigorously condemned by Catholic theologians and groups. The Swiss theologian Küng and the German Lohfink wrote: “Obviously only ordained men collaborated on this document. The Vatican Committee on Women in Church and Society was forbidden to discuss the ordination of women The papal Biblical Commission, however, supported another viewpoint. The Secretariat for Christian Unity, although competent in ecumenism, was not even consulted. To say nothing of a consultation of the bishops! Was it thought that the ‘Faith of the Church’ could be expressed by such means? It is as if there had never been a Vatican II with its calls for collegiality and serious curial reform.”(45)

Spreading the charge of non-consultation even further, the French Catholic Bernard Lauret wrote: “A brief additional word. Outside of the priesthood the Declaration wishes for the sake of the Church that Christian women would become fully aware of the greatness of their mission: Today their role is of capital importance, both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true face of the Church. Very well, but the Vatican also preaches by example! If among others one looks at the 1975 Annuario Pontificio, not a single woman will be found among the members of the Secretariat of State, nor many in the ten Congregations which make decisions for the life of the Church. Those women who are found there are listed only among the ‘consultors’ but not among the members."(46)

But perhaps the most significant charge of lack of consultation came from Denmark where the Council of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations (WUCWO), representing all organizations around the world, met in the Spring of 1977: “The Council regrets that in spite of the statement it had made, according to which a large number of women should have been consulted during the preparatory stage of the editing and publication of the Declaration, WUCWO was not consulted. And further, the Council emphasizes that WUCWO represents 127 organizations, existing in 60 countries of six continents (about 30 million women).”(46) Their complaint made waves all the way to the Congregation of the Faith, which granted their leaders a two-hour interview.

Organization Statements

Besides the many statements by individual Catholic theologians and editorial stances mentioned already, a number of Catholic organizations issued strong statements in response to the Declaration—all these of course are in addition to the many statements by American Catholic organizations.(48)

In Germany the executive committee of the Katholische Frauengemeinschaft Deutschlands expressed “concern” about the Declaration in a letter to Cardinal Joseph Höffner, the President of the German Bishops’ Conference. They urged the Cardinal to forestall a definitively negative decision concerning women priests by taking up the matter in the German Bishops’ Conference and in Rome.(49)

St. Joan’s International Alliance, Belgian section quickly (February 7 1977) issued a statement “deploring the Declaration issued by the Congregation.... It expresses its regrets that it is not able to accept the arguments— already refuted by numerous theologians—invoked as a support of that decision.”(50)

In the Netherlands “among the groups studying questions concerning women in the Church and society are those made up of several faculties of theology, both Catholic and Protestant. They met on the national level several times during 1976. During one of the last meetings, on February 5, 1977 the Inter-University Commission ‘Feminism and Theology’ sent the following telegram to the Congregation For the Teaching of the Faith ‘We received a sudden and profound shock by the Declaration of the Congregation For the Teaching of the Faith concerning the admission of women to the priesthood. What arrogance not to take account either of the conclusions of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, or of the experience of the women pastors of the entire world, or of the conclusions of theologians of great faith and solid competence.’" (51)

Another international Catholic organization, Women and Men In the Church, issued a long critical statement on the Vatican Declaration. They closed thus: “The international group ‘Femmes et Hommes dans l’Eglise’ regrets to declare that this document is not the fruit of an authentic research. It appears rather as a justification—by all means—of a pre-conceivcd thesis that is no longer defensible with the usual arguments. The Group appeals to the Christian community as a whole and sees as a sure sign of justice, solidarity and hope in Christ that some persons manifest openly to proper authorities their regret and disavowal of this document."(52)

But the most important organization statement issued was that of the 30 million-strong WUCWO’s Council referred to above. They reported that in response to the requests of many of their members they formulated a letter to the Congregation of the Faith. Besides regretting their not being consulted, the note vigorously criticized the Declaration on many levels. It stated in part: "The Council likewise emphasizes that its approach is not concerned simply with the discussion of the accession of women to the priesthood: the content of the Declaration presents in effect in subliminal fashion an image of woman and a theology which contradicts the statements of Pius XII, John XXIII and Paul VI, the open perspectives of Vatican II and at the same time are not congruent with the gospel. The content of the Declaration likewise implicitly runs counter to the ‘signs of the times’ which vigorously support the rising consciousness of women today concerning their personal dignity and their participation in society and the Church.

“The Council foresees the negative impact the Declaration of the Congregation For the Teaching of the Faith will have on the women’s organizations and movements, Christian and otherwise, and on the Christian Churches before the world.

“The Council deplores the contradiction which is apparent between the Declaration and numerous stands the Church has taken (notably on the occasion of the Women’s International Year) for the promotion and support of equality between men and women in society on the one hand and on the other the refusal of that equality in the bosom of the Church. The Council declares that these contradictions hurt and demoralize women.

“In conclusion the Council of WUCWO wishes to bring its full and entire collaboration to the studies and actions which will be undertaken in the Church to clarify the situation and resolve these problems. Magleas, Denmark, April 3,1977."(53)

Not only was this strong note sent to the Congregation of the Faith, but an elected delegation of the Council of WUCWO, led by their General President, Elizabeth Lovatt-Dolan, had a two-hour interview with the Secretary, Under-secretary, and two experts of the Congregation For the Teaching of the Faith on June 28, 1977. The representatives of the Congregation reportedly showed themselves very interested in the Council’s work and reflections, and indicated they wished to consult with WUCWO in the future, and that they would report the discussion to the proper authorities.

The present book contains the Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood by the Sacred Congregation For the Teaching of the Faith, the Commentary on it also released through the same Congregation, and the 1976 Report of the Pontifical Biblical Commission on women priests. The latter two documents are found in an appendix. The Declaration is printed here with boldface numerals added throughout, locating the correspondingly numbered essays commenting on that portion of the Declaration. Including the four introductory essays there are fifty essays of commentary on the Declaration by forty-four Catholic scholars of North America. It is worth noting that of the forty-four scholars twenty-eight are women and sixteen men; seventeen are laywomen, eleven are sisters, twelve are priests, and four are laymen.

Each essay is signed, and responsibility for it is assumed only by the author, for naturally there are differences of view among the scholars writing here; a book like the present one is part of what theological dialogue is all about. And in this particular case, as Karl Rahner so aptly put it: “Even after this Declaration the discussion over the present problem may and must go on; this discussion is not at an end and it cannot consist only of an apology for the basic thesis and arguments of the Declaration. The Declaration is an authentic but fundamentally revisable and reformable Declaration of the Roman Magisterium which the theologian must respond to with respect but also with the right and duty of a critical evaluation.”(54)


1. Femmes et Hommes dans l’Eglise, No. 22 (March, 1977), p.16. Address: Rue de la Prévoyance 58, Brussels, Belgium.

2. Cf. Origins, Vol. 8, No. 47 (May 12, 1977), p. 742. The poll found more support for women priests among men than among women, and that the majority of those under thirty years of age were in favor of women priests. Cf. also Andrew Greeley’s Universal Press Syndicated column published in The Church World (May 26, 1977), p. 21.

3. Ad. Tanquerey, Synopsis Theologiae Dogmaticae Fundamentalis (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1937), p. 752.

4. Karl Rahner, “Priestertum der Frau?” Stimmen der Zeit, Vol. 105, No. 5 (May, 1977), p. 293

5. Ibid.,p.294.

6. Ibid.

7. Cf. Wir schweigen nicht länger! We Won’t Keep Silence Any Longer (Zurich, 1964). This is a collection of essays in either German or English by a number of Catholic women—Swiss, German, and American—who deal with the status of women in the Catholic Church. It includes the petition by Dr. Heinzelman, and resolutions on the same subject passed by St. Joan’s International Alliance at its 1963 and 1964 conventions. (“St. Joan’s Alliance grew from the Catholic Woman’s Suffrage Society founded in London in 1911, the only association of Catholics to work for woman’s suffrage and enjoys consultative status with the United Nations.") Cf. “Now Hear This" (Dr. Gertrude Heinzelmann’s Request to the Vatican Council), Commonweal (October 5, 1962), p. 31.

8. Haye van der Meer, Priestertum der Frau? (Freiburg: Herder Verlag, 1969). Translated by Arlene and Leonard Swidler, Women Priests in the Catholic Church? (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1973). The dissertation, however, had been finished in 1962.

9 The work of Father Idigoras, La Mujer dentro del Orden Sagrado, appeared in mimeographed form in Lima, Peru in 1963. It is summarized under the title of La Femme dans l’ordre sacré in Informations Catholiques Internationales, November 15, 1963.

10. Cf. e.g., Rosemary Lauer,"Women and the Church," Commonweal (December 20 1963), pp. 365-68; P. Jordan, “Women-priests Stirs Controversy ” Catholic Messenger (April 16, 1977), p. 8; E. Gibson,’Women as Clergy?’ Ave Maria (July 24, 1965), pp. 5-8; Gertrude Heinzelman, “The Priesthood and Women,” Commonweal (January 15, 1965), pp. 504-8; Mary Daly, “A Built In Bias,” Commonweal (January 15, 1965), pp. 508-11; D. Lowery, “Should Women Be Priests? Ligorian (May, 1965), pp. 20-25; B. Damian, ”The Priesthood for Women?’ Friar (February, 1966), pp. 14-17; Rosemary Lauer “Women Clergy for Rome?” Christian Century (September 14, 1966) pp. 1107-10; Arlene Swidler, “The Male Church,” Commonweal (June 24, 1966), pp. 387-89; Cecelia Wallace, “How Women Were Excluded,” National Catholic Reporter (January 5, 1966), p. 6. These are only a few of just the American articles in these years dealing with women priests Kathryn E. Kirby has annotated over a hundred such in a research paper submitted to the Department of Library Science of the Catholic University of America in January, 1970, entitled: “The Status of Women in the Church Vatican II—1968 Annotated Bibliography.”

11. V. E. Hannon, The Question of Women and Priesthood (London: G. Chapman, 1967).

12. Ida Raming, Der Ausschluss der Frau vom priesterlichen Amt (Cologne: Böhlau, 1973). Translated into English by Norman R. Adams, The Exclusion of Women From the Priesthood (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1976).

13. “Statement of Recommendations by the Pastoral Consultation on Ministries in the Church,” Word and Worship (Bangalore, India), Vol. 9, No. 5 (July, 1976), p. 331.

14. “Conclusions of Interdisciplinary Research Seminar on Ministries in the Church,” ibid. p. 297.

15. “L’Église reaffirme son opposition à l’ordination sacerdotale des femmes,” Le Monde (February 2, 1977).

16. Word and Worship, p. 331.

17. Interview With Yves Congar, “Non, cela ne s’est jamais fait,” Réforme (February 19, 1977), p. 10.

18. Femmes et Hommes, p.22.

19. Henri Fesquet, “Points de vue sur la femme dans l’Église,” Le Monde (March 1, 1977), p. 15.

20. The Tablet (London) (February 5, 1977), p. 136.

21. Ana Maria Schlüter Rodes, Professor of Ecumenism, Member of the Community of Bethany, “El Sacerdocio de la Mujer, A Debate,” Vida Nueva (March 5, 1977), p. 26.

22. “Déclaration du groupe international Femmes et Hommes dans l’Eglise,” Femmes et Hommes, p. 5.

23. Congar, Réforme, p. 10.

24. Felipe Fernández Ramos, Professor of Bible at the University of Salamanca, Yida Nueva, p. 31.

25. Josep Perarnau, Professor of Theology at Barcelonn and Valencia Vida Nueva, p. 24.

26. Rahner, Stimmen der Zeit, p.298.

27. Antonio Gonzalez Lamadrid, Biblical Scholar, Vida Nueva, p 30.

28. Hans Küng and Gerhard Lohfink, “Keine Ordination der Frau?” Theologische Quartalschrift (Tübingen), Spring, 1977.

29. Felipe Fernandez Ramos, Yida Nueva, p. 31.

30. Jospf Bommer, Luzerner Neuste Nachrichten (January 31, 1977)

31. Andre Lascaris, “La peur des femmes,” De Bazuin (February 4, 1977

32. Femmes et Hommes, p. 4.

33. Rahner, Stimmen der Zeit, p. 299.

34. J.D. Calvo, S.J., “Women’s Ordination,” The Herald (Calcutta) February 18, 1977, p. 7.

35. Interview with Professor Emma Vorlat in Knack Magazine (February 9, 1977).

36. Marie-Thérèse van Lunen-Chenu, “Vieux reves et anciens refus,” Le Monde (March 1, 1977), p. 15.

37. “Documento sobre del sacerdocio de la mujer Observaciones” Colligite (October-December, 1976), pp. 338-39. This editorial was obviously written and published after January, 1977.

38. Jordi Piquer, Professor on the Theology Faculty of Barcelona, Yida Nueva, p. 29.

39. Manuel Acalá, S.J., Professor of Ethics, Grenada Theology Faculty Vida Nueva, p. 33. Cf. Manuel Acalá, “El Problemo de la Ordenacion Ministerial de la Mujer a Partir del Vaticano II in Teologia y mundo Homenaje a K. Rahner (Madrid: Ed. Cristiandad, 1975), pp. 577-612; and Manuel Acalá ”Por Que Discriminacion Sexual en la Iglesia?" Razon y Fe (October, 1975) pp. 195-207.

40. The Month (March, 1977), p. 75.

41. This issue of Vida Nueva (March 5 1977), devotes sixteen pages to this question. The periodical is illustrated with photos, having a format not unlike Time Magazine. The cover of this issue is a photo of a woman dressed in Mass vestments standing by an altar. Six years earlier Vida Nueva (February 6, 1971) also ran a cover with a photo of a woman priest and devoted a section of the issue to the topic. The 1977 special issue printed the Vatican Declaration and the comments of ten Spanish theologians; two agreed with the Declaration and eight disagreed. The issue was edited by Maria Lopez Vigil, an Associate Editor.

42. Herbert McCabe, “Comment,” New Blackfriars (February, 1977), p.54.

43. Donna Singles, “Le ‘Non’ à l’ordination des femmes, expression de la volonte du Christ?” Effort diaconal (Lyon), May-June, 1977, p. 5.

44. Maria Jesús Jurado Romero, President of the Spanish Conference of Women Religious, Vida Nueva, p. 35.

45. Küng and Lohfink, Theologische Quartalschrift, Spring, 1977.

46. Bernard Lauret, Témoignage Chrétien (February 3, 1977), p. 20.

47. “Note des Reactions du Conseil sur la Declaration de la Congregation pour la Doctrinc de la Foi,” Cir. Speciale-77/ORG, Annexe 1, issued July, 1977, by WUCWO headquarters in Paris.

48. Among many, the following organizations in America made public statements favorable to the ordination of women: St. Joan’s International Alliance, Women’s Ordination Conference, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, National Coalition of American Nuns, National Association of Women Religious, Priests For Equality, and the Liturgical Conference.

49. Catholic Press Service (Kathpress), Bonn, February 15, 1977.

50. Femmes et Hommes, p.22.

51. Ibid., p.18.

52. Ibid., p. 5.

53. “Note des Reactions du Conseil,” op. cit.

54. Rahner, Stimmen der Zeit, p.301.

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