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Q9. How binding is Rome’s teaching on the non-ordination of women?

In recent years Rome has steadily heightened its opposition to the ordination of women. It is worth looking at these public pronouncements:

  • Inter Insigniores (1976) explained the reasons why, according to the Congregation of Doctrine, women cannot be ordained.
  • Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) declared 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”.
  • In a Reply to a Doubt (1995), Rome reiterated that the doctrine was to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith. “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.
  • In Ad Tuendam Fidem it was brought under the profession of faith required of theologians, parish priests and other Church officials. See also Cardinal Ratzinger’s Commentary on it in which he states that whoever believes in the ordination of women “is no longer in full communion with the Pope”.

In short: Rome claims that the matter has been infallibly decided by the ‘ordinary universal magisterium’. What does this mean?

The ordinary universal magisterium

The ‘universal ordinary magisterium’ refers to the concordant teaching of all Catholic bishops together with the Pope, outside the rather rare occasions when the bishops are gathered in an ecumenical council.

Council documents make clear that five conditions must be fulfilled before the ‘universal ordinary magisterium’ can be considered to have exercised infallible teaching:

  1. The bishops of the world must be involved in a collegial exercise of teaching authority.
  2. The bishops must be free to express their own considered opinion.
  3. The bishops must listen to the Word of God and the ‘sensus fidelium’.
  4. The teaching must concern matters relating to the object of faith.
  5. The bishops must want to impose the doctrine as definitely to be held.

None of these five conditions has been fulfilled in the case of the non-ordination of women.

Many theologians in different parts of the world have expressed their disagreement with Rome’s assessment. In particular they point out why the ‘universal ordinary magisterium’ has not pronounced on the ordination of women, and certainly not infallibly!

In spite of Rome’s assertions, the question of the ordination of women remains open for discussion in the Church.

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Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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