Catholic Priest Resigns from the priestly ministry because of Conflict of Conscience
Press Statement by John Wijngaards
17 September 1998
I have resigned from the priestly ministry on account of a conflict of conscience with the supreme authority of the Catholic Church in Rome.
Over the past decades I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the official Church’s decrees concerning sexual doctrine and ethics. Married couples are forbidden the use of contraceptives, even if applied with discretion. Obligatory celibacy remains arbitrarily imposed on clergy of the Latin Rite in spite of the spiritual anguish thus inflicted on many priests and their flocks. Homosexual partnerships are discriminated against. And – the last straw as far as I am concerned – , women are barred from ordination to the priesthood in spite of there being no proven objections from either Scripture or Tradition (see my theological note).
The official teaching emanating from Rome in these matters has done and is doing great damage to the Body of the Church. Millions of believers have stopped attending the Eucharist on account of it, turning for spiritual consolation elsewhere. The teaching authority has lost its credibility even among loyal pastors, who often struggle to limit the damage inflicted by offering their faithful a more sensitive pastoral guidance than Rome does. Most alarming of all is the inevitable corruption Rome causes in all levels of responsibility in the Church by forcing on all a complicity of silence.
Bishops and Bishops’ Conferences fail by not challenging Rome publicly. Theologians and theological institutes fail by not standing up for what they believe to be the truth. Parish priests fail by not reassuring the faithful from the pulpit. Religious superiors and seminary professors fail their students by leading them into an establishment that will inhibit their autonomy and responsibility.
The question of the ordination of women is the breaking point for me because I have been personally involved in theological research and pastoral ministry concerning this issue for the last 20 years.
The ordination of women
When the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith promulgated its reasons for rejecting women from the priesthood in 1976, I published counter arguments in Did Christ Rule Out Women Priests? The booklet, which carried the Imprimatur, was reprinted in a number of languages and countries, the last enlarged UK edition appearing in 1986. It has recently been made available on the Internet (http://www.basic.ie/wompr.htm). I am a member of various organisations which promote Catholic Women’s Ordination: CWO (Catholic Women’s Ordination), St. Joan’s International Alliance and the Canon 1024 Mailing List. I have continued writing on the question, in spite of Rome’s attempt to suppress theological research or pastoral discussion (see my article “Thérèse and the Question of the Ordination of Women” in Mount Carmel (November 1997) and The Catholic Citizen (March 1998).
Conflict of conscience
I have always considered it my duty, as a theologian and a priest, to sincerely pursue the truth as I perceive it, after careful study and reflection. Vatican II states that “all the faithful, both clerical and lay, should be accorded a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and freedom of expression, tempered by humility and courage in whatever branch of study they have specialised” (Gaudium et Spes, no 62). Since I perceive Rome’s ban on women’s ordination as not legitimately founded on Scripture or Tradition, not arrived at after proper consultation in the Church, harmful to ecumenism and highly injurious to the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful, I feel bound in conscience to continue voicing my sincere opposition.
On the other hand, I see that the authorities in Rome, pursue a policy of rigorous enforcement of the ban, silencing all theological reflection and discussion (see historical note). Through the Motu Proprio of Pope John Paul II Ad Tuendam Fidem of 28 May 1998 and the accompanying commentary by Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, defence of the ordination of women is presented as tantamount to heresy. Anyone who holds that women can be ordained priests is “no longer in full communion with the Catholic Church”, we are told (Statement by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 29 June 1998).
In view of this stand of the official Church, whose ultimate pastoral leadership and teaching authority I have to respect in spite of the mistakes it has committed in the past and may still be committing in the present, I know myself in conscience bound to resign from the priestly ministry. I can no longer represent the official Church while disagreeing with it on such a fundamental matter.
Moreover, I want to stand on the side of those men and women who are so casually and unjustly dismissed by the Vatican. It is only by distancing myself now from the institutional Church that I can extract myself from the guilt of taking part in the conspiracy of silence.
Explaining my position
By resigning from the priestly ministry I have in no way renounced my right and duty as a theologian to publicly express my opinion. Neither have I stopped being a member of the Church itself. All my life I have been a conscientious and orthodox Catholic and I intend to remain so until I die.
I do not want to betray the trust my family, friends and sponsors have always given me. I hope they will accept my conviction that only by following my conscience can I be truly faithful to my prophetic and missionary calling.
I appreciate the position of Catholic bishops, priests and religious who gallantly continue in their ministry in spite of their disagreement with Rome. I respect their sincerity in acting thus for pastoral reasons. I hope they in turn will respect mine.
I am deeply concerned about the various groups I have ministered to, such as my former students in India, readers of my books and articles, and those who follow my faith formation courses world wide. I reassure them that I have not renounced my Catholic faith, and that I stand by all spiritual and theological matters on which I have written and taught.
Finally, I want to express my appreciation and gratitude to Mill Hill Missionary Society. I salute my Mill Hill comrades and colleagues with whom I have shared so much labour and joy during my forty years of membership. I wish them God’s speed, and I promise them a never ending friendship on my part.
This 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.
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