The founder of this website explains his position
"I opposed Cephas [=Peter] to his face since he was manifestly in the wrong . . . I challenged him in front of everyone."
The Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, and the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith have in recent years re-affirmed their opposition to the priestly ordination of women. They have declared:
- that this ban on women's ordination is to be held definitively as a doctrine belonging to the deposit of faith;
- that, though the Holy Father's interventions are not infallible declarations of doctrine in this instance, he bases his stand on what he perceives to be the infallible universal magisterium;
- that anyone who disagrees with the Holy Father is no longer in full communion with the Church.
Read here a fuller discussion of the Roman texts.
I am a committed Christian and a loyal member of the Catholic Church. I know it to be my duty to express my misgivings clearly and persuasively.
I do so with full respect to the teaching authority of the Holy Father and the Bishops.
As a theologian competent to speak about the ordination of women, I will present my arguments courageously, aware of the enormous importance of the ordination of women for the future of the Church.
Since the present ecclesiastical climate does not allow other viable avenues of dialogue, I will avail myself of the internet, a new medium well suited to support a legitimate "public opinion" in the Church.
The duty of a theologian
Theologians stand in the service of truth. By definition, their task is to reflect on revealed truth. They owe their highest allegiance to truth in whatever form this may present itself. The First Vatican Council (1869-1870) emphatically endorsed this search for truth and stated confidently that there could not be a clash between revealed truth and truth known through other channels. The reason is sound enough: God is the author of all truth and cannot contradict himself. If theologians are faithful to truth, they cannot fail to be loyal to God and to God's revelation.
First Vatican Council, Constitutio de Fide Catholica, ch. 4, in Enchiridion Symbolorum, ed. H. DENZINGER, Freibourg, Herder, 1955 (30 ed.), no. 1795-1800.
At the same time theologians also owe obedience to the Holy Father and the Bishops to whom Christ entrusted his teaching authority. The correct attitude towards statements by the Holy Father has been described in these words by Vatican II:
'This loyal submission of the will and intellect must be given, in a special way, to the authentic teaching authority of the Roman Pontiff, even when he does not speak ex cathedra, in such wise, indeed, that his supreme teaching authority be acknowledged with respect, and sincere assent be given to decisions made by him, conformably with his manifest mind and intention, which is made known principally by the character of the documents in question, or by the frequency by which a certain doctrine is proposed, or by the manner in which the doctrine is formulated.' (.)
Second Vatican Council, The Church, no 25.
On the other hand, the possibility of conflict between a theologian's judgement and that of the Magisterium has been acknowledged by the Roman authorities. I quote from Donum Veritatis, a statement by the Congregation of Doctrine on the Vocation of a Theologian.
- "It can happen, however, that a theologian may, according to the case, raise questions regarding the timeliness, the form, or even the contents of magisterial interventions . . . It could happen that some Magisterial documents might not be free from all deficiencies" (no 24).
- "Even when collaboration takes place under the best conditions, the possibility cannot be excluded that tensions may arise between the theologian and the Magisterium. The meaning attributed to such tensions and the spirit with which they are faced are not matters of indifference. If tensions do not spring from hostile and contrary feelings, they can become a dynamic factor, a stimulus to both the Magisterium and theologians to fulfill their respective roles while practicing dialogue" (no 25).
- "If, despite a loyal effort on the theologian's part, the difficulties persist, the theologian has the duty to make known to the Magisterial authorities the problems raised by the teaching in itself, in the arguments proposed to justify it, or even in the manner in which it is presented. He should do this in an evangelical spirit and with a profound desire to resolve the difficulties. His objections could then contribute to real progress and provide a stimulus to the Magisterium to propose the teaching of the Church in greater depth and with a clearer presentation of the arguments" (30).
"Public Opinion" in the Church
During the Second Vatican Council the question of free theological discussion was incorporated into the Council statements.
All the faithful, both clerical and lay, should be accorded a lawful freedom of inquiry and of thought, and the freedom to express their minds humbly and courageously about those matters in which they enjoy competence.
The Second Vatican Council also recognised the crucial role played by public opinion in today's society.
"Public opinion exercises enormous influence nowadays over the lives, private or public, of all citizens, no matter what their walk in life. It is therefore necessary that all members of society meet the demands of justice and charity in this domain. They should help, through the means of social communication, in the formation and diffusion of sound public opinion."
Second Vatican Council, Inter Mirifica, no 8.
Public opinion, with freedom of expression as a necessary constituent, also plays a crucial part in the Church, as Pope Pius XII reminded Catholic journalists in an address on 17 February 1950 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 42 (1950) p. 251.
- "Freedom of speech is a normal factor in the growth of public opinion which expresses the ideas and reactions of the more influential circles in a society" (no 25).
- "If public opinion is to emerge in the proper manner, it is absolutely essential that there be freedom to express ideas and attitudes. In accordance with the express teaching of the Second Vatican Council, it is necessary unequivocally to declare that freedom of speech for individuals and groups must be permitted so long as the common good and public morality not be endangered" (no 26).
From Communio et Progressio, Pastoral Instruction on the Means of Social Communication, 29 January 1971 (Acta Apostolicae Sedis 63 (1971) pgs. 593-656).
Read also: The free media: a price worth paying by John Wilkins.
The spirit of loyal dissent
It may be useful to dwell on the spirit of theological obedience. When the Church demands a loyal submission of the will and intellect she does not ask for a renunciation of one's own power to think. The Church demands a much more valuable service, namely the honest attempt to serve the faith with all one's intellectual powers.
When speaking of obedience, Vatican II envisages such a total commitment: They should bring their powers of intellect and will and their gifts of nature and grace to bear on the execution of commands and on the fulfilment of the tasks laid upon them. (Vatican II, Renewal of Religious Life, no 14.) True loyalty to the truth, but also to the magisterium, requires willingness to question rather than readiness to conform. What may seem opposition at first, will eventually prove to be an active cooperation between the magisterium and the theologians towards one aim of a better formulated doctrine.
Theologians play an important role in the continual reformation of which the Church has always a need, a reformation that also concerns deficiencies in the way that Church teaching has been formulated (Vatican II, Decree on Ecumenism, no 6).
Rather than speaking of a conflict between the magisterium and dissenting theological opinion, one should think of both as elements in a living dialogue, both equally necessary for the Church's reformation.
Pope Pius XII described the interplay between the teaching authority and theological study in a positive way. In his address to a congress of theologians on l October 1966 he stated: 'The magisterium draws great benefit from fervid and industrious theological study and from the cordia l collaboration of the theologians... Without the help of theology the magisterium could undoubtedly preserve and teach the faith, but it would arrive only with difficulty at the lofty and full knowledge it needs to perform its task, since it is aware that it is not endowed with revelation or the charism of inspiration but only with the assistance of the Holy Spirit' (L'Osservatore Romano, 2 October 1956).
See also: Profession of Faith and Oath of Fidelity
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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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