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frequently asked questions on the teaching Authority of the Catholic Church

frequently asked questions

Teaching Authority
in the Catholic Church

The questions are not ranked in a logical order, but according to their priority in the judgment of our visitors.

Sacred Congregation for Doctrine

The ordinary magisterium and the ordination of women

  1. Do the Roman authorities teach that the ordination of women has been ruled out infallibly by the ‘ordinary magisterium’?
    Yes, that is what they claim - but without proper justification for it!

  2. What does the ‘ordinary magisterium’ mean?
    The concordant teaching of all Catholic bishops together with the Pope outside an ecumenical council.

  3. What five conditions need to be fulfilled, for the ordinary magisterium to teach infallibly?
    The bishops must (a) judge (b) on a matter of faith or morals, (c) through a collegial action, (d) in the service of the faith of the whole Church, (e) imposing a definitive teaching.

  4. What do Catholic theologians say about these pronouncements by the Roman authorities?
    The pronouncements have not fulfilled the conditions stipulated by Vatican II.

  5. Does Ordinary Magisterium need to be ‘verified’ by the faithful before it can be truly held to be definitive and final?

  6. What is the significance of the ‘extended’ oath of fidelity required from bishops, theologians, parish priests and others?
    a. The oath of fidelity has been reformulated to ‘implicitly’ include the ban against the ordination of women (under ‘teachings of the ordinary magisterium’)
    b. This interpretation is clear from Cardinal Ratzinger’s Commentary on Ad Tuendam Fidem
    c. The secret examination of new Bishops (José Manuel Vidal)

  7. Have some Church leaders refused to take the oath of fidelity because of its implying the exclusion of women from holy orders?
    Yes, they have. Read, for example, the testimony of Fr. Eamonn McCarthy.

  8. Are bishops, parish priests, theologians, etc. still bound by the ‘oath of fidelity’ if they come to realise that the arguments against ordaining women are invalid?
    No, they are not. In that case, the oath ceases ‘ab intrinseco’ [from within] at least with regard to the ordination of women.

    Past failings of the official teaching authority

    Sacred Congregation for Doctrine
  9. How many ‘doctrines’ of official Church teaching have had to be changed in the course of time?
    The Catholic Bishop Raymond Lucker counted sixty-five!

  10. Had the Inquisition that perpetrated so many injustices been instituted by the Catholic teaching authority?

  11. Did Popes sanction the persecution of ‘witches’?

  12. Did Popes defend slavery as willed by God?

  13. Did Popes and General Councils claim that no one can be saved outside communion with the Catholic Church?

  14. Did Popes refuse a Christian burial to those who took interest for capital lent to other people?

  15. Did Pope Pius IX (1848 - 1878) condemn religious freedom, freedom of conscience, socialism, democracy and the emancipation of slaves?
    Yes, he did. He was recently beatified by Pope John Paul II.

  16. Do these errors and mistakes in the past prove that the teaching authority itself should be discounted?
    No, it does not. But it shows that the teaching authority in the Church needs constant reform.

    Dissent by theologians in the Church

    Sacred Congregation for Doctrine
  17. Do theologians share in ‘teaching authority’?
    They do to the extent that they help the Church discern the truth.

  18. Have theologians an essential task, that is distinct and complementary to those of the Pope and the bishops?
    Yes, they do. Whereas the task of Pope and bishops is to witness to revealed truth, theologians penetrate their deeper meaning.

  19. Do theologians who receive a ‘canonical mission’ teach with a higher authority?

  20. Do theologians enjoy ‘academic freedom’ in the Church?
    They do by law, but not always in practice.

  21. What are the limits of their academic freedom?
    They are determined by the purpose and circumstances of their study.

  22. Can a theologian legitimately dissent from officially taught doctrine?
    Yes he/she can, if there are good reasons for it.

  23. Do theologians at times have a duty to express dissent from officially taught doctrine?
    a. Their integrity may demand it.
    b. True obedience to the Gospel and truth may demand open opposition to the teaching authority.

  24. How to determine the limits of legitimate dissent?
    Conditions of charity, balance, humility and others apply.

  25. What about Donum Veritatis, the Roman ‘Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian’?
    This document makes the papal and curial magisterium the final norm of truth.

  26. Can clear guidelines for dissent be formulated?
    No, since many situations are unique.

  27. May a theologian’s dissent be voiced through the public media?
    Yes, it may. Often the attitude of the Roman authorities leave no other way.

  28. Why does dissent provoke such opposition and friction in the Church?
    Because in the real world conflict is aggravated by many human factors.

    Crisis caused by the Roman teaching authority in our time

    Sacred Congregation for Doctrine
  29. Who exactly do we mean by the Roman teaching authorities?
    They include Pope John Paul II and some of his Vatican Congregations.

  30. Why may we speak of a crisis caused by the Roman teaching authority in our time?
    a. The magisterium has become ‘ the battle-cry of intransigent people’ (Prof. Bernard Häring)
    b. ‘I look at my church and I am troubled’(Mgr. John J. Egan)
    c. ‘There is much untruth in the Church. There is hypocrisy and humbug at all levels. There is pretended loyalty, outward profession of the official line accompanied by inner denial; there is the corrupting power of fear’ (Fr. Owen O’Sullivan)
    d.‘Violence in the Church’ (Fr. Camilo Macisse)
    e. The secret examination of new Bishops (José Manuel Vidal)
    f. The Impact of Humanae Vitae (John Mahoney S.J.)

  31. Are the Roman authorities right in their attempts to silence theologians?
    a. It does not serve the good of the Church if legitimate dissent is crushed.
    b. See the interference of the Vatican in USA universities

  32. Do the bishops and the Pope underestimate the laity?
    a. They do!
    b. They neglect to consult the faithful as they should, cf. John Henry Newman.
    c. The Church is a patriarchial society clinging on to power.
  33. Does the Pope rely too much on his own advisers?
    Yes, he often does, with sorry consequences for the Church.

  34. Do the Roman authorities attribute excessive importance to law?
    a. Yes, they often show a mentality that gives an overriding importance to legislation and jurisdictional acts.
    b. their treatment of priests applying for release from the law of celibacy is simply unchristian (Bishop Reinhold Stecher)
    c. They excommunicated seven women who made have made a legal mistake, without regard to their personal motives or valid complaints

  35. Do the Roman authorities promote a wrong understanding of ‘ordinary magisterium’?
    a. They do so, when it suits them.
    b. One recent example is Ordinatio Sacerdotalis against the ordination of women.

  36. Do the Roman authorities not realise that doctrine ‘develops’?
    That seems to be the case!

  37. Do the Roman authorities damage the Church by exercising excessive control?

  38. Have the Roman authorities overplayed their hand in their socalled ‘definitive’/‘infallible’ statements?
    Yes, decidedly so. Read: Hans Küng: ‘Women's Ordination and Infallibility’.

    ‘Teaching authority’ in general

    Sacred Congregation for Doctrine
  39. What does magisterium, ‘teaching authority’, mean?
    In the course of time it has come to mean ‘the teaching authority of the hierarchy’.

  40. If God reveals truth, why do we need a teaching authority?
    Because we do not only respond with faith, but also seek understanding in changing circumstances.

  41. Who possesses the revealed Word of God, the bishops and the Pope or the People of God?
    God has entrusted his Word to the whole community of faith.

  42. Does a teaching need to be ‘received’ by the People of God for it to be authenticated?
    Yes, it does.

  43. What does it mean to teach doctrine ‘with authenticity’?
    In Church documents, the term at times denotes infallible doctrine, but not always.

  44. What is the position of the Pope within the college of bishops?
    The Pope is the head of the episcopal college.

  45. Do also the bishops and the Pope belong to the ‘learning Church’?
    They most certainly do.

  46. Where does the infallibility of the magisterium find its source?
    Infallibility finds its source in the inerrancy which is a gift to the whole community of faith.

  47. Are there non-infallible binding teachings?
    Yes, there are.

  48. What is meant by the ‘ordinary magisterium’?
    Especially, the common assent of the faithful under the guidance of the magisterium.

  49. Does every part of Catholic doctrine share in the infallibility of revealed truth?
    Certainly not.

  50. Are the bishops and the Pope infallibile when they issue practical, pastoral decrees?
    They are not.

  51. How do we ‘surrender in faith’ to authentic doctrine set forth by the magisterium?
    Our surrender in faith is a response to revealed truth proclaimed in the Church.

  52. What did Vatican II mean with obsequium fidei, ‘obedience in faith’?
    It is a rich term, with a large spectrum of connotations. Loyalty includes both loyal obedience and loyal opposition.

  53. How can we safely interpret the doctrinal texts of General Councils?
    This is not as straightforward as it might seem.

    The position of Catholic universities

  54. When does an institute of learning become a ‘university’?
    If it is devoted to higher academic studies.

  55. What types of Catholic university do we find?
    We may distinguish six types according to their status in secular society and in the Church.

  56. What makes a university Catholic?
    In the last analysis, only people can make a university Catholic.

  57. How are theologians in Catholic universities ‘bonded’ to the Church?
    Mainly as individual members of the Church.

Read: Theologians and the Magisterium, by Richard A. McCormick. From Corrective Vision, Explorations in Moral Theology, Sheed & Ward, 1994, Chapter 7.

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