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Gisbert Greshake's Assessment of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

"I would want to be a priest"

Gisbert Greshake's Assessment of ‘Ordinatio Sacerdotalis’

Here are some of the books Greshake has written:
* Gottes Heil, Glück des Menschen: Theologische Perspektiven (1983)
* Priestersein (1991)
* Resurrectio Mortuorum (1991)
* Geschenkte Freiheit (1992)
* Erlöst in einer unerlösten Welt (1995)
* Quellen geistlichen Lebens (with others, 4 vols)
* Der dreieine Gott. Eine trinitarische Theologie (1997)
* An dem dreieinen Gott glauben. Ein Schlüssel zum Verstehen (1998)
* Die Wüste bestehen. Erlebnis und geistliche Erfahrung (1999).

‘Declaring My Position.’ Response to the Declaration of the Congregation For Doctrine regarding the doctrine proposed in the apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis”, by Gisbert Greshake, Pastoralblatt 48 (1996) 56-57.

Translated into English and reprinted on the Internet with permission from the author.

In the Declaration of the Congregation for Doctrine dated 28/10/1995 it is stated that the exclusion of women from the ordination to the priesthood is an infallible doctrine of the ordinary and universal magisterium. In a half-official commentary in “The Osservatore Romano” (German edition of 24/11/1995) it is further explained that “the final and infallible character of this doctrine of the Church does not originate with the letter ”Ordinatio Sacerdotalis ... in this case an act of the ordinary magisterium, which is not infallible in itself, declares the infallible character of a doctrine which the Church already possesses”.

In response to this declaration I give the following considered assessment as Resident Professor for Dogmatics at the Catholic Faculty of the University of Freibourg:

Considering the fact that I myself -- in contradistinction to many of my German-language theological colleagues -- am rather reserved in my opinion regarding the ordination of women, no one will be able to contend that I would approach Roman declarations about this issue with a fixed prejudice. With all the greater candour I can therefore express my judgment that I consider the last document of the Congregation for Doctrine in its argumentation to be defective, since it shows a lack of discernment on an important matter.

In canon 749 § 3 we read: “A doctrine is only then to be considered as infallibly defined when this has been clearly established”. Now this qualification of “being infallible” does not only refer to a truth of doctrine which is explicitly proposed as infallible by a conciliar of papal magisterium, but also for a truth of doctrine which - as the Roman congregation states pointing to Lumen Gentium 25,2 - , is “grounded on God’s written word and has been continuously preserved in the tradition of the Church from the beginning and put in practice, and presented through the ordinary and universal magisterium as infallible”. And this is precisely supposed to be the case regarding the impossibility to ordain women as priests.

However, the congregation has omitted a crucial word from Lumen Gentium 25, namely “as” and has not noticed that the quoted passage stands not without reason within a limiting context. For the original says that the bishops (therefore the ordinary and universal magisterium) only then “proclaim the doctrine of Christ infallibly” “whenever they ... in agreement about a particular doctrine, present it as definitively binding”. That is exactly the hub of the question.

In order to distinguish a doctrine as an infallible part of revealed faith, it is not enough to say that that particular doctrine has from the beginning been preserved and put into practice and been binding , but it must also be proved that this doctrine was imposed as definitively binding.

Let us look at an example: at the beginning of this century an evolutionary interpretation of creation was condemned by the magisterium on a wide front with the argument that the Church had continuously and authoritatively taught, on the basis of sacred Scripture, that God has created the world directly and immediately. Through a painful process the magisterium had to learn that its doctrine stood in the continuity of the tradition of faith, but that this doctrine had not been presented as definitively binding in the way people understood it, since the ‘ancient’ doctrine now unfolded itself as completely different in a new context.

We may not simply assume that the ‘impossibility’ to ordain women stands in a tradition of faith which was and is presented as definitively binding. It must be proved on the basis of canon 749 § 3, in order that it be “clearly established”. But that is finally and conclusively also a historical question. I do not know any relevant documents from the magisterium from which one could conclude that the possibility of ordination for women was rejected as definitively binding, even less so as definitively binding throughout the continuity of history. And exactly it is this reality “as definitively binding” that matters.

As long as the Congregation for Doctrine does not take note of this decisive factor, its argumentation remains a house built on sand, that is without decisive argumentative force.

Of course, this does not decide the real question regarding the ordination of women in either a positive or negative manner. One thing can however be “clearly established” in my view: the problem can not be resolved or dismissed as has now been done in the last document of the Congregation for Doctrine.

Gisbert Greshake

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