Sacerdotalis Rome claims that the exclusion of women from priestly
ordination has been infallibly decided by the ordinary universal magisterium.
Key theologians from all over the world have rejected this
- The Catholic Theological Society of
- Nicholas Lash, professor of divinity, Cambridge
- Francis A. Sullivan SJ, emeritus professor
Gregorian University Rome
- Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., professor of
theology at Fordham University, New York
- Gisbert Greshake, professor of theology at
the University of Freiburg, Germany
- Ann O'Hara Graff, professor of theology at
Seattle University, Washington
- Peter Hünermann, professor of theology
at Tübingen University, Germany
- Sidney Cornelia Callahan, pastoral
- David Knight, pastoral theologian, Memphis,
- Richard Gaillardetz, associate professor,
University of St. Thomas, Houseton, USA
- Klaus Nientiedt, How Binding?
Ordinatio sacerdotalis unleashes debate on the
Magisterium, Herder Korrespondenz 9 (1996) pp. 461-466.
- John H. Wright, That all doubt may
be removed, America 171 (July 30-Aug. 6, 1994) pp. 16-19.
- Fourteen Indian Religious Sisters,
theologians and academics.
- Fr. Joseph Moingt SJ, editor of Recherches
de Science Religieuse.
- Hugh O'Regan, editor of the on-line
magazine, San Fransico Bay Catholic.
- The commission on "Woman and the Church"
of the Belgian Bishops' Conference
- Links to other assessments on the
In response to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the Catholic
Theological Society of America set up a Task Force to study the question. The
Task Force produced a report:Tradition and the
Ordination of Women, which concluded that Ordinatio
Sacerdotalis is mistaken with regard to its claims on the authority of
this teaching and its grounds in Tradition.
On June 6 1997, the general assembly of the Catholic Theological
Society of America, endorsed this resolution:
There are serious doubts regarding the nature of the
authority of the teaching [that the Church's lack of authority to ordain women
to the priesthood is a truth that has been infallibly taught and requires the
definitive assent of the faithful], and its grounds in Tradition. There is
serious, widespread disagreement on this question, not only among theologians,
but also within the larger community of the Church . . . It seems clear that
further study, discussion and prayer regarding this question by all the members
of the Church in accord with their particular gifts and vocations are necessary
if the Church is to be guided by the Spirit in remaining faithful to the
authentic Tradition. The resolution was adopted after a secret ballot;
with 216 theologians voting YES, 22 NO and 10
Nicholas Lash says that, in spite of its claims in Ordinatio
Sacerdotalis, Rome has no valid arguments from Scripture or Tradition.
Giving its opinion an aura of infallibility does not make up for
the lack of truth.
Nicholas Lash wrote many books, among them:
* Theology on Dover Beach (1979)
* Theology on the Way
* Voices of Authority
* Newman on development
: the search for an explanation in history
* A matter of hope : a
theologian's reflections on the thought of Karl Marx
* Change in
focus; a study of doctrinal change and continuity
* Banking Laws and
Regulations : An Economic Perspective (1987)
* Easter in Ordinary :
Reflections on Human Experience and the Knowledge of God (1990)
Believing Three Ways in One God : A Reading of the Apostles' Creed
* The Beginning and the End of 'Religion' (1996)
Neither the Pope nor Cardinal Ratzinger can make a
teaching to be founded on the written Word of God simply by
ascertaining that it is so founded. Nor can they by assertion, make it a matter
that has been constantly preserved and applied in the tradition of the
Church. The attempt to use the doctrine of infallibility, a doctrine
intended to indicate the grounds and character of Catholic confidence in
official teaching, as a blunt instrument to prevent the ripening of a question
in the Catholic mind, is a scandalous abuse of power, the most serious
consequence of which will be further to undermine the further authority which
the Pope seeks to sustain.
FULL TEXT: On Not
Inventing Doctrine by Nicholas Lash, The Tablet, 2 December
1995, p. 1544.
Sullivan is the leading theological authority on the
magisterium. He wrote: Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic
Church (Paulist, 1983) and Creative Fidelity: Weighing and Interpreting
Church Documents (Paulist, spring 1996).
(a) In December 1995, Sullivan expressed strong disagreement
against the claim of infallibility made by the Congregation for
Doctrine. His main reasons were that the conditions for such an infallible
teaching had not been met.
The question that remains is whether it is a clearly
established fact that the bishops of the Catholic Church are as convinced by
those reasons [against women priests] as Pope John Paul evidently is, and that,
in exercising their proper role as judges and teachers of the faith, they have
been unanimous in teaching that the exclusion of women from ordination to the
priesthood is a divinely revealed truth to which all Catholics are obliged to
give a definitive assent of faith. Unless this is manifestly the case, I do not
see how it can be certain that this doctrine is taught infallibly by the
ordinary and universal magisterium. FULL TEXT: The
Tablet 23/30 December 1995, p. 1646.
(b) In September 1997, Sullivan criticised Archbishop Bertone,
secretary of the Congregation for Doctrine, for making three gratuitous
assumptions: i. that a mere declaration by the Pope can establish infallible
teaching by the universal ordinary magisterium of the college of bishops; ii.
that all truths that are certainly true and undoubted belong to the
object of infallibility; and, iii, for a consensus of the international college
of bishops a consensus in the past would suffice. It is amazing to see what
theological blunders are committed by someone entrusted with such great
responsibility in the day-to-day business of Romes
The question whether a doctrine has been infallibly
taught is not a matter of doctrine, but a matter of fact, which has to be
manifestly established (Canon 749 §3). What must be
manifestly established when the claim is made that a doctrine has
been taught infallibly by the ordinary universal magisterium, is that not only
the Pope, but the whole body of Catholic bishops as well, are proposing the
same doctrine as one which the faithful are obliged to hold in a definitive
way. I do not see how it could be said that a papal declaration, of itself,
without further evidence, would suffice to establish this fact.
FULL TEXT: Theological Studies, vol. 58,
September 1997, pp. 509-515.
Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., is the author of many books, such
* Consider Jesus: Waves of Renewal in
* Women, Earth and Creator Spirit
* She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological
* How to Paint Miniatures (1994);
Pauline Theology: Looking Back, Pressing On (Editor, 1997);
Friends of God and Prophets: A Feminist Theological Reading of the Community
of Saints (1998).
Elizabeth Johnson states that none of the three reasons presented
by Rome: from Scripture, Tradition or theology, holds up to scrutiny.
Responsible theologians have the duty to express their disagreement, however
much they want to respect the magisterium itself.
The reasons [Rome gives] do not hold up, try as one might
to entertain them. According to traditional Catholic teaching, the human
faculty of judgment is not free, unlike our will. We can give genuine assent
only to what presents itself to our mind as true: "The truth cannot impose
itself except by virtue of its own truth, as it makes its entrance into the
mind at once quietly and with power" (Vatican II, Declaration on Religious
Freedom, 1). If a declared teaching or practice continuously jars our mind
as missing the mark, as in the present case, it is our responsibility to
explore and express the reasons why. This resistance is not to be equated with
disloyalty or rebellion, let alone lack of faith, but with a form of loyalty
and service. FULL TEXT: Commonweal, vol.123,
January 26 1996, pp. 8-10.
Here are some of the books Greshake has written:
* Gottes Heil, Glück des Menschen: Theologische
* Die Neuzeit (1989)
* Resurrectio Mortuorum (1991)
Geschenkte Freiheit (1992)
* Die Gegenwart (1993)
Erlöst in einer unerlösten Welt (1995)
geistlichen Lebens (with others, 1995-1996)
* 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).
Gisbert Greshake says that he keeps an open mind regarding the
ordination of women to the priesthood. However, he utterly rejects the claim of
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the question has been infallibly
decided by the universal ordinary magisterium.
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 importantly, 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. FULL
TEXT: Pastoralblatt 48 (1996) 56.
Ann O'Hara Graff edited In the Embrace of God: Feminist
Approaches to Theological Anthropology (1995)
Ann OHara Graff, while outlining the defects in the claims
of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, pays special attention to the history of
priestly ordination itself. Like other institutions of the church it arose in
response to belief in the Risen Lord, rather than from grand designs in Jesus'
own mind. And also Romes view of its authoritative role belongs to a
hierarchical culture of the Middle Ages.
Placing the ultimate authority to teach (the magisterium)
in the office of the pope is consistent with medieval notions of hierarchy that
recognize the head of the hierarchy as the summation of the members (clearly a
different idea than participants in a democracy would hold) . . . The pope is
understood to speak the faith of the whole church and never to speak against
the faith of the church . . . .Whether or not one likes the proclamation of
papal infallibility, it is not arbitrary, and it is consistent with a
particular cultural understanding of hierarchy that was once the accepted norm.
That this role was underscored at a time when hierarchy across Europe was
finally collapsing (i.e. in 1870 AD) is certainly one of the paradoxes of
history. FULL TEXT: U.S. Catholic, vol.61,
April 1996, pp. 6-11.
These books are among Peter Hünermann's publications:
* Streitgespräch um Theologie und Lehramt
* Wissenschaft, kulturelle Praxis, Evangelisierung (1993)
* Das neue Europa (1993)
* Demokratie (1993)
* Jesus Christus, Gotteswort in der Zeit. Eine
systematische Christologie (1994)
* Ekklesiologie im Präsens.
* Gott, ein Fremder in unserm Haus? Die Zukunft
des Glaubens in Europa (1996)
* Diakonat. Ein Ambt für Frauen
in der Kirche (with others, 1997)
* Papstamt und Ökumene. Zum
Petrusdienst an der Einheit aller Getauften (1997)
* Und dennoch . .
* Das Zeite Vatikanum. Christlicher Glaube im Horizont
globaler Modernisierung (1998)
In a book on The discussion on Women Priests in the Catholic
Church (Frauen Ordination. Stand der Diskussion in de Katholischen
Kirche, ed. Walter Gross, Erich Wewel Publications, Munich 1996), Peter
Hünermann judges Rome's position in three chapters (see pp. 83-96;
120-127; 129-146). He rejects Rome's scriptural, tradition and theological
reasons. He expresses his dismay and surprise at the claim of an
infallible decision by the universal ordinary magisterium. Finally
he considers the need of a further refinement in the understanding
of the magisterium, precisely because it has so often failed - as it is doing
The historical experience of the Church with regard to its
own faithfulness to the Gospel shows that it has been characterised by frequent
failings and misinterpetations. It is true that the collective Church did not
lose faith altogether. The Holy Spirit has kept it somehow in the truth of the
Gospel. But this does not mean that the Spirit preserved the Church from
falling into numerous errors and confusions. The promise of the Holy Spirit to
the collective Church refers clearly to the central and fundamental truths of
the faith. From this core the Church has always -- through the help of the
Spirit and thanks to the commitment of many saintly men and women -- found the
strength to distance itself from sidetracks and errors, and to renew itself.
[The same limitation should also apply to the object of infallibility.]
FULL TEXT: Frauen Ordination, pp. 145-146.
Sidney Cornelia Callahan has written various pastoral books,
* The Magnificat: The Prayer of Mary
Principles and Politics of Parenthood
* The Working Mother.
Sidney Callahan speaks for millions of Catholics when she
expresses her frustration at Romes theological and pastoral
insensitivity. And it is not just the theological arguments that count. She
knows in her bones that the ordination of women does not go counter
to Gods (or Christs) own intentions. To make her appeal even
stronger, her protest is formulated as a personal letter addressed to Cardinal
The contradictions and inconsistencies in your position
explain why most Catholic theologians, and even some bishops, have judged that
it would be most faithful to the Holy Spirit to ordain women now. The American
laity agree. Because of forty years of prayer, study, worship, and meditation
upon the question, I am convinced in conscience that it is God's will that
women should be ordained. In this impasse, your instruction that I submit my
conscience and believe what you define to be true becomes psychologically
impossible, in effect a moral suicide. I can do no other than wholeheartedly
believe what faith, reason, heart, expert counsel, and the experience of a
lifetime tell me to be true and in accordance with Christ's desires for the
church. FULL TEXT: Commonweal, vol. 123,
February 9 1996, pp. 6-7.
Fr. David Knight is a pastoral theologian and pastor at Sacred
Heart Church in Memphis, Tennessee. He is well known for his popular and
practical books, among them:
* His Way (1981,
* Cloud by Day/ Fire by Night (1985)
* Confession Can
Change Your Life (1985)
* His Word, Letting it Take Root and Bear
Fruit in our Lives (1986, 1998)
* Best True Ghost Stories of the
20th Century (1986)
* Lift Up Your Eyes to the Mountains. A Guide to
the Spiritual Life (1988)
* Make Me a Sabbath of Your Heart
* Mary in an Adult Church: from Devotion to Response
* Blessed are They: Call to Conversion (1988)
Chastity Who Lives It? The Baptized Christians Call to Conversion
* Good News About Sex (1991)
* Armchair Retreat
* Reaching Jesus: Five Steps to a Fuller Life (1997)
I Can Read about Alligators and Crocodiles (1999)
Gods Word (1999)
David Knight says that his main concern is pastoral: to avoid
Catholics who disagree Romes statement regarding the ordination of women
being driven out of the Church. He explains that Ordinatio
Sacerdotalis is not infallible, in spite of the misleading language of
the Congregation for Doctrines own words or the misguided commentary of
some bishops. He ends with a warning.
Suppose we leave Catholics with the impression--which
they are being given now, intentionally or not--that this doctrine has been
declared true by an exercise of the church's infallible teaching authority. And
suppose that the next pope decides to ordain women after all--which could very
easily happen if in fact the opinion of the present pope and of his committee
on doctrine is wrong. If people then began to leave the church in droves,
saying that the church had contradicted her own infallible teaching, we would
be in a very weak position trying to explain, after the fact, that the teaching
of John Paul and his doctrinal committee never was really infallible, and that
we really knew it all the time but just never said anything. There is error in
excessive affirmation as well as in denial. It is as much an error to say there
are four divine Persons in the Blessed Trinity as to say there are only two.
And it is as wrong to make the pope more infallible as it is to make him less.
On the practical plane, to give the impression, intentionally or not, that
something is being taught infallibly when it is not, is pastorally
irresponsible and dangerous. FULL TEXT: U.S.
Catholic, vol. 61, April 1996, pp. 11-13.
Richard Gaillardetz is specialised in questions of the Magisterium
and infallibility. For his dissertation he researched the Theology of the
Ordinary Universal Magisterium of Bishops. He wrote a classic study:
Teaching with Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium in the
Church,Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1997. Studying Ordinatio
Sacerdotalis and the Responsum ad Dubium, Gaillardetz comes to the
conclusion that the Congregation for Doctrine has not clearly established the
infallibile nature of the ban on womens ordination.
It may be appropriate at this point to recall the
canonical principle cited at the beginning of this article: no doctrine
is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as
such. I infer from this canon that the burden lies with the
ecclesiastical magisterium, not only to assert that the churchs teaching
on the exclusion of women from the priesthood has been taught infallibly by the
ordinary universal magisterium but to "clearly establish" that fact. The
questions which I have raised in this article suggest that the claims of the
CDF, at this date, have not been "clearly established."
Louvain Studies 21 (1996) pp. 3-24.
In response to Ordinatio Sacerdotalisthe Commission
on Woman and the Church of the Belgian Bishops Conference, made several
criticisms of the arguments used by the Pope. "Who may
dwell within your Tent?"
Not everyone agrees with the official position of the Church
expressed in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Many people have misgivings about
the arguments the Pope employs when excluding women from priestly ministry.
They object to the way in which the "special nature of woman" is understood, as
well as to the interpretation of the data from Scripture and Tradition. They
point to the heavy cultural load resting on the ideal of the priestly ministry
on account of the past clerical image of the Church and the stress on
essentialism. They ask that more attention be given to women who feel called to
the priesthood and to the fact that women are also excluded from other
leadership functions simply because these are tied to the priesthood.
FULL TEXT Who may dwell within your Tent?
Louvain1998, pp. 55-67.
- But what about the claim that the teaching is infallible
according to the rules of the ordinary, universal magisterium? Have the four
conditions for the legitimate exercise of this authority been met? The answer
is no. Regarding the first requirement, it must be bishops who exercise this
kind of infallibility. Except for the bishops that might be members of the
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, no bishops that we know of were
ever consulted on what they are teaching or believe about the ordination of
women. Even if the opinions of some bishops were sought, it is clear that the
second requirement is not met, namely that the bishops are teaching this way
while in union with each other and the pope. The issue simply has not been
raised when the bishops are together in solemn assembly where such matters are
brought to the body. Third, there is room for serious doubt that the teaching
on ordination should be considered to be a matter of faith or of morals. Many
reputable theologians, including those assembled by the Vatican itself to study
whether there was any basis in scripture for the ban against ordaining women,
simply do not find in the gospels a basis for this teaching. Fourth and
finally, we would be hard pressed to show that the bishops agree on one view
that must be held by the faithful on this issue. Enough bishops in this country
alone have made their opinions known so as to assure us at the very least of
differences of opinion in this matter. Not even one of the four conditions
necessary for an exercise of this kind of infallibility has been met.
Diane M. Caplin Ph.D., lecturer and associate director at Mount Saint Agnes
Theological Center for Women, Baltimore Maryland.
- The bishops collectively are supposed to have engaged in
sedulous investigation of the deposit of divine revelation beforehand, and the
teaching cannot be anything new, or added on to the original deposit of faith.
The bishops cannot just invent a new doctrine which previous generations of
bishops had no way of knowing was contained in the deposit of faith. Has the
College of Bishops ever, then, as a moral whole, though dispersed around the
world, but in communion with one another and with the successor of Peter,
agreed on the judgment that women cannot be ordained, that this judgment is a
doctrine belonging to the deposit of faith, and that is to be held definitively
or conclusively as such? On the face of it, this has never happened. Remember
they have to teach this doctrine with moral unanimity. They have to teach it as
belonging to divine revelation. They have to teach it as a doctrine to be held
definitively by all the faithful. Where and when has this happened?
Peter Burns SJ.
- The National Coalition of American Nuns is surprised and
deeply disturbed that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
has used the claim of infallibility to support and perpetuate the injustice of
the Church's teaching which excludes women from the ordained priesthood. The
National Coalition of American Nuns holds that this teaching cannot be
infallible because the teaching is unjust and, therefore, in error . . .
Because there is no universal assent yet from bishops, theologians, or the
faithful on the question of ordaining women as priests, any statement claiming
to be infallible on this issue is premature and inappropriate. Resolution
adopted by the National Coalition of American Nuns
on December 8, 1995.
- Can an office of the Vatican declare a papal statement
infallible? And can they do it ex post facto? Any time they want to? Maybe
hundreds of years rather than months after it was written? Why is it that when
bishops all over the world ask for this issue to be discussed, they are simply
ignored? When, on the other hand, one of the Vatican congregations addresses
the issue unilaterally -- even defines its undefined terms -- without
consultation from the worlds body of bishops, let alone the people of
God, the subject is happily opened in order to be closed. And without a bishop
in sight. Have we come to the point where the bishops of the church are even
more ignored than the women of the church? Sr.
Joan Chittister OSB.
- It is significant that the declaration claimed that such
a teaching reflected the infallibility not of a special papal pronouncement,
but of the ordinary magisterium. For such a claim of the reliability of the
ordinary magisterium itself depends on an idea having general acceptance in
church history, including the contemporary church. But is is precisely such a
broad consensus that is lacking today. Not only have most Protestant churches,
including the Anglican communion, carefully examined this ban and rejected it
on scriptural, theological and moral grounds, but a large number of
theologians, many priests and bishops and close to a majority of Catholics are
questioning such a ban. In such a case, when an idea no longer has a consensus
in the church, it is clearly impossible to declare that it is
infallible on the ground that it enjoys a consensus.
Rosemary Radford Ruether.
With regard to the universal ordinary magisterium, read here
a detailed discussion of the five conditions for its
infallibility, and why they have not been met.
Read: Theologians and
the Magisterium, by Richard A. McCormick. From Corrective Vision,
Explorations in Moral Theology, Sheed & Ward, 1994, Chapter 7.