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Are Clergy bound by the Oath of Fidelity

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?

Catholics who are not academically trained may fear that bishops who have promised not to promote the ordination of women as a condition of their admission to the episcopacy, will not be able to change their position once they realise that the ban against women priests is based on faulty evidence.

Bishops, priests and theologians, however, know from their study of moral theology that a promise, even if made under oath, ceases to be valid if

  1. substantial error affected their knowledge regarding the object of the promise, or
  2. if an error affected the purpose of the promise (e.g. what is good for the Church), or
  3. if the promise was made under fear, or
  4. if the object of the promise has become impossible or harmful.

The promise ceases ab intrinseco, as Thomas Aquinas taught:

"Whatever would have been an impediment to the making of a promise if it had been present, also lifts the obligation from a promise that has been made."

Scriptum super IV libros Sententiarum dist. 38, q.1, sol. 1 ad 1; D. M. Prümmer, Manuale Theologiae Moralis, Freiburg 1936, vol. II, 'De Voto', pp. 326-348.

John Wijngaards

Read also: "The secret examination of New Bishops".


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Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis 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.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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