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A Teaching Not Received

A Teaching Not Received

by Hugh O'Regan.
Editor of the on-line magazine the San Fransisco Bay Catholic

published on the Internet at http://www.sfbayc.org/magazine/

On November 18, 1995, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger sent a letter to the bishops of the world stating that the ban on women priests, as promulgated by Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Letter: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was to be considered by all Catholics as an infallible teaching.

In this paper I will demonstrate why Cardinal Ratzinger overstepped his authority in Responsum ad Dubium... and why Roman Catholics in good conscience may respectfully reject his position. To put it bluntly, the Cardinal Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith was simply wrong. His Responsum ad Dubium ... is theologically flawed.

"This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of theChurch, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren(cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith."(Responsum ad Dubium regarding OrdinatioSacerdotalis)

+Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

At this point it is important to note what the Cardinal is not saying. He does not claim that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was an exercise of an ex cathedra statement. Nor does he claim that the specific ban in the document is an exercise of ex cathedra infallibility. The Cardinal knows full well that any such claim would be problematic and would fail to pass the test of Catholic theology - not to mention the requirements as enumerated by the Ecumenical Councils Vatican I and Vatican II.

Philip S. Kaufman, O.S.B. commenting on Lumen Gentium summarized the following five modes of formal Church teaching:

Non Infallible Church Teaching:
1) Pope teaching authoritatively but not ex-cathedra.
2) Bishop teaching in his own diocese.

Infallible Church Teaching:
3) Pope Teaching ex cathedra.
4) Bishops solemnly defining in council.
5)Bishops exercising the ordinary and universal magisterium.

Source: "Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic"
by: Father Philip S. Kaufman, O.S.B.

Let us now review the Ratzinger statement. We see that the Cardinal is proposing that Pope John Paul II's ban against ordaining women was infallible and irreformable because of the fifth mode of teaching as outlined in Lumen Gentium. The Cardinal refers to the document of Vatican 2 directly. Yet the fifth mode of teaching as stipulated by article 25 of Lumen Gentium speaks of a mode of infallible teaching of the worldwide Bishops of the Catholic Church.

This is not a mode of teaching that the Holy Father may usurp as his own. Vatican II does stipulate that such declarations by the bishops are to be confirmed by the Bishop of Rome before they may be considered Infallible. However, this is not the case in the current situation. Vatican II does not give the Holy Father the right nor the power to bypass his bishops and confirm a position of which the bishops themselves have not reached any demonstrated consent. It is simply not within the power of any pope to teach in such a manner unless he is speaking ex-cathedra.

A careful study of Vatican I and II will demonstrate that while Ordinatio Sacradotalis is to be treated with respect and must considered as authoritative by all Catholics, it certainly does not fulfill the requirements of a teaching that confirms the union of Catholic bishops.

We nowhere see such a unanimous position of our bishops and such unanimous agreement is absolutely essential for any supposed confirmation to have taken place. Simply stated, if there was indeed no consensus by the bishops on this topic of the possibility (not appropriateness) - it is unreasonable to think that the Holy Father could confirm a consensus when there is no evidence of the existence of such a consensus. It is certainly unreasonable, and this is the weak link and fatal flaw of the Ratzinger document.

More than Faith and Morals

We should now take a look at the content of this "supposedly" infallible statement by Pope John Paul II. In the realm of Faith and Morals does the Bishop of Rome enjoy a free hand in declaring statements as infallibly defined? If the Holy Father has a dream that this or that position is true; is this a basis for an infallible decision? When a Pope becomes convinced that a faith position is absolutely true or that a moral position is absolutely correct, does his conviction give him free reign to speak ex cathedra? I maintain that the theological answer is ...NO!

In point of fact Church teaching does not give the Holy Father free reign in this matter. Cardinal Ratzinger refers to Lumen gentium in his declaration that John Paul II speaks with the infallible voice on this matter. Lets look at what Lumen gentium itself has to say:

"This infallibility with which the divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining a doctrine of faith and morals extends in as far extends the deposit of divine revelation, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded."(Lumen Gentium, no. 25, )
 
This councilor document was not presenting some new or novel understanding of infallibility. Instead, it confirms the traditional theological position that defined declarations and infallible ex cathedra statements must be limited to positions that may be clearly demonstrated in Sacred Scripture or Holy Tradition. Our Tradition is mainly silent and indeed might only reflect the cultural bias of past civilizations rather than the divine will. The fact there have been credible reports of women's ordinations in at least one formerly communist country of Eastern Europe should not be overlooked and deserves investigation. God's truth is often presented by byways and crooked paths. No, It is no accident that Ordinatio Sacradotalis attempts to use scripture to prove the incapability of the Church to ordain women. According to the mind of the Church the connection is absolutely essential if a claim to Infallibility is to be sustained.

Searching the words of Jesus we see no prohibition against women as priests. On the matter of the possibility of such ordinations the New Testament is silent. On the matter of the successors of Saint Peter to bind and to loose; the Scripture is quite clear. How then may the Cardinal make the claim of infallibility for this ban when there is no direct scriptural evidence? This declaration of infallibility has no scriptural warrant.

What Does This Mean?

The Ratzinger declaration appears to be defective. In the matter of form, the letter incorrectly attempts to make use of the bishops power to teach infallibly. It is the union of bishops who may resort to exercising the ordinary and universal magisterial authority to speak with infallibility. Yes, the Holy Father must confirm such teaching but the Holy Father may not bypass the Bishops and exercise that authority himself.

In the matter of the object of the infallible teaching, the Ratzinger document is defective. Such teachings are not based upon dreams or even visions or absolute conviction of the Bishop of Rome. The Church teaches that the object of the teaching must be clearly grounded in Sacred Tradition. No such Tradition exists. The apparent absence of such ordinations is not conclusive. On the contrary, there have been credible reports that within our own lifetime, women in Catholic Churches have already been ordained. The local Church while suffering under the anti-religion policies of communist dominated Eastern Europe may have ordained several women to the sacred priesthood. These ordinations were reportedly performed by validly consecrated Roman Catholic Bishops. If true the very weight of Tradition might well have shifted against theRatzinger interpretation.

The Cardinal would do well to devote some time in providing Catholics with proof that meets the theological standards of moral certainty before he expects Catholics to give assent. Until he provides such proofs, most Catholics are obligated only to give the letter respect. Bishops, having the power to ordain - and women willing to be ordained are obliged to obey Pope John Paul II - at least until some more serious emergency (lack of Eucharist perhaps?) compels some bishop to act and some woman to accept.

Educated Catholics will remain open to the arguments of the Pope and of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith but they are by no means obligated to bend their minds and wills in agreement with the Holy Father's or the Cardinal's position.

This issue remains very much open!

Hugh O'Regan

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