Treading where angels would fear to go, below is a reflection “No Dialogue on Female Ordination?” which I hope clarifies why the hierarchy’s decision not to engage in dialogue on the topic is credible.
Peace and good will,
No Dialogue re. Female Ordination?
The Vatican’s doctrinal assessment of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious has touched a raw nerve to say the least. Most Catholics have more contact with nuns and sisters than they do with their bishop, so there’s an understandable sentiment to side with the sisters, especially in lieu of how they have helped to shape American Catholicism for the last two centuries.
The Vatican, as well as elements within the American hierarchy, were concerned that the Women Religious had lost their spiritual focus
(cf. common prayer, Liturgy of the Hours), had adapted views contrary to Church teaching (cf. female ordination, homosexuality, and an implicit questioning of the authority of the Magisteriuim), and we’re unduly influenced by radical feminist theology (cf. the recent censure of Sr. Elizabeth Johnson at Fordham).
In the ‘70s, the LCWR came out in support of female ordination to the ministerial priesthood. When Pope John Paul II stated in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (OS) (May 22, 1994) that the Church did not have the authority to grant ordination to women and that this teaching was definitive, the LCWR did not recant their earlier view. Indeed, in Systems Thinking Handbook, a resource for religious communities, Communion Services were preferred to the Mass because the presence of a male priest was objectionable.
Since the promulgation of OS, the Vatican has stated that the issue is closed and is not open for dialogue because the teaching is irreformable. This stance has been an irritant to liberal commentators such as Richard Rohr (OFM) and Michael Crosby (OFM, Cap.) and theologians like Johnson, who view the hierarchy’s unwillingness to even discuss the issue as a sign of a patriarchical, good old boys club desperately trying to maintain control.
I believe the Magisterium (the pope and College of Bishops) is properly exercising its role as guardians of our Tradition and teachers of the Deposit of Faith and that dialogue of the topic with the intention of changing the teaching would be futile. How so?
After a succinct explanation why the Church does not have the authority to confer ministerial ordination on women, Pope John Paul stated at the end of his Apostolic Letter that “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
Since the judgment of the Magisterium is a definitive teaching, it is not subject to change and dialogue, with the view of reforming the teaching, would serve no purpose. We don’t, for example, have diocesan synod’s discussing the truth of the Trinity, Incarnation, etc. Why don’t we? Because these teachings are dogmatically true and are revelatory—i.e., not subject to substantive change. Since dogmas belong to divine revelation and make known to us God’s saving plan, the only appropriate response for a believer to dogma is what Vatican II called an “assent of faith.” So, there’s no point to revisiting the Councils of Niceae and Constantinople re. the Trinitarian nature of God.
The second category of Church teaching is definitive doctrine, which is where Pope John Paul II has placed the judgment of the male only ministerial priesthood. These teachings include teachings that are not themselves divinely revealed but are necessary to safeguard and expound revelation. For example, the Council of Trent declared what books make up the Bible. In a similar fashion, the restriction of the ministerial priesthood to men is necessary to safeguard the constitutive element of this sacrament. It is generally agreed—though not formally defined as such—that due to their vital role in preserving revelation, these teachings (along with Church dogmas) are taught infallibly. Official Church documents teach that the believer is bound to “firmly accept and hold as true” those teachings proposed as definitive doctrines.
If someone rejects a Dogmatic teaching, they have placed themselves “out of communion” with the Church. Such does not appear to be the case when some rejects a definitive teaching. The emergence of the latter is relatively new in our tradition, so there remains some questions among theologians as to what happens when someone rejects a definitive doctrine of the Church. It doesn’t seem that such a rejection would involve heresy. . Provided that one’s disagreement is well informed and one still recognizes the teaching authority of the Magisterium, and that one has a firm desire to be united with the Church, the withholding of internal dissent from such a teaching, although potentially a serious error against the teaching of the Church, would not place one outside the Roman Catholic communion.
So, when the Hierarchy states that the doctrine of the male ordination to the priesthood is closed to discussion and is not subject to change, I hope the preceding adequately explains why they believe such is the case and that their judgment is not arbitrary, close-minded, or capracious.
(For a thorough and scholarly treatment of Church doctrine,
Richard Gaillaardetz’ Teaching with Authority (A Theology of the Magisterium in the Church) is an excellent source.)
–Deacon Jim McFadden