Is Ordinatio Sacerdotalis Infallible?

Saturday, May 10, 2003



Is Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be considered infallible and irreformable?

Upon the release of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on Pentecost of 1994 (May 22), my initial reaction was simplistic. Not having deeply researched the way a doctrine is defined infallibly at the time, I had believed that since the Pope had not used the words ex cathedra, the statement could not be understood as the intent of a Pontiff that this teaching should be taken as a declaration carrying infallible authority.

However, as we shall below, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (CDF) issued a Responsum Ad Dubium (literally a "Response to Doubt") with papal approval. The Responsum Ad Dubium stated that the intent of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is that the doctrine is to be understood as infallible.

The statements in the CDF's response forced me to review the doctrine of infallibly as taught by the Church. If Pope John II's statements are to be regarded as an exercise of Papal infallibility, the debate is closed to some extent, though one could argue that there needs to be ongoing development of our understanding of this infallible doctrine. On the other hand, if the doctrine is not to be understood as infallible, than one could argue for continuing to withhold assent, or even outright dissent.

From Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:
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.
My Own Commentary:

It seems clear that John Paul II is saying that by his role as Pontiff (ex cathedra?), he is declaring a judgment regarding faith and morals to be definitively held by the whole Church, and that judgment is therefore infallible.

One of the issues raised by theologians has become that the Pope used a low level of authority by issuing an Apostolic Letter, rather than an Apostolic Constitution, more commonly known as a Bull. An Apostolic Constitution is the highest level of written authority the Pope can use, and it is the form always used in prior ex cathedra statements. An Apostolic Letter is usually used for such mundane things as blessing a basilica.

It is important to note that not all Apostolic Constitutions are considered infallible, even by conservative theologians. Yet, the key question is whether anything less than an Apostolic Constitution can convey papal infallibility?

It is also important that the Holy Father addressed Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to the Bishops only. Vatican I specifies that the Holy Father speaks infallibly when addressing the whole Church.

Also, the Holy Father did not use the words ex cathedra, which he doesn't need to. More imprtantly, the Pope used the words to be definitively held, rather than saying, We define.

This point is very important, because it is generally believe the active voice needs to be used if the Pope is to be understood as exercising papal infallibility.

Conservative theologians quickly and correctly responded to critics regarding the use of the words "ex cathedra". The words ex cathedra were not specifically used in the declaration of the Assumption as an infallible doctrine of the Church, nor were these words used by Pius IX in declaring the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception just prior to the First Vatican Council, which clearly defined papal infallibility and ratified the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception further.

Yet, the question regarding the active verses passive boice remains.

In order to truly to understand what the Pope did and said in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, we must examine the charism of infallibility granted to the Roman Catholic Church. There are at least three types of infallibility possessed by the Roman Catholic Church:

1. Papal Infallibility (ex cathedra):
And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith. (The Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium number 25.1)
2. The infallibility of the ordinary and universal Magisterium (the infallibility of the college of Bishops):
All those things are to be believed with Catholic and divine faith which are contained in the Word of God, written or handed on, and are proposed by the Church either by a solemn judgment or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium as divinely revealed and to be believed as such. (First Vatican Council D-S 3011 as quoted by Francis A. Sullivan, S.J. in Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church 1983 pp. 122-3)
Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they nevertheless proclaim Christ's doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, but still maintaining the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, and authentically teaching matters of faith and morals, they are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held. This is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church, whose definitions must be adhered to with the submission of faith.... , (above paragraph under number 1 inserts here),...,The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith. (The Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium number 25.2 Bold emphasis is added and will be made clear in subsequent discussion)
3. The infallible sense of the faithful (sensus fidelium):
The holy people of God shares also in Christ's prophetic office; it spreads abroad a living witness to Him, especially by means of a life of faith and charity and by offering to God a sacrifice of praise, the tribute of lips which give praise to His name. The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole peoples' supernatural discernment in matters of faith when "from the Bishops down to the last of the lay faithful" they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the people of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the word of God. Through it, the people of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints, penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life. (The Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium number 12 )
To understand papal infallibility a bit more, it may be helpful to first consider how the doctrine of the Assumption was defined. Pope Pius XII sent a letter called Deiparae Virginis Mariae to all the bishops of the world on May 1, 1946 asking their opinion regarding whether Mary was assumed bodily into heaven. Supposedly, some of these bishops consulted their priests, theologians, and the faithful laity. After receiving a positive response from some 98% of the bishops, Pius XII carefully drafted a papal bull entitled Munificentissimus Deus. In the bull, Pope Pius XII refers to this response as an appeal to the infallibly of the ordinary Magisterium, and then added arguments from Scripture and tradition and the sense of the faithful before stating:
For which reason, after we have poured forth prayers of supplication again and again to God, and have invoked the light of the Spirit of Truth, for the glory of Almighty God who has lavished his special affection upon the Virgin Mary, for the honor of her Son, the immortal King of the Ages and the Victor over sin and death, for the increase of the glory of that same august Mother, and for the joy and exultation of the entire Church; by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.
The difference between Pope Pius XII's statement and John Paul II's statement is the clear claim to papal authority to declare and define a revealed dogma. The difference is very subtle, but a difference exists.

Pope Pius XII is stating that the papal office is declaring the definition ("by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define").

It also interesting that Pius XII established and demonstrated the will of ordinary and universal Magisterium by essentially conducting a poll of the bishops.

What if the Pius XII had not requested the opinion of the bishops or the bishops had not responded so favorably?

The doctrine of the Assumption could have still been legitimately declared under papal authority with the words "by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define" The use of the majestic plural is more than poetry.

The Pope used this language to establish that the truth being proclaimed has been held explicitly or implicitly by prior Popes, and is to be held explicitly by future Popes. Likewise, the active sense of the word "define" is intentional. Though the Pope appeals to other types of infallible revelation, he is clearly affirming the truth by his own papal authority in an act of full papal infallibility.

On the other hand, Pope John Paul II declared his position through an apostolic letter addressed to the bishops, rather than a papal bull, addressed to all the faithful. He is implying from the start that this letter is of lesser authority than Munificentissimus Deus.

Furthermore, John Paul II stated that the position that the Church is not authorized to ordain women, is to be held as though it were infallible ("is to be definitively held").

There is a different use of the word "define" such that the Pope is not actively defining a doctrine, so much as holding up a judgment to be definitively held by all. In the Latin, this was the exact same usage we saw in the Vatican II definition of the infallibility of the ordinary universal Magisterium.

Furthermore, in John Paul's letter, he used the words "I declare", implying this position is his opinion from the perspective of his ordinary papal Magisterial authority, such as the authority of Humanae Vitae, rather than the opinion of the infallible and ex cathedra authority of the papacy per say that the majestic plural would convey. Thus, it appears that John Paul II is not claiming ex cathedra papal authority.

This does not seem to be a statement of full papal infallibility. Rather, the Holy Father made this statement based on the second type of infallibility outlined above, that of the ordinary universal Magisterium, or the consensus of the college of bishops.

This was confirmed by the CDF in its Responsum Ad Dubium on October 28, 1995, when they responded to a Bishop's inquiry with the following:
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 the Church, 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.
This will sound to the layperson or to the conservative like mere semantics. However, the Prefect for the CDF, Joseph Cardinal Ratziner, in his commentary on the October 28, 1995 statement confirmed the difficulty with the following statements:
In fact, as the Reply explains, the definitive nature of this assent derives from the truth of the doctrine itself, since, founded on the written Word of God, and constantly held and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary universal Magisterium (cf. Lumen Gentium, 25). Thus, the Reply specifies that this doctrine belongs to the deposit of the faith of the Church. It should be emphasized that the definitive and infallible nature of this teaching of the Church did not arise with the publication of the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. In the Letter, as the Reply of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also explains, the Roman Pontiff, having taken account of present circumstances, has confirmed the same teaching by a formal declaration, giving expression once again to quod semper, quod ubique et quod ab omnibus tenendum est, utpote ad fidei depositum pertinens. In this case, an act of the ordinary Papal Magisterium, in itself not infallible, witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church. [Emphasis is mine]
In other words, the issue raised by theologians after Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is that it appears that the Pope has declared that it is his own fallible opinion as a theologian who happens to be Pope that the exclusion of women from ordination is an infallible position of the Church according to the majority consensus of the college of bishops.

The infallible authority by which the doctrine is known as a revealed doctrine is not the authority of the Pope to define a dogma infallibly ex cathedra, but the ordinary universal Magisterium of the Church referred to in Lumen Gentium 25.2. Thus, since no claim is made to papal infallibility, it is a fallible opinion of ordinary papal Magisterium, rather than the infallible papal Magisterium that must be critically examined.

It is legitimate for a Roman Catholic to ask the Pope and the CDF on what grounds the discernment of infallibility was made and whether those grounds are valid?

At the same time, LG 25 calls the faithful to respect the ordinary universal Magisterium as well as the noninfallible authoritative teachings of the Pope in the following manner:
Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme Magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.
The CDF states that if the Pope is correct in his fallible opinion that the practice of exclusion of women from ministerial priesthood is infallibly held by the ordinary Magisterium of the Church, then the type of ascent required is "definitive assent" ("the definitive nature of this assent"). In other words, we are not required to believe this doctrine with full infallible assent as a revealed doctrine.

Rather, we are required to believe that it is a doctrine so intrinsic to an infallibly revealed doctrine that denying this doctrine would undermine another more fundamental belief.

There are six degrees of ascent required for teachings of the Church.

1. Divinely revealed truth: Requires a response of faith, with the opposite being heresy: Solemnly defined ex cathedra, proposed in an Ecumenical Council, or manifestly taught by the ordinary universal Magisterium. Includes such things as the Blessed Trinity and the Assumption.

2. Definitive non-revealed truth: Requires firm assent, with the opposite being error. Proposed as Infallible matters of faith and morals that "even though not revealed themselves, are required to safeguard the integrity of the deposit of faith, to explain it rightly, and to define it effectively" There is a "Necessary and intrinsic relationship to the truths of faith". These are truths such as the seven sacraments, which are based on Christ's words and deeds, and what we believe about him.

3. Authoritative but not irreformable teaching: Requires respect and obedience, with the opposite being dissent. A doctrine or non-definitive teaching to aid a better understanding of Revelation or make explicit how some teaching is in conformity with the truths of faith. A prime example of this is Humanae Vitae.

4. Disciplinary Rules: Requires obedience, with the opposite being disobedience. Universal laws of the Church, particular laws of a diocese, liturgical norms, and Church practice. An example of this is fasting on Good Friday, or joining religious life under the rule of a saint.

5. Theological Opinion: Invites agreement, with the opposite being difference of opinion. An example is limbo.

6. Pious Practices and Devotions: Invites imitation, with the opposite being personal preference. An example is the rosary.

If the Pope is correct in his assertion that the exclusion of women of ministry is to be held definitely, with definitive assent, this issue is equal in importance to the numbering of the sacraments at seven!

Before deciding to give definitive assent to this teaching, I believe that it is fair to ask, is the Pope correct that such a teaching is the teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium of the Church?

Is this the belief of the majority consensus of the bishops (which I believe is usually determined by a two thirds majority, though I do not know if the Church has dogmatically set precedent for this)?

Let us imagine for a moment that the Bishops were consulted before Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was issued (which they were not to my knowledge, but let us imagine they were). Let us also imagine that the Bishops are in 100% agreement with this doctrine, and indicated as much in such consultation.

If these conditions were met, the doctrine would require definitive assent from the faithful, meaning that the intrinsic connection between the practice of excluding women from ministerial priesthood and another infallibly held revealed doctrine is as clear as belief in the numbering of the sacraments at seven, or the appropriateness of the term "transubstantiation" to describe real presence in the Eucharist.

The progressive Roman Catholic asks the conservatives, if this intrinsic connection is so clear, what revealed doctrine are we not understanding that we cannot see the connection?

The failure of Rome and its supporters to answer this question is the primary reason that dissent continues. Because the Pope has authoritatively held that this doctrine must be held definitely, we now need to address whether progressives are allowed to consider themselves Roman Catholic if they continue to dissent.

In order to determine the extent of dissent, if any, allowed to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, let us turn to Canon Law.

From the Code of Canon Law Promulgated in 1983
Can. 749 §1 In virtue of his office the Supreme Pontiff is infallible in his teaching when, as chief Shepherd and Teacher of all Christ's faithful, with the duty of strengthening his brethren in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act a doctrine to be held concerning faith or morals.
My Own Comments

Canon 749 no. 1 would allow that the Pope is protected by infallibility when proclaiming a doctrine based on his authority as Pontiff. However, it appears that Pope John Paul II is not wishing to state that this is the authority used in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. Rather, the Pope is confirming through the CDF that his letter points to the infallibility in Canon 749 no. 2 below.
§2 The College of Bishops also possesses infallibility in its teaching when the Bishops, gathered together in an Ecumenical Council and exercising their Magisterium as teachers and judges of faith and morals, definitively declare for the universal Church a doctrine to be held concerning faith or morals; likewise, when the Bishops, dispersed throughout the world but maintaining the bond of union among themselves and with the successor of Peter, together with the same Roman Pontiff authentically teach matters of faith or morals, and are agreed that a particular teaching is definitively to be held.
§3 No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless this is manifestly demonstrated.
My Own Comments

Since the Pope is admitting that the content of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis rests on the authority of the ordinary universal Magisterium of the Church, the canons that apply to this opinion would be canon 749 numbers 2 and 3. It is therefore reasonable under number 3 for the theological academy, the bishops, and even the laity to ask whether the conditions for infallibility under the ordinary universal Magisterium of the Church have been satisfactorily met.

Have the bishops, dispersed throughout the world, but maintaining a bond of union among themselves and with the successor of Peter agreed that this particular teaching is to be held definitively?

More than 10 years prior to the issuance of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Bishops and theologians have sought to understand the meaning of canon 749.3 above. In general, theologians suggest that there are least five conditions that must be met to establish a doctrine as infallible under canon 749.3.

1. First, the Bishops must be acting collegially. There must be some level of communication between them, and consistency in the application of the doctrine in their respective faith communities.

2. Second, they must be acting as judges, such that they are free to express their own opinions in order to work to a definition.

3. Third, they must be working in the service of the Church, trying to discern the meaning of Sacred Scripture, Scared Tradition, past Magisterial teaching, and the sensus fidelium. Indeed, Vatican II clarifies that failing to consult the sense of the faithful in a matter of ordinary universal Magisterial infallibility is immoral if the laity could have been consulted.

4. Fourth, the matter at hand must regard faith and morals. The Bishops cannot infallibly decide the moon is made of blue cheese - nor decide suddenly that it correct to condemn Galileo to use a more practical example. Consider that it is likely that all Bishops and Popes prior to the enlightenment thought the earth was the center of the universe. Does this mean that ordinary universal Magisterium taught this infallibly?

5. Finally, there must be a manifest intention of making a definitive statement. Pope Pius XII attempted to meet these conditions by consulting the Bishops prior to declaring the Assumption. Pope John Paul II appears to have ignored the responsibility to meet these conditions. If he did consult the Bishops, he or the CDF has not demonstrated it.

6. Even if all five prior conditions are met, some theologians question whether there are proper objects of definitive assent such that some things can be understood this way as infallible, while other things are off limits to such an understadning. Other theologians question whether definitive assent is even a useful term, since it is less than the full assent to revealed truth. What exactly does it mean when a Catholic does not give definitive assent? Is such a person truly in heresy? Can ordinary and universal Magisterium ever be infallible in the same sense as extraordinary magisterium?

The simple fact is that Pope John Paul II merely asserted that it is his fallible opinion that these conditions had been met. Another simple fact is that it is not manifestly clear to the Church that these conditions have been met.

Unless the Pope can make manifest that these conditions were met, or unless he declares the doctrine ex cathedra, this doctrine cannot be known with certainty to be infallible.
Can. 750 Those things are to be believed by divine and catholic faith which are contained in the word of God as it has been written or handed down by tradition, that is, in the single deposit of faith entrusted to the Church, and which are at the same time proposed as divinely revealed either by the solemn Magisterium of the Church, or by its ordinary and universal Magisterium, which is manifested by the common adherence of Christ's faithful under the guidance of the sacred Magisterium. All are therefore bound to shun any contrary doctrines.
My Own Commentary

It should be clear by now that the debate regarding women's ordination is not over.

However, the tenor of the debate has changed. Now, each theologian who questions the practice of excluding women from ordained ministerial priesthood must defend his or her orthodoxy to some extent. There must be some admission of the possibility that Rome is correct in discerning Christ's will on this issue. Furthermore, at least a portion of the debate now needs to deal with the infallibility issue that was not always addressed in prior discussions of the subject.

Many people on both sides of the debate have quietly criticized the Pope or the CDF for the exact wording of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis or the Responsum Ad Dubium. The conservative who already agreed with the Pope and sincerely wanted the debate to end wish that the Pope had actually used the words ex cathedra and said "we define infallibly" somewhere in the document. Furthermore, they wish Ratzinger had referred to ex cathedra authority verbatim as the papal authority and sense of infallibility being used.

Yet, the conservative will admit that even if the Pope had used these words, they suspect that progressives would find ways to parse the words such that the doctrine would not be accepted by many of the faithful. There is some truth to this assertion, but it is overstated.

Those progressives who are trying to remain to the Roman Catholic communion generally accept on faith that the primacy of Rome is real. As an example of potential progressive acceptance of papal infallibility, if the Pope declared that Mary is co-redemtrix tomorrow, I believe that only those involved in ecumenism would get upset. Many of the faithful have been petitioning Rome for decades to make such a statement. This would be an example of the Pope using papal authority in the service of the People of God.

As early as the 1970's, in the wake of Humanae Vitae, many theologians were carefully considering papal infallibility. Even the most conservative theologians, and many bishops have adopted very nuanced views on papal infallibility that allow a degree of complexity that the lay person is often incapable of understanding without advanced study.

A good study of the issue that can help both sides of the debate gain an appreciate for the complexity of the issue of infallibility without denying its veracity is Francis Sullivan's Magisterium: Teaching Authority in the Catholic Church published in 1983. I also found Sullivan's article in the December 1995 volume 23/30 of The Tablet p. 1646 on Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

Progressives are pleased that the Holy Father did not choose to exercise full papal infallibility in this instance. Yet, the progressives are enraged by Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, because it clearly does teach that the exclusion of women from ordained ministry is to be understood as an infallible doctrine, even if it is not admit that it is through papal authority that we come to know this doctrine.

This does mean politically that progressive bishops, priests, deacons, and even vowed religious such as lay brothers and nuns or sisters need to be extremely careful in speaking about this subject in public at the risk of losing their jobs, as well as their way of life. It means that lay theologians performing academic research or teaching in Catholic funded schools could also lose their jobs for speaking out in dissent.

I am not asserting that people will lose their livelihood over dissent. Many people continue to ask the question. The issue is that as long John Paul II is in office, he could use the letter as grounds for rather severe Magisterial discipline, which would also set future precedent for making the practice seem infallible.

It is not in the best political interest of progressives to push too hard on this issue while Pope John Paul II is alive, even if there are legitimate theological grounds for continuing the debate. As a lay person, I have more freedom to speak up than many religious.

Finally, it means that the less theologically educated will understand the Pope as having actually declared the doctrine ex cathedra, when that is not what occurred.

Politically, this makes it difficult to continue the inquiry or debate, even though there has been nothing really new added to the debate. It could also create a crisis in faith for the laity if the next Pope reverses the decision (which he is still entitled to do). Progressive Roman Catholics see this action of this Pope as a potential abuse of papal power.

On a positive note, conservatives will argue that what the Pope accomplished is that he temporarily united the Church and ended a debate that was becoming too heated. Yet, it is difficult to imagine that the majority of the conservatives would have departed the Church had the Pope ruled the other way.

At any rate, the Holy Father made it perfectly clear to everyone that he really does not feel authorized to ordain women, and he made it clear to the bishops that he does not want to be pushed into a corner on this issue. In effect, he said to the bishops, "Do not force me to decide, because you may not like my decision based on the way I am leaning."

The Holy Father also issued a challenge to his supporters to be more vigilant in providing him better reasons for why he feels as he does, which he may not fully understand himself.

At the same time, by not exercising true ex cathedra papal infallibility, he has allowed the discussion to resume more openly after his death. In the meantime, he is strongly suggesting that there is further work that can be done by progressives in truly listening to the bishops and reflecting more humbly on conservative theological research.

Bottom Line: Can we withhold assent?

The answer to this question is that if you believe that the Bishops have held through their ordinary universal Magisterium an intentional, carefully considered, definitive and collegial belief that this doctrine is the infallible and irreformable practice of the Church, and you believe that there is an intrinsic connection between this practice and other revealed doctrines infallibly held by the Church, then you must give definitive ascent to this doctrine.

If this describes your view, you can help the Pope in two ways.

First, you can help by demonstrating how this doctrine can be known to be held through the current ordinary universal Magisterium.

Second, you can help by demonstrating the intrinsic connection between this doctrine and other infallibly revealed of the Church.

In other words, you should be able to explain to the progressive in convincing terms not only that the doctrine is true, but also why Christ would want it that way.

On the other hand, if you believe that the Bishops carefully and prayerfully considering all the evidence presented thus far, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, would admit that they have only ordained men for centuries out of unconsidered, careless, or unintentional cultural conditioning, and that more than a third of them today would refuse to deliberately define this doctrine as infallible or irreformable, than you owe Ordinatio Sacerdotalis the same level of ascent, respect, and obedience you might give to Humanae Vitae.

You can legitimately ask if the conditions of infallibility have been met and request that Rome make the intrinsic connection between this doctrine and other infallibly revealed doctrines manifest.

Holding such a position does not place you outside the Church in and of itself.
All the faithful, both clerical and lay, should be accorded a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and freedom of expression [Gaudium et Spes, no 62.]
Even though faith is above reason, there can never be any real disagreement between faith and reason, since it is the same God who reveals the mysteries and infuses faith, and who has endowed the human mind with the light of reason. God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever be in opposition to truth. [First Vatican Council, Session I, Chapter 4]
Duties of the faithful regarding the magisterium
Canon 212, § 1. The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the sacred pastors, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the Church.
Canon 212, § 2. The Christian faithful are free to make known their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires to the pastors of the Church.
Canon 212, § 3 . In accord with the knowledge, competence and preeminence which they possess, the Christian faithful have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and they have a right to make their opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard for the integrity of faith and morals and reverence towards their pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons.
The academic freedom of theologians
Canon 218. Those who are engaged in the sacred disciplines enjoy a lawful freedom of inquiry and of prudently expressing their opinions on matters in which they have expertise, while observing a due respect for the magisterium of the Church.
My Own Commentary

I am writing this entire essay under my understanding of canon 212.3. I believe that I have not only the right, but also the duty to manifest my opinion on this matter to my pastor and to other Christian faithful.

I have emailed my bishop and pastor regarding my inability to give definitive assent to this doctrine, and I have taken the matter of my inability to give definitive assent to this doctrine to a Confessor, and explained that I was posting my questions on the internet.

I humbly admit that my conscience may be misinformed, and there may be some critical point I am overlooking. The Pope may be absolutely correct, and I am simply not understanding something, or he may have done the right thing for the wrong reasons, which the Church will later correct. After careful research, the following questions remain unanswered in my mind:

1. What is the intrinsic connection between the exclusion of women from ordained ministerial priesthood and another infallibly revealed doctrine? How can I know with reasonable certitude that the exclusion of women from ministerial priesthood is the will of Christ?

2. How has it been manifestly demonstrated that the ordinary universal Magisterium has collegially come to the conclusion that the exclusion of women from ordained ministerial priesthood is to be definitively held? How can I be certain that this doctrine is part of the deposit of faith?

3. Assuming the first two questions have been answered satisfactorily, how can we demonstrate to women feeling a call to priesthood, or to non-believers invited to examine our faith, that the exclusion of women from ordained ministerial priesthood is not a violation of the principles set forth in Gaudium et Spes no. 29?

4. Also, assuming that the first two questions can be answered satisfactorily, how are we to interpret the exclusion of women from ordained ministerial priesthood in such a way that we admit that a woman is called to act in the person of Christ as a baptized Christian? How are women to imitate Christ?

5. How are we to interpret Scriptural passages referring to women deacons, elder women/prebyteresses, and apostles in such a way that we can demonstrate to non-Catholic Christians that we are faithful to the principles of Dei Verbum number 10, that indicate that the Magisterium is not above Scripture?
This teaching office is not above the word of God, but serves it, teaching only what has been handed on, listening to it devoutly, guarding it scrupulously and explaining it faithfully in accord with a divine commission and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it draws from this one deposit of faith everything which it presents for belief as divinely revealed. (DV 10)
6. How are we to rightly understand what was signified and what occurred during the imposition of hands by a Bishop on a deaconess according to canon 15 of the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon? Furthermore, can the office of deaconess be restored even if women cannot be ordained to ministerial priesthood?

Peace and Blessings!

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posted by Jcecil3 12:44 PM

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