AUTHORITATIVELY NO-AUTHORITY TO ORDAIN WOMEN . . .
by Fr. Stanley L. Jaki
This time even had to go beyond mere religion to
theology itself and, in fact, to its conceivably most authoritative form,
or papal infallibility. The voice of Rome most authoritatively rang
throughout the apostolic letter () signed by Pope
John Paul II on the Solemnity of Pentecost, May 22nd, and made public on
May 30th. It came to a close with the declaration: "The Church has no
authority whatsoever to confer priestly Ordination on women."
The declaration was so straight and so frontal that it made no sense to
try to make another end run around the Rock. In that august daily such end
runs customarily take the form of soliciting the ever prompt services of
"loyal" dissenters. Not that the "loyal" opposition had not been ready to
assist the anti-Rome crusade of the country's "premier" newspaper. It
seems, however, that the emphatically papal move did not leave any room
for profitably taking against it the high ground of "unprejudiced"
In fact, the first contribution from that "loyal" opposition was a far cry
from theological discourse. The letter of Daniel C. Maguire, professor of
moral theology at Marquette University, to the editor ( June 9th, 1994) contained only a nonacademic blow at a Pope who
goes about his reform by depriving the flock of priests. The bitterness of
the blow may have to do with an indirect impact of the Pope's declaration:
That women shall never be ordained to the priesthood puts an end to the
expectation that the marriage of priests would come on the coattails of
The "loyal" opposition was stunned not only by the fully authoritative
tone of the Pope's declaration but also by its wholly unexpected
character. The Vatican did not leak anything this time. Loyal Catholics,
too, were caught by surprise, and perhaps even by that authoritative tone.
For the first time in his already 16-year- long Pontificate, the Pope, so
fond of the principle of collegiality, did not make use of it. He could
have conceivably waited for the synod to meet this coming October. But he
did not. Obviously, he felt that circumstances called for the exercise of
a ministry which was his alone.
His statement that the Church has no authority to ordain women is indeed
introduced with a reference to that ministry of his: "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 I declare...." No less momentous is
the Pope's emphatic warning that "this judgment is to be definitively held
by all the Church's faithful." Even The New York Times had to admit that
the Pope's words were at least non-fallible, even if not strictly
The reference to the great importance of the matter betrays a sense of
urgency on the part of the Pope. He must have decided that the pressure
for the ordination of women suddenly took on a new aspect. Indeed it did,
when on March 23rd the Anglican bishop of Bristol laid his hands on 32
It is worth noting that Rome did not get ruffled after the American
Protestant Episcopal Church began to "ordain" women in the late 1980s. No
matter of great consequence was seen by Rome in that church's first
"consecration" of a woman bishop in 1992. After all, it would be greatly
illogical for Rome to get worked up about the ordinations of an Episcopal
Church, which officially and emphatically calls itself Protestant. That
there is an enormous difference between a minister and a priest is held
not only by sound Roman Catholics but also by Protestants with some
respect for consistency.
The ordinations in Bristol were a very different matter, because the
Church of England has never officially declared itself to be Protestant.
Indeed, during this century the Church of England has been undergoing a
distinctly Catholic process. After Pope Leo XIII had declared that
Anglican ordinations were invalid, several Church of England bishops had
themselves reconsecrated either by Orthodox or by Old-Catholic prelates.
Today, every Church of England bishop can trace his episcopal consecration
to one or the other of those reconsecrations. This is why Pope Paul Vl
reopened the question of Anglican orders. This is why as late as last
November, Pope John Paul II accepted a chalice from Dr. Carey as a token
of a future reunion. And this only a day after Dr. Carey had declared in
Rome that he fully supported the ordination of women!
Rome did indeed go to the most extreme lengths in showing ecumenical
goodwill. Rome was willing to adopt tactful privacy in repeating the
warning which Paul Vl had given to Dr. Ramsey, the first archbishop of
Canterbury to visit Rome in 400 years. Then Paul VI said nothing less than
that the prospects of reunion would come to naught were the Church of
England ever to ordain women. This warning made no impact on Dr. Ramsey,
who, following his visit, told newsmen that he would not be surprised if
women would eventually be ordained in the Church of Rome. Nor was Dr.
Coggan, Ramsey's successor, any better impressed after he had received, in
1975, in the form of a letter from Paul VI, the official word about the
Catholic position on the ordination of women. John Paul II begins his
apostolic letter by quoting from that letter of Paul Vl: The "living
teaching authority" of the Catholic Church "has consistently held that the
exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan
for His Church."
The swiftness with which Rome now put the matter beyond any doubt stands
out against the relative slowness of another pontifical act which was also
triggered by a move of the Church of England. On the last day of 1931,
Pope Pius Xl issued the encyclical It is best remembered
for its rejection of contraception as something inherently immoral. What
triggered the encyclical was the declaration, a full year and a half
earlier, in August, 1930, by the Anglican bishops' Lambeth Conference that
in special circumstances contraception was not sinful. The declaration was
the first by a Christian church to throw the door ajar, however slightly,
on contraception. Unlike now, Rome then waited a year and a half. This
time, two and one-half months were enough!
In 1930, the Church of England was the established religion of a world
empire, with enormous cultural and social influence. In 1994, the Church
of England is still globally influential in at least one sense: It is the
only Protestant church with an impressive semblance of Catholicism which
it displays over much of the globe through its 60 million or so
communicants. It therefore can seduce a great many Catholics into thinking
that Catholicism is possible in an Anglican fashion: with all the
spiritual comfort which all those sacred rituals can give, but without
significantly curtailing the individual's freedom in matters of faith and
especially in sexual morality.
The best summary of the Church of England is that it is the consummate
form of "mimic Catholicism." Hence Rome's concern. As in the biological
world, in the spiritual realm, too, mimicry is a most alluring instrument
of survival and expansion. To put that label "mimic Catholicism" on the
Church of England will lose its apparent rudeness as soon as one
identifies the one who coined it, John Henry Newman. He did so in the
context of a series of 12 lectures he delivered in London between April
and June, 1850. The general title of his lectures, "Certain Difficulties
Felt by Some Anglicans in Catholic Teaching," reveals those whom he wanted
to reach above all. They were his former comrades-in-arms in the Oxford
Movement, soon to be known as Anglo-Catholics, who failed to follow him
into the Catholic Church. To them, Newman said nothing less than that it
was impossible to be Catholic and Anglican at the same time, because the
Church of England was essentially Protestant. Anglo-Catholics reluctant to
recognize this were, so Newman warned them, putting their eternal
salvation in jeopardy.
The lectures were in part triggered by the failure of the Anglican
hierarchy to stand up, shortly before Newman gave those lectures, on
behalf of baptismal regeneration, or the very Catholic doctrine that
Baptism imparts a new, a supernatural nature. About that failure of
"dogmatic nerve" Newman showed in those lectures that it was but part of a
long chain of similar failures, a chain amounting to a sinister inner
logic at work within Anglicanism. And he laid down the truth with no words
minced, among them his cry that "the Establishment is a wreck...." A
prophetic anticipation of the spiritual wreckage that looms large at a
time when England has barely completed the celebrations of the 500th
anniversary of the birth of its most lecherous and perfidious monarch,
Plain words once more had their desired effect, although not as humans
would like to have their desires fulfilled. Newman himself hoped that most
of the hundreds of Anglo-Catholics who attended the lectures would make
the move he urged on them. Only a few listened in such a way as to
recognize the futility of an illusion: to remain as Catholics within the
Church of England. Among the few were Henry Manning and James Scott Hope.
Manning gave up the almost complete certainty of becoming the archbishop
of Canterbury. Hope, although the most prominent lawyer in the House of
Lords, had to face subtle forms of social disgrace for the rest of his
Catholic Newmanists, and especially "ecumenists," have long tried to keep
the lectures, now reprinted as under cover or to
dismiss them as a momentary deviation on Newman's part. This was an
element of their technique to present Newman as one who was always a
Catholic rather than a Roman even as a Roman Catholic. Consequently, they
had to give a strange twist to what the Oxford Movement was truly about.
In doing so, they gave great comfort to Anglican specialists on the
movement. All of them tried to avoid
No wonder. The lectures are Newman's most authentic portrayal of the real
driving force of the Oxford Movement. It was a movement inherently and
inevitably directed toward Rome as its only fulfillment. The lectures are
also his most trenchant unfolding of the inner logic of the Church of
England. The logic is an irresistible trend toward naturalism-to put in a
nutshell Newman's elaborate claim argued throughout the lectures.
On seeing the naturalism of feminism gain full hold of the Church of
England, Newman would today refer to those lectures, long out of print and
long ignored even by those most in need of it, namely, the Anglo-Catholic
clergy. The lectures represent Newman's prophetic foresight at its
strongest, his anxiety for the salvation of Anglo-Catholic souls at its
keenest, and his theology of the notes of the true Church at its most
persuasive. For the last five lectures deal with the notes of the true
Church, with two of those lectures devoted to the note of holiness! It is
in these lectures that Newman first went into print with his great cry:
"Let my soul be with the saints!"
Any failure of nerve, any shortcoming within the Church of England, caused
Newman great sadness. But he knew that those failures had to happen. He
knew that divisions among Christians had to come so that the true Church
may be seen all the more vividly.
He was never an optimist. He had a tragic sense of history, including
ecclesiastical history. He was never swayed by the lure of "progress."
This is why he was at loggerheads with Lord Acton, the darling of
"liberal" Catholics in England and elsewhere. And this is why, during
these last 30 years or so, no stone has been left unturned by some
"leading" Newmanists to present a theologically "civilized" image of him.
This effort reached, sadly enough, its high point during the celebrations
of the centenary of his death in 1990.
Even the exodus of Anglo-Catholic clergy, which is now reaching a
stampede, may fail to impress those Newmanists. But they come and go as do
all fashions. The true Newman remains and looms larger with every passing
decade. For he always took the long view which he saw tied to the
"cathedra sempiterna." This concise and moving testimony of his on behalf
of Peter's Chair has been added to this new edition of Newman's lectures also constitute a most enlightening
answer to the difficulties felt by many Catholics in these increasingly
troubled ecclesiastical times.
(This new edition of entirely reset from the
final edition made by Newman, is available from Real View Books, with a
long introduction by the present writer who also provided brief notes on
the 60-some Anglican theologians mentioned by Newman. Real View Books is a
subsidiary of the American Council on Economics and Society, 34152 Doreka
Dr., Fraser, Mich., 48026. Only prepaid orders [$9.95] are accepted. The
price includes free postage.)
This article was taken from the June 30, 1994 issue of "The Wanderer,."
201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107.