Statement By Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland

Author: Archbishop Weakland


(The following is the text of a statement by Archbishop Rembert G. Weakland, May 31, 1994, on the pope's apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.)

In his apostolic letter to the bishops of the world dated May 22, 1994, the Holy Father has declared that the question of the ordination of women is no longer open to debate. In this he has certainly disagreed with my position that the issue should be left open because of the unresolved theological questions involved, and because of the pastoral problems which would result from an untimely closing of the doors on the issue. I certainly will be obedient to this command.

Yet, in a spirit of filial loyalty, I must also express my own inner turmoil at this decision. I know that in the long run my obedience will result in a deepening of my faith, but I state sincerely that it will not be done without much sacrifice and inner searching.

As a a bishop I will have to ponder what the phrase, "this judgment is to be held definitively," means in terms of its demands on the faithful. This terminology is not traditional in the Catholic church.

I note that the Holy Father has avoided the word "infallible." Moreover, it would seem that, in saying that this teaching must be held "definitively," he is declaring that his judgment in this regard must be adhered to with some degree of assent of faith. His intentions, however, are clear: on this issue the debate is closed.

Yet, as a bishop I would not be loyal to the Holy Father if I did not again point out the pastoral problems I now will face in my archdiocese. These have to be the object of my concern because many will be confused and troubled, discouraged and disillusioned.

For example, what effect will this declaration have on so many women and men, especially younger women and vowed religious, who still see this question as one of justice and equality, all protestations to the contrary notwithstanding?

How, as a bishop, am I to deal with the anger and disillusionment which will inevitably result? What can I do to instill hope in so many women who are now living on the margins of the church?

What effects will this declaration have on theologians who are still concerned about the theological underpinnings of the pope's teaching? Will they be able to express honestly their concerns? Will adherence to this judgment of the Holy Father be a requisite for teaching as a Catholic theologian?

What effects will this declaration have on those men and women for whom the issue of the way in which the church exercises its authority is already a problem? Many are still wrestling with Humanae Vitae, and thus have difficulty accepting that a single person alone can decide what they must in faith accept. Are they now to be put against the wall, as it were, over this issue?

Lastly, what effects will this declaration have on ecumenical dialogue? Since full communion among the churches ultimately must include the mutual recognition of ministries, will this declaration mean that full communion is ruled out with all except the Orthodox churches?

The Orthodox churches may agree with the pope on the question at hand, but are usually shocked when the pope teaches the bishops but does not speak in union with them.

The Holy Father has certainly thought of these consequences. Since this document is more dogmatic in tone, his pastoral concern may not be immediately obvious. We must trust that the Holy Father is sensitive to the reactions this declaration will cause. We must also trust that, in his pastoral concern, he will help us face the difficulties which this declaration will pose for the faith of many.

His remarks that the presence and role of women in the life and mission of the church are absolutely necessary and irreplaceable could lead to a fresh and new look at the question of jurisdiction and ministry.

As we all move ahead to ponder and understand this teaching, I realize that it will be a difficult moment for many here in the archdiocese. I hope that those who find it so will let me accompany them on that journey, as painful as it might be.

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