Vatican Ban on Women Priest Is Infallible

Author: Paul Likoudis

Vatican Ban on Women Priest Is Infallible

by Paul Likoudis

Challenge Magazine January, 1996

Determined to put a stop to a three decades long campaign waged by dissenting theologians and renegade religious to open the Catholic priesthood to women, the Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith released a statement November 18 saying the Church's traditional ban on women priest "requires definitive assent...(and) has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium."

The teaching that the Church possesses no authority to ordain women, declared the letter, "is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of faith."

The letter, signed by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation, was accompanied by a cover letter insisting that bishops "will do everything possible to ensure its distribution and favourable reception, taking particular care that, above all on the part of theologians, pastors of souls, and religious, ambiguous and contrary positions will not again be proposed."

Invoking the word "infallible" in the letter, explained Father Augustine DeNoia, a theological advisor to the US Bishops, means that "to teach the contrary is equivalent to leading consciences into error."

For the ordinary Catholic, the so-called "person in the pew" who has to read women's ordination agitprop in his parish bulletin, the young student who is required to believe in women's ordination as a pre- requisite for Confirmation, the seminarian who must agree women should be ordained as a requirement for continuing his studies, this Vatican letter will come as a great support.

For, now he can tell women's ordination advocates that they are not Catholic. For, as those on both sides of the battle agree, the essence of this recent statement is that those who will not accept Church teaching on ordination are not Catholic.

The Pope is not only "aiming to shut the door on debate about women's ordination" as Catholic New Service reporter John Thavis wrote from Rome, but he has made it clear that dissenters on the issue are out of the Church.

One of North America's most prominent dissenting theologians, Father Richard McBrien of Notre Dame university realized this immediately, as he told the New York Times: "If the pope wants us to believe that the prohibition against the ordination of women is a matter of divine law and divine faith such that the denial of this teaching is a heresy, then that puts everyone who disagrees outside the Church. Is that what is being said?

Precisely, says Archbishop J. Francis Stafford of Denver. The issue of women's ordination has been explored exhaustively, and now "it is time to move on.

"The Church's teaching is definitive, and has been set forth infallibly by formal declaration. It will not and cannot change. Therefore, for those who see with the eyes of faith, the matter is resolved."

This is an opportunity for Catholics who dissent from Church teaching to "go back and see where they made the wrong turn," commented Helen Hull Hitchcock of Women for Faith and Family, "and to deepen their understanding of Church teaching.

"It offers people a chance to jar themselves loose from the cause of women priests, because the Church has finally used its highest authority to proclaim the doctrine. Many people may actually come back to the Church now that the Holy See has decaled that if you reject the Church's teaching on the priesthood, you have put yourself out of the mainstream...The full implication of this statement is that if we don't accept the Church on priesthood, we aren't Catholic anymore."

While many theologians such as McBrien, Father Francis Sullivan at Boston College and Monsignor William Shannon in Rochester, NY, berated the Vatican and accused it of forcing good people out of the Church, Dr. Joyce Little, a theologian at St. Thomas university in Houston, said that those who encouraged women to believe they could be ordained if only enough pressure were put on the Vatican have a lot to answer for.

In a spirited, week-long debate on CompuServe's Catholic On Line, Little maintained there is no reason for anyone to be disappointed in the Vatican ruling, since the Vatican has never given the slightest reason for anyone to expect a change on its men-only policy.

"Rome has always been up front about this," she wrote. "Neither the Pope nor Ratzinger nor anyone representing either of them ever gave anyone, anywhere, any reason to expect anything other than what has happened. In fact, anyone who read Ordination Sacerdotalis carefully already knew that the Pope had declared this practice to be, at the very least, irreformable. (What, after all, do people imagine ‘definitively' means?)"

If expectations were cruelly raised, she added, they were raised, she added, they were raised by dissenting bishops, priests, theologians and professors who for a generation have taught successive waves of students that the Church would ordain women-sometime in their lifetimes.

And when bishops and others speak of the grieving faithful, Little asked, "Where were they when all of these American Catholics were being led down the garden path on this one? It is all fine and dandy for bishop (Anthony) Pilla, (the new president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops), to ask American Catholics reverently to accept this teaching as definitive, but what were the bishops doing, both before and especially after Ordination Sacerdotalis, to enable American Catholics to accept this?

"Where were the priests, the theologians, the catechist?...I think the sowing of that confusion was in very many instances unconscionable and the responsibility for that confusion and the ensuing grief is one for which many will be held accountable, if not in this life, then in the next."

Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN