I am sure that many of you who are locals saw
WCCO Channel 4's report Monday night on the issue of women's ordination. While the story was certainly better than I thought it would be, the information that it implicity or explicitly stated as factual was quite inaccurate by the Church's own understanding. Most obviously this was seen in the continued use of the terms "ordained" "priest" and "deacon" as accepted truth instead of prefaced with "claims to be a priest" or similar. In Catholic teaching, it makes no difference if someone wants to be a priest or calls themself a priest, they are not a priest unless they are male and a validly ordained bishop, who traces his apostolic succession back to the Apostles and therefore Christ Himself, ordains them so. A man can walk around and claim all he wants that he is a mother, but saying it doesn't make it so -- only a woman who has conceived in her womb *is* a mother. So is a married man who tells single women he is a bachelor - if he is married he is married, if he is not he is not. It cannot change by virtue of his words or desires alone.
To assert that these women *are* priests/bishops/whatever is incredibly irresponsibile on the part of WCCO.
The primary question in my thinking today, however, in the "aftermath" of this little foray by the mass media into our Church's doctrines, regards the relation of Magisterial infallibility to the teaching that reserves priestly ordaintion to men alone -- many people question whether or not the teaching by Pope John Paul II that only men can be ordained priests is truly "infallible" teaching. Along with this is the basic question of what does infallible mean? And can infallible statements ever be changed?
I need to preface this by the disclaimer that I am not a theologian... I welcome responses and criticisms of this, as it is my own personal understanding... definitely not infallible!! :) My main goal in this is to help me deepen my own understanding of all this, if anything in here helps someone else think about it that's good too!
Many of us understand that there are three levels of Church teaching - dogma, doctrine, and discipline. Only discipline is not infallible revealed teaching, and can be changed by proper ecclestiacal authority (for example, the position of the priest during Mass, or the abstaining from meat on Fridays). Dogma and discipline have "levels of infallability" of a sort, in that neither one can be denied by any Catholic - both dogmas and doctrines must be assented to. Both are infallible in that they have been the teaching of the Church from the deposit of faith that is the Revelation from God, or that they have a connection with it. Dogma is doctrine that has been specifically defined as being infallibile ex cathedra by the Pope or by a council. Thus, all dogmas are doctrines, but not all doctrines are dogmas. Doctrines which are not dogmatic do not have the same kind of infalliblity attached to them -- in other words, the level of our assent that is required, as Catholics, varies. Doctrines, however, are still to be infallibly held by all, in virtue of the ordinary Magisterium's (bishops and pope) teaching of them as such, but not necessarily in virtue of the extraordinary Magisterial proclaimation which grants dogmatic status to a doctrine. Again, all dogmas are doctrines, but not all doctrines are dogmas.
The ordination of women has been almost universally held by the Church as false theology, and it has always been taught as such. Sects which attempted to ordain women in the early Church were condemned as heretical. No pope or council has ever taught, or even suggested, that women can or should become priests. In fact, it was only very recently (as John Paul II mentioned in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) that it has even been a subject of discussion. Now, in recent decades, it has emerged as a debate that needs resolution by the Church, perhaps in a similar way that the early Church had a need to resolve the nature of Jesus Christ as both true God and true man. Some of us may wish that John Paul would have spoken more absolutely and clearly about the matter, using all the flowery language he could muster to make it abundantly clear that it is as infallible as Pius XII's words on the dogma of the Assumption, but for reasons known only to John Paul and God Himself, he would seem to have used the strongest language he could use without actually claiming that level of extrodinary Magisterial infallibility.
Practically speaking, what it boils down to is that the faithful have been told "definitively" in a papal document that the Church "has no authority whatsoever" to ordain women, and (on a follow-up by the CDF) that this must be held "always, everywhere, and by all" as such -- this teaching is thus moved to the category of requiring assent, on a level with the teaching of the seven sacraments -- that is weighty indeed!
Theoretically speaking, there is room to quibble with John Paul's language and argue about the level of infallibility, but one would be on very shaky ground to claim that this teaching really can be substantially changed in the future. An equivalent argument of this would be the argument that the Church could one day declare that she has been wrong all along and there are really only six sacraments. I suppose until it is dogmatically defined as such, it is theoretically possible to argue this, since it is not dogmatic, but why bother? Remember, dogma is only defined when the doctrine is challenged. Nothing new is added, nothing "changes" in the Church's teaching -- and infallible doctrine and dogma are "irreformable" as now-Pope Benedict affirmed of the impossibility of women's ordination.
So the long and short of it, as I see it, is that the reservation of Holy Orders to men is not an infallible dogmatic teaching made by a pope ex cathedra or by a council, but it is a teaching that is to be infallibly held by all the faithful because it is an infallible teaching according to the ordinary Magisterium of the Church throughout the ages. It has been written by John Paul II in strong language that the Church has no authority to ordain women, and that this must be held "always, everywhere and by all."
Can someone ask hypothetically whether this could be changed? I suppose so, if you only consider the technical details of John Paul's written proclaimation. But when you consider that it, like many other doctrines, has indeed been continually taught as infallible (and not questioned until now) and that countless other theological teachings and Biblical background stand behind it, it becomes clear that to "change" it would cause a domino effect that would, sooner or later, contradict established dogma. If anyone can find documentation that there has been in the past un-answered episcopal leaders of the Church who taught women's ordination, then show them to me. I can't find them -- instead, everyone is arguing from the "theoretically speaking" standpoint.
Conclusion? It seems to me that the teaching of male ordination is considered infallible, while John Paul's declaration of the teaching isn't. Therefore, I argue that the teaching of the reservation of ordination to men alone is something that is both A) infallible, and B) can not in practice change in the future - two separate statements, and neither of which have anything to do with John Paul's specific declaration as being itself infallible or not (or with the fallible CDF's responses). "Rome has spoken, the case is closed" as far as Catholics on earth are concerned, and we leave it to God, with His soverign right, to sort out all the quibblings of infallible language, or to inspire a future pope to make a dogmatic definition.
Whew. Now feel free to tear me apart. :)
For reference, here are some links that I have used, and that pertain to this discussion:
2) Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (JPII, 1994, Apostolic Letter "On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone") - the big one, the one that settled the question... yet didn't.
Key quote: "Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. 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. Luke 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" (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4).
3) Responsum ad Dubium 28 October, 1995 (Response by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith regarding the infalibility of the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis)
Key quote: 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.
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the ordinary session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.
Note -- observe that the use of the phrase "in the present circumstances" does NOT have any implications for "future change," as some have claimed. It is used in much the same way that the Bible uses the word "until" (ie, Matthew 1:25, "[Joseph] knew her not until she had borne a son"). It is a neutral statement that simply states what is going on right now, and makes no future claim.
Also note -- under no circumstances can the CDF, or any other solo bishop (apart from the pope) or group of bishops (apart from the calling of a dogmatic council) ever proclaim anything infallibily - so this is a technically fallible proclaimation, that clarifies and affirms the prior infallible teaching of the Church. Confused yet? Sorry!
4) Decree on Attempted Ordination of Some Catholic Women (Dec. 21, 2002, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, then-Cardinal Ratzinger)
Quote: "...they formally and obstinately reject a doctrine which the Church has always taught and lived, and which was definitively proposed by Pope John Paul II, namely, "that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women" (Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, n. 4). The denial of this doctrine is rightly considered the denial of a truth that pertains to the Catholic faith and therefore deserves a just penalty (cf. cann. 750 §2; 1372, n. 1 CIC; John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Ad tuendam fidem, n. 4A).
Moreover, by denying this doctrine, the persons in question maintain that the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff would be binding only if it were based on a decision of the College of Bishops, supported by the sensus fidelium and received by the major theologians. In such a way they are at odds with the doctrine on the Magisterium of the Successor of Peter, put forward by both the First and Second Vatican Councils, and they thereby fail to recognize that the teachings of the Supreme Pontiff on doctrines to be held definitively by all the faithful are irreformable."
4) Lumen Gentium (Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Vatican II)
Quote: 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 infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. (Section 25)
5) Jimmy Akin speaks out with a blog post on the nature of papal infallibility
Interesting insight that details just what is infallible about Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and what isn't (basically, that the teaching is, but the declaration isn't) Some interesting comments below his original post as well, that open up many areas of debate.
6) Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: Infallible Teaching?
A good overview of information on what infallible teaching is or entails, argues that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis does meet the criteria for infallibility. I do caution a little on this source, I am not familiar with this writer or his reputation (and he does not offer counter-arguments or refutations).
7) Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: a definition ex cathedra
Argues that the Pope did, after all, make a ex cathedra statement, using an interesting approach. I am not sure if it truly overcomes the problems as outlined by Jimmy Akin and others, but it is interesting to consider:
Quote: But the Report which explains PA [Pastor aeternus] does not say that a "definition" must necessarily be the new explicitation of the implicit: "[T]he word 'defines' signifies that the Pope directly and conclusively pronounces his sentence about a doctrine which concerns matters of faith and morals and does so in such a way that each one of the faithful can be certain of the mind of the Apostolic See, of the mind of the Roman Pontiff; in such a way, indeed, that he or she knows for certain that such and such a doctrine is held to be heretical, proximate to heresy, certain or erroneous, etc., by the Roman Pontiff."6 Thus John Paul II has defined the non-ordination of women by attaching the note definitive tenendam to this doctrine. According to the instruction Donum veritatis of the CDF of 1990, this expression signifies the assent which is due to what is necessarily connected to the revealed. The note definitive tenendam is therefore the positive form of the note erronea long attached by popes to propositions which cannot be held without implicitly denying a truth of divine faith. John Paul II has therefore made a definition ex cathedra insofar as he has put an end to a dispute by attaching the theological note in its negative form to a doctrine whose theological note had been debated (of faith or not? irreformable or not? purely disciplinary or not? etc.) for several years... One should note what John Paul II did not say in the decisive passage of OS. He did not say "we confirm that this judgment has already been definitively proposed by the ordinary and universal magisterium." The decisive passage of OS does not bear on this question which is in the domain of "dogmatic facts." Rather he declares a divine thing (or an act of Christ) and he declares that this thing is definitive tenendam. Through the context provided by Pastor aeternus of Vatican I, the Report of the Deputation on Faith for Pastor aeternus, LG 25, and the practice of the Church attested to by an event during the Council of Trent and by Pius XI, it is manifest that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis contains an ex cathedra definition.