Friday, June 16, 2006

David C. Steinmetz vs. Popes John Paul II & Benedict XVI With Regard to Female Catholic "Priests"

I was fascinated by an article I recently came across in The Detroit Free Press (10-14-05), entitled, "Allow married priests amid shortage?," by David C. Steinmetz, a professor of church history at Duke Divinity School (Durham, N.C.). Steinmetz is a respected scholar in his field, and author of acclaimed books such as Calvin in Context (Oxford University Press, 1995) and Luther in Context (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2nd edition, 2002). The latter is part of my own library, and I have found it quite helpful and highly informative (I want to purchase the other one soon, too).

This is a person, then, who can presumably be counted on to advance an informed opinion about issues in the Catholic Church, such as the priest shortage (mostly confined to western Europe and North America, by the way) and what to do about it. Yet, remarkably enough, in this article, Dr. Steinmetz stated:

The pope could, of course, authorize the ordination of celibate women, but that is the least traditional, and therefore, the least likely solution to his problem.
He is right about it being "the least likely solution." But the full truth of the matter is that this hypothetical scenario is not only unlikely but impossible, according to the magisterium of the Catholic Church, which has already long since spoken on the matter. The late great Pope John Paul II made it very clear - crystal clear, in fact - that women would not and could not be ordained as priests in the Catholic Church, in his Apostolic Letter of 22 May 1994, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis ("Priestly Ordination"). This is a relatively short document which I would urge anyone interested in the subject to read (I linked to it in the previous sentence). Here are the key passages for my present purpose:

1. Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches.

When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican Communion, Pope Paul VI, out of fidelity to his office of safeguarding the Apostolic Tradition, and also with a view to removing a new obstacle placed in the way of Christian unity, reminded Anglicans of the position of the Catholic Church: "She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his Church."(1)

[(1) Paul VI, Response to the Letter of His Grace the Most Reverend Dr. F.D. Coggan, Archbishop of Canterbury, concerning the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood (November 30, 1975); AAS 68 (1976), 599.]

But since the question had also become the subject of debate among theologians and in certain Catholic circles, Paul VI directed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to set forth and expound the teaching of the Church on this matter. This was done through the Declaration Inter Insigniores, which the Supreme Pontiff approved and ordered to be published.(2)

[(2) Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration Inter Insigniores on the question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (October 15, 1976): AAS 69 (1977), 98-116.]

2. The Declaration recalls and explains the fundamental reasons for this teaching, reasons expounded by Paul VI, and concludes that the Church "does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination."(3)

[(3) Ibid., 100.]

To these fundamental reasons the document adds other theological reasons which illustrate the appropriateness of the divine provision, and it also shows clearly that Christ's way of acting did not proceed from sociological or cultural motives peculiar to his time. As Paul VI later explained: "The real reason is that, in giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her theological anthropology - thereafter always followed by the Church's Tradition - Christ established things in this way."(4)

[(4) Paul VI, Address on the Role of Women in the Plan of Salvation (January 30, 1977): Insegnamenti, XV (1977), 111. Cf. Also John Paul II Apostolic Exhortation Christifideles laici (December 30, 1988), n. 51: AAS 81 (1989), 393-521; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1577.]

. . . 3. Furthermore, the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the universe.

. . . 4. 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. 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.
There are many arguments over the precise level of authority of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis ("how many angels on the head of a pin?"-type academic technicality stuff). In any event, however, the doctrine discussed is firmly entrenched in Sacred Tradition, not able to be reversed or overthrown, and is binding on the Catholic faithful, including (even) theologians. That is made very clear in the document itself, wholly apart from all the (often sophistical) disputes (". . . preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, . . . in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate," etc.).

Beyond that, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI), clarified this matter in a commentary about a month after Ordinatio was released:

In view of a magisterial text of the weight of the present Apostolic Letter, inevitably another question is raised: how binding is this document? It is explicitly stated that what is affirmed here must be definitively held in the Church, and that this question is no longer open to the interplay of differing opinions. Is this therefore an act of dogmatizing? Here one must answer that the Pope is not proposing any new dogmatic formula, but is confirming a certainty which has been constantly lived and held firm in the Church. In the technical language one should say: here we have an act of the ordinary Magisterium of the Supreme Pontiff, an act therefore which is not a solemn definition ex cathedra, even though in terms of content a doctrine is presented which is to be considered definitive. In other words, a certainty already existing in the Church, but now questioned by some, is confirmed by the Pope's apostolic authority. It has been given a concrete expression, which also puts in a binding form what has always been lived.

("The Limits of Church Authority," L'Osservatore Romano [English Edition] 26 , June 29, 1994, 7)
Moreover, the document Responsum ad Dubium, Concerning the Teaching Contained in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
(headed by then-Cardinal Ratzinger) on 28 October 1995. It stated:

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.
The present pope made it even more clear that dissent from this teaching was not an option, in his "Cover Letter to Bishops' Conference Presidents" (8 November 1995; my bolded emphases):

The publication in May 1994 of the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was followed by a number of problematic and negative statements by certain theologians, organizations of priests and religious, as well as some associations of lay people. These reactions attempted to cast doubt on the definitive character of the letter's teaching on the inadmissibility of women to the ministerial priesthood and also questioned whether this teaching belonged to the deposit of the faith.

This congregation therefore has judged it necessary to dispel the doubts and reservations that have arisen by issuing a responsum ad dubium, which the Holy Father has approved and ordered to be published (cf. enclosure).

In asking you to bring this responsum to the attention of the bishops of your episcopal conference before its official publication, this dicastery is confident that the conference itself, as well as the individual bishops, will do everything possible to ensure its distribution and favorable 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.
Again, on 7 December 1995, Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI), wrote in his letter, "Concerning the CDF Reply Regarding Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" (bolding added):

. . . The Pope's intervention was necessary not simply to reiterate the validity of a discipline observed in the Church from the beginning, but to confirm a doctrine "preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents," which "pertains to the Church's divine consitution itself" (n. 4). In this way, the Holy Father intended to make clear that the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved solely to men could not be considered "open to debate" and neither could one attribute to the decision of the Church "a merely disciplinary force" (ibid).

. . . Certainly, the understanding of the reasons for which the Church does not have the power to confer priestly ordination on women can be deepened further. Such reasons, for example, have been set out already in the Declaration Inter Insigniores (October 15, 1976), issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and approved by Pope Paul VI, and in a number of the documents of John Paul II (for example, Christifideles Laici, 51; Mulieris Dignitatem, 26), as well as in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, No. 1577). But in any case it cannot be forgotten that the Church teaches, as an absolutely fundamental truth of Christian anthropology, the equal personal dignity of men and women, and the necessity of overcoming and doing away with "every type of discrimination regarding fundamental rights" (Gaudium et Spes, 29). It is in the light of this truth that one can seek to understand better the teaching that women cannot receive priestly ordination. A correct theology can prescind neither from one nor from the other of these doctrines, but must hold the two together; only thus will it be able to deepen our comprehension of God's plan regarding woman and regarding the priesthood - and hence, regarding the mission of woman in the Church. . . .

. . . With respect to its foundation in Sacred Scripture and in Tradition, John Paul II directs his attention to the fact that the Lord Jesus, as is witnessed by the New Testament, called only men, and not women, to the ordained ministry, and that the Apostles "did the same when they chose fellow workers who would succeed them in their ministry" (n. 2; cf. 1 Tim. 3:1ff; 2 Tim. 1:6; Tit. 1:5). There are sound arguments supporting the fact that Christ's way of acting was not determined by cultural motives (cf. n. 2), as there are also sufficient grounds to state that Tradition has interpreted the choice made by the Lord as binding for the Church of all times.

Here, however, we find ourselves before the essential interdependence of Holy Scripture and Tradition, an interdependence which makes of these two forms of the transmission of the Gospel an unbreakable unity with the Magisterium, which is an integral part of Tradition and is entrusted with the authentic interpretation of the Word of God, written and handed down (Dei Verbum, 9 and 10). In the specific case of priestly ordination, the successors of the Apostles have always observed the norm of conferring it only on men, and the Magisterium, assisted by the Holy Spirit, teaches us that this did not occur by chance, habitual repetition, subjection to sociological conditioning, or even less because of some imaginary inferiority of women; but rather because "the Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord's way of acting in choosing the twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church" (n. 2).

. . . In response to this precise act of the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, explicitly addressed to the entire Catholic Church, all members of the faithful are required to give their assent to the teaching stated therein. To this end, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of the Holy Father, has given an official Reply on the nature of this assent; it is a matter of full definitive assent, that is to say, irrevocable, to a doctrine taught infallibly by the Church. 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.

[ . . . ]
Therefore, it isn't possible within Catholic self-understanding for women to be ordained as priests. Why, then, does Dr. Steinmetz think it is possible, even if exceedingly unlikely? Wishful thinking perhaps (Methodism, his own denomination, ordains women as ministers)? Hope overcoming dogmatic (unpopular) fact? How much clearer must something be made in order for those who take a different view to understand the position of the Catholic Church?

Remember, this was not simply Dr. Steinmetz's own opinions expressed in the article cited, but (in the sentence under consideration) his take on "options" in the Catholic Church (i.e., possible within that system, not his own), so that he wrote: "The pope could, of course, authorize the ordination of celibate women . . ."

This is simply untrue; no pope can do this, because it is contrary to Catholic Tradition and the magisterium, to which he is (unlike Luther and Calvin) himself bound, and the present pope and his venerable predecessor have reiterated this in the most unmistakable terms. Dr. Steinmetz might (I respectfully submit) benefit from also writing a book called Women's Ordination in the Context of the Catholic Magisterium. Just as he would rightly, justifiably desire that we better understand Luther and Calvin (aided by his excellent books) , so we Catholics think it would be nice if our ecclesiology and structures of dogma and authority weren't virtually parodied in articles by professors, intended for mass consumption in major newspapers.


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