"Infallibility" and Equality in Catholicism

by Christine Schenk csj

I have been asked to respond to an article which appeared in the New York Times a week ago stating that Cardinal Ratzinger of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith had interpreted the teaching on the non-ordination of women as “infallible.” I have consulted with several theologians and as nearly as I can understand, this appears to be somewhat of an overstatement. Cardinal Ratzinger’s statement seeks to place the teaching about the non-ordination of women within the “deposit of faith” rather than as part of Church discipline which many theologians have maintained. Fr. Richard McCormick of Notre Dame, speaking on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” says many theologians believe that the Vatican has failed to show any evidence that this teaching on women in the priesthood has been handed on as part of the deposit of faith over the centuries. “Many of us believe there has not been such a teaching because they weren’t conscious of gender for those periods of time the way we are today.” The statement reiterates that the teaching is definitive and part of the ordinary magisterium. I will leave the arguments about the levels of authority to others more versed than I in this regard. Suffice it to say that the “clarification” stunned many respected theologians insofar as it appeared to be trying to extend an infallibility claim more broadly than heretofore experienced in the family of Catholicism. Until now, infallibility was seen to be exercised only in ecumenical councils, by the Pope formally teaching “ex cathedra,” and by all of the Bishops of the world in union with the Pope. In all of these.. “the assent of the Church can never be lacking to such definitions on account of the same Holy Spirit’s influence through which Christ’s whole flock is maintained in the unity of the faith and makes progress in it” (Lumen Gentium 25).

Some facts:

1. Ratzinger’s statement was issued on the eve of the presentation of 1.8 million signatures from German Catholics asking that ordination be opened to married people and women, that sexuality be celebrated as a gift, that the laity participate in the selection of bishops and that married people be consulted and included in teachings about sexual morality. The German media interpreted Ratzinger’s statement as a “preemptive strike” to the press conference announcing the signatures.

2. Over the summer, Austrian Catholics collected over 500,000 signatures attached to the same petition. Austrian Bishops permitted the petitions to be distributed in their parishes.

3. Also over the summer, Archbishop Maurice Couture of Quebec promised to take the results of a clergy-laity synod asking to reopen the question of women’s ordination to Rome.

4. In November of 1995, (a month before the Vatican’s statement was issued) a Czechslovakian woman, Ludmilla Javorova confirmed that she had been ordained to the priesthood in the early 1970s by Bishop Felix Davidek in the clandestine Czech Catholic Church during the communist era. She acted as vicar general to the Bishop and stated that she and several other women were ordained to serve the needs of imprisoned women, particularly women religious who had no access to the Mass or the sacraments. Until now Javarov was reluctant to make her priesthood public because she saw it as strictly confined to an emergency situation. This decision however so disturbed her peace of mind that she decided to reveal the details. She claims to know the names and addresses of other ordained women who now live in Slovakia. She told the British weekly The Tablet (11/11/95) that she had explained all the circumstances of her ordination to Pope John Paul II in a letter, but had not received a reply.

5. 43% of all parishes worldwide have no priest at all according to figures found in the 1988 Vatican directory. More women are functioning in ministerial roles than ever before. In fact according to CatholicTrends…1,068 of the world’s parishes are entrusted to nuns and 1,614 to lay people (in contrast to 1978 when 464 were entrusted to nuns and 458 to lay leaders, both men and women.)

6.Three years ago 140 U.S. dioceses (out of a total of 17l) reported that the ban on women¹s ordination was the issue sparking the most controversy at local hearings leading up to the planned women’s pastoral. In 1993, 110 U.S. Bishops voted successfully against the draft pastoral letter containing the ordination ban. In June of 1995 12 U.S. Bishops, with the tacit support of many others, objected to the Vatican’s publishing of a 1994 statement against the ordination of women “without any prior discussion and consultation with our (NCCB) conference.” Lastly, Cardinal Ratzinger communicated the present statement to the head of the NCCB three hours after the close of their four-day meeting November 13-16, with no advance warning and no opportunity for the Bishops to discuss it among themselves and provide input or reaction. The present statement was not sent individually to every bishop, contrary to the customary procedures for such important matters.

7. In mid October 1995, the Canon Law Society of America issued the results of a three year study which showed no canonical obstacles to the ordination of women to the permanent diaconate.

8. At least three polls by Gallup, Time-Life and others have shown that U.S. Catholics also favor the ordination of women by 61-67% depending on which poll is being cited. A recent Irish poll also showed a majority of Catholics in favor of opening ordination.

9. In 1976 the Vatican’s own Pontifical Biblical Commission found nothing in Scripture which would prohibit the ordination of women.

10.On July 10, Pope John Paul issued a letter of apology to women for sexism in the Church, even while reiterating the teaching about the non-ordination of women. He also wrote: “As far as personal rights are concerned, there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights and the recognition of everything that is part of the rights and dutues of a citizen in a democratic state…..This is a matter of justice but also of necessity. Women will increasingly play a part in the solution of the serius problems of the future.”

Some conclusions and some questions:

* It appears that the Vatican is being deluged with faithful Catholic people who, far from having “doubts” about the teaching on the non-ordination of women, are in fact actively in favor of ordaining them.
* Could this issue have more to do with Church politics than with theology? Given the fact that there is a Eucharistic famine all over the world because of the priest shortage, wouldn’t it make more sense for our leadership to be thinking about who they can include in the priesthood rather than who they want to leave out?
* Presuming that Catholics must accept the non-ordination of women, what will the all male church heirarchy do to actively implement women’s equality (which they are always so careful to say they support) in the church? Where are the women Cardinals? How may qualified women participate in the selection of the next Pope? What dioceses will be open for qualified women to govern, much as the medieval abbesses functioned as Bishops?
* Vatican officials delight in saying that women are “different but equal.” Unfortunately,only men have defined this kind of “equality.” Women have been forbidden to join the conversation, and when they do try to offer a different theological perspective based on recent biblical scholarship, efforts are made to brand them as heretics. “Equality” seems to mean that male Catholics are equally entitled to make the rules and female Catholics are equally entitled to obey them.
* Somehow, I can¹t believe that this was what Jesus had in mind when he commissioned Magdalen to go and tell her fellow apostles that He had, indeed, risen from the dead.

Where does this leave us?

We must continue to struggle for women¹s equality in the family of Cathlicism.

To my brothers-in-Christ, apparently so fearful of change, I say..Be not afraid! With Paul the apostle, we Catholic women acknowledge that we too, have the Spirit of God who leads us into all Truth.

And to my sisters-in-Christ I say…Be of good cheer! Jesus is indeed risen, and that resurrection power to transform sexist structures, and convert even the hardest of hearts will not fail us!

We must witness to the Jesus of Scripture whose behavior in favor of women’s equality so scandalized the patriarchy of his times that they sought to smear his reputation and discredit him, much as the patriarchy of our times seeks to discredit Catholic female theologians today.

We must witness to the Jesus who was also rejected by the leaders of his religious tradition yet instead of abandoning it with hatred, sowed sweet seeds for the transformation of hearts and the salvation of a people.

We must witness to the Jesus who prayed for his persecutors even in the midst of crucifixion, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

In these difficult times, to be faithful Catholic women and men, we must make this prayer of Jesus our own even as we struggle for that equality into which we have been baptized: “For there is no longer Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female..for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).


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Optional Celibacy Survey Results

Optional Celibacy Survey Results

Survey results by diocese of priests responding to the question:
Do you favor an open discussion of the mandatory celibacy rule for diocesan priests? (for more detailed results and available comments from priests click on each diocese).
Diocese Priests Responding Yes No Unsure
Albany 69 of 243 [28%] 62% 35% 3%
Baltimore 93 of 238 [39%] 65% 32% 3%
Belleville 55 of 159 [35%] 71% 25% 4%
Boston 321 of 1524 [21%] 66% 28% 5%
Buffalo 162 of 550 [29%] 66% 23% 11%
Cincinnati 174 of 542 [32%] 67% 29% 4%
Cleveland 114 of 500 [23%] 64% 32% 4%
Columbus 83 of 238 [35%] 60% 36% 4%
Covington 34 of 93 [37%] 53% 47% 0%
Detroit 160 of 768 [21%] 70% 24% 2%
Denver 78 of 292 [27%] 58% 37% 5%
Dubuque 101 of 222 [45%] 56% 40% 4%
El Paso 29 of 104 [28%] 72% 17% 10%

Fort Wayne-South Bend 28 of 109 [26%] 36% 64% 0%
Fort Worth 40 of 109 [36%] 60% 30% 10%
Fresno 34 of 114 [30%] 56% 41% 3%
Gallup 15 of 85 [18%] 60% 40% 0%
Gaylord 15 of 78 [19%] 67% 27% 7%
Grand Rapids 30 of 135 [22%] 61% 35% 0%
Green Bay 106 of 329 [32%] 77% 21% 2%
Harrisburg 19 of 91 [21%] 32% 63% 5%
Indianapolis 51 of 166 [31%] 84% 16% 0%
Kalamazoo 16 of 69 [23%] 38% 50% 13%
LaCrosse 93 of 223 [42%] 55% 42% 3%
Lansing 49 of 185 [26%] 68% 26% 4%
Las Cruces 24 of 75 [32%] 76% 12% 8%
Las Vegas 23 of 77 [30%] 87% 13% 0%
Los Angeles 121 of 965 [13%] 70% 23% 4%
Madison 81 of 162 [50%] 62% 30% 7%
Marquette 13 of 101 [13%] 50% 31% 0%
Monterey 42 of 134 [31%] 57% 40% 2%
Oakland 126 of 301 [42%] 84% 13% 2%
Oklahoma City 46 of 121 [38%] 57% 39% 4%
Orange 40 of 164 [24%] 68% 25% 8%
Paterson, NJ 77 of 299 [26%] 74% 23% 3%
Philadelphia 128 of 900 [14%] 47% 50% 3%
Phoenix 100 of 304 [33%] 77% 19% 4%
Providence 123 of 400 [31%] 51% 46% 2%
Pueblo 26 of 84 [31%] 69% 23% 8%
Raleigh 44 of 155 [ 29%] 79% 16% 5%
Rochester 102 of 294 [35%] 69% 22% 10%
Sacramento 66 of 215 [31%] 73% 24% 3%
Saginaw 29 of 120 [24%] 77% 16% 0%
San Bernardino 62 of 258 [24%] 75% 17% 6%
San Diego 71 of 329 [22%] 73% 24% 3%
San Francisco 104 of 319 [33%] 68% 26% 6%
San Jose 66 of 184 [36%] 70% 23% 8%
Santa Fe 75 of 203 [37%] 68% 31% 1%
Seattle 68 of 290 [23%] 79% 16% 4%
Steubenville 30 of 57 [53%] 57% 40% 3%
Stockton 23 of 72 [32%] 48% 48% 4%
Superior 50 of 89 [56%] 67% 33% 2%
Syracuse 132 of 312 [42%] 73% 20% 6%
Toledo 78 of 210 [37%] 77% 22% 1%
Tucson 64 of 193 [33%] 70% 27% 3%
Venice 51 of 164 [31%] 73% 18% 10%

source: FutureChurch

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A Brief History of Celibacy in the Catholic Church

First Century
Peter, the first pope, and the apostles that Jesus chose were, for the most part, married men. The New Testament implies that women presided at eucharistic meals in the early church.

Second and Third Century
Age of Gnosticism: light and spirit are good, darkness and material things are evil. A person cannot be married and be perfect. However, most priests were married.

Fourth Century
306-Council of Elvira, Spain, decree #43: a priest who sleeps with his wife the night before Mass will lose his job.
325-Council of Nicea: decreed that after ordination a priest could not marry. Proclaimed the Nicene Creed.
352-Council of Laodicea: women are not to be ordained. This suggests that before this time there was ordination of women.
385-Pope Siricius left his wife in order to become pope. Decreed that priests may no longer sleep with their wives.

Fifth Century
401-St. Augustine wrote, “Nothing is so powerful in drawing the spirit of a man downwards as the caresses of a woman.”

Sixth Century
567-2nd Council of Tours: any cleric found in bed with his wife would be excommunicated for a year and reduced to the lay state.
580-Pope Pelagius II: his policy was not to bother married priests as long as they did not hand over church property to wives or children.
590-604-Pope Gregory “the Great” said that all sexual desire is sinful in itself (meaning that sexual desire is intrinsically evil?).

Seventh Century
France: documents show that the majority of priest were married.

Eighth Century
St. Boniface reported to the pope that in Germany almost no bishop or priest was celibate.

Ninth Century
836-Council of Aix-la-Chapelle openly admitted that abortions and infanticide took place in convents and monasteries to cover up activities of uncelibate clerics.
St. Ulrich, a holy bishop, argued from scripture and common sense that the only way to purify the church from the worst excesses of celibacy was to permit priests to marry.

Eleventh Century
1045- Benedict IX dispensed himself from celibacy and resigned in order to marry.
1074-Pope Gregory VII said anyone to be ordained must first pledge celibacy: ‘priests [must] first escape from the clutches of their wives.’
1095-Pope Urban II had priests’ wives sold into slavery, children were abandoned.

Twelfth Century
1123-Pope Calistus II: First Lateran Council decreed that clerical marriages were invalid.
1139-Pope Innocent II: Second Lateran Council confirmed the previous council’s decree.

Fourteenth Century
Bishop Pelagio complains that women are still ordained and hearing confessions.

Fifteenth Century
Transition; 50% of priests are married and accepted by the people.

Sixteenth Century
1545-63-Council of Trent states that celibacy and virginity are superior to marriage.
1517-Martin Luther.
1530-Henry VIII.

Seventeenth Century
Inquisition. Galileo. Newton.

Eighteenth Century
1776-American Declaration of Independence.
1789-French Revolution.

Nineteenth Century
1847-Marx, Communist Manifesto.
1869-First Vatican Council; infallibility of pope.

Twentieth Century
1930-Pope Pius XI: sex can be good and holy.
1951-Pope Pius XII: married Lutheran pastor ordained catholic priest in Germany.
1962-Pope John XXIII: Vatican Council II; vernacular; marriage is equal to virginity.
1966-Pope Paul VI: celibacy dispensations.
1970s-Ludmilla Javorova and several other Czech women ordained to serve needs of women imprisoned by Communists.
1978-Pope John Paul II: puts a freeze on dispensations.
1983-New Canon Law.
1980-Married Anglican/Episcopal pastors are ordained as catholic priests in the U.S.; also in Canada and England in 1994.

Popes who were married

St. Peter, Apostle
St. Felix III 483-492 (2 children)
St. Hormidas 514-523 (1 son)
St. Silverus (Antonia) 536-537
Hadrian II 867-872 (1 daughter)
Clement IV 1265-1268 (2 daughters)
Felix V 1439-1449 (1 son)

Popes who were the sons of other popes, other clergy
Name of Pope Papacy Son of
St. Damascus I 366-348 St. Lorenzo, priest
St. Innocent I 401-417 Anastasius I
Boniface 418-422 son of a priest
St. Felix 483-492 son of a priest
Anastasius II 496-498 son of a priest
St. Agapitus I 535-536
Gordiaous, priest
St. Silverus 536-537 St. Homidas, pope
Deusdedit 882-884 son of a priest
Boniface VI 896-896 Hadrian, bishop
John XI 931-935 Pope Sergius III
John XV 989-996 Leo, priest

Popes who had illegitimate children after 1139
Innocent VIII 1484-1492 several children
Alexander VI 1492-1503 several children
Julius 1503-1513 3 daughters
Paul III 1534-1549 3 sons, 1 daughter
Pius IV 1559-1565 3 sons
Gregory XIII 1572-1585 1 son

History sources:
Oxford Dictionary of Popes; H.C. Lea History of Sacerdotal Celibacy in the Christian Church 1957; E. Schillebeeckx The Church with a Human Face 1985; J. McSorley Outline History of the Church by Centuries 1957; F.A.Foy (Ed.) 1990 Catholic Almanac 1989; D.L. Carmody The Double Cross – Ordination, Abortion and Catholic Feminism 1986; P.K. Jewtt The Ordination of Women 1980; A.F. Ide God’s Girls – Ordination of Women in the Early Christian & Gnostic Churches 1986; E. Schüssler Fiorenza In Memory of Her 1984; P. DeRosa Vicars of Christ 1988.

Myths and Facts

Myth: All priests take a vow of celibacy.
Fact: Most priests do not take a vow. It is a promise made before the bishop.

Myth: Celibacy is not the reason for the vocation shortage.
Fact: A 1983 survey of Protestant churches shows a surplus of clergy; the Catholic church alone has a shortage.

Myth: Clerical celibacy has been the norm since the Second Lateran Council in 1139.
Fact: Priests and even popes still continued to marry and have children for several hundred years after that date. In fact, the Eastern Catholic Church still has married priests.

In the Latin Church, one may be a married priest if:

* one is a Protestant pastor first; or
* if one is a life-long Catholic but promises never again to have sexual relations with one’s wife.

Myth: The vocation shortage is due to materialism and lack of faith.
Fact: Research (1985 Lilly endowment): “there is no evidence to support loss of faith for less vocations…youth volunteer and campus ministry is rising.”

We believe that priests should be allowed to marry and that
women have an equal right to have their call to ordination
tested along with male candidates.
We believe celibacy is a gift of the Spirit, as is the call to marriage
and the single life. Gifts cannot be mandated, so it is from a deep respect for the gift of celibacy that we request that it be made optional and not forced upon those who do not feel called in this way.

originally developed by Corpus Canada
revision jointly sponsored by Call To Action and FutureChurch

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What’s the deal about legally married priests?

Recently, I’ve heard of cases in Ohio and Texas where Anglican parishes have become Catholic parishes and Anglican priests, who are married, are allowed to become Catholic priests. I didn’t know one could receive a dispensation from celibacy. So my question is, what’s the deal? How can a married Anglican priest become a Roman Catholic priest and remain married? Is he required to obtain a special dispensation? From whom does he receive the dispensation?—A reader.
Since the mid-1970s, the Episcopalian Church in the United States has faced some serious internal turmoil. In 1976, women were ordained as priests, and more recently women have been ordained as bishops. In 1979, the Episcopalian Church revised the using contemporary language as well as adding various liturgical options. Both of these incidents have caused heated debate and even schism. Now there is growing momentum for the celebration of homosexual marriages and the ordination of practicing homosexuals. Please note that I am simply citing events and neither being nosey about another Church’s affairs nor relishing in their problems, especially when we Catholics have enough of our own.
These issues, and probably others as well, prompted some Episcopalian clergy and laity to consider entering the Roman Catholic Church. Most of these individuals would have viewed themselves as “Anglo-Catholic” or “High-Episcopalian,” meaning that their beliefs and liturgical practices were very much “Roman” with the major contention being over the authority of the Holy Father. For example, when I was studying at St. Charles Seminary in Philadelphia, St. Clement’s Episcopal Church advertised having Masses, Confessions, Benediction and Vespers; to attend one of their services was—I hate to say it—at least aesthetically more “Catholic” and reverential than some of the Catholic parishes I have visited.
Nevertheless, various requests about possible admission into the Catholic Church were made to Catholic bishops in the United States, who in turn contacted the Holy Father. In response, Pope John Paul II, through the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a clear although brief statement in June 1980.
First, the Holy See admitted allowing a “pastoral provision,” which would provide “a common identity reflecting certain elements of their own heritage.” Here an entire Episcopalian congregation could enter the Catholic Church and be allowed to remain a parish and use an Anglican-style Catholic Mass with either the traditional language of Archbishop Cranmer’s or the modern English version.
Second, individual members of the Episcopal Church could enter into the Catholic Church on their own initiative. As in accord with the “Decree on Ecumenism” of the Second Vatican Council, this action could be seen as a “reconciliation of those individuals who wish for full Catholic communion.”
Finally, concerning married Episcopalian clergy becoming Catholic priests, “the Holy See has specified that this exception to the rule of celibacy is granted in favor of these individual persons, and should not be understood as implying any change in the Church’s conviction of the value of priestly celibacy, which will remain the rule for future candidates for the priesthood from this group.”
In other words, an ordained Episcopalian minister would make a profession of Faith and be received into the Catholic Church, and thereupon receive the Sacrament of Confirmation. He would then take appropriate courses which would enable him to minister as a Catholic priest.
After proper examination by his Catholic bishop and with the permission of the Holy Father, he would be then ordained first as a Catholic transitional deacon and then as a priest. If the former Episcopalian minister were single at the time of his ordination as a Catholic deacon and then priest, he would indeed take the vow of celibacy. If the married former Episcopalian minister were ordained as a Catholic deacon and then priest, he would be exempt by a special favor from the Holy Father of making the promise of celibacy; however, if he later became a widower, then he would be bound to a celibate lifestyle and could not remarry. In the future, if a lay member of one of these reunited parishes wanted to become a Catholic priest, he would be required to take the promise of celibacy.
The promise of celibacy is waived as a favor to those married clergy, given their particular circumstances and their desire to unite with the Catholic Church. However, the Holy Father has repeatedly affirmed the discipline of celibacy on Roman Catholic clergy of the Latin Rite. (Outside the United States, the Eastern Rites do not require the promise of celibacy except for bishops.)
Pope Paul VI in his encyclical, “Sacerdotalis Caelibatus” (1967) reflected that celibacy is an identification with Christ, who Himself was celibate; an act of sacrificial love whereby a priest gives of himself totally to the service of God and His Church; and a sign of the coming Kingdom of God, where Our Lord said, “In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Mt 22:30).
Here is a good example of the Pastoral Provision in action: Recently, St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in Arlington, Texas, under the pastorship of Father Allan Hawkins became St. Mary the Virgin Catholic Church, with the entire congregation, and Father Hawkins himself, becoming full members of the Catholic Church.
After much agonizing, the entire parish voted to petition Catholic Bishop Joseph P. Delaney about such a possibility in June 1991. The congregation and Father Hawkins were received; now after three years, Father Hawkins has been ordained as a Catholic priest and serves his parish as he did for 14 years as an Episcopalian minister. Father Hawkins noted, “The common journey through trials and difficulties strengthened us. Like the people of Israel crossing the desert, we have at last arrived at our true home; and we have been allowed to bring with us the most valued elements of our common heritage.”
This article appeared in the September 1, 1994 issue of “The Arlington Catholic Herald.” Courtesy of the “Arlington Catholic Herald” diocesan newspaper of the Arlington (VA) diocese.

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