Back in November 1995, the issue of whether Catholic women may be ordained into the priesthood rocketed from an interesting theological and practical issue to an issue which has the potential of shaking the foundations of the Roman Catholic Church. On October 31st, 1995 a letter was promulgated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith which attempted to elevate the whole issue of Womenīs Ordination from one of policy and theologican speculation to a matter ofdefinition of Dogma and obedience. This attempt, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to define new dogma was met with theologial objection and ultimately did not succeed. Itīs effect however went far beyond the question of ordaining women to the Catholic priesthood and the ripples generated by the Cardinalīs attempt stil may be felt within our Church Today.
Some might question our analysis and that certainly is their right. It might also be argued that it was not Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's letter which elevated the issue three weeks ago but rather the 1994 apostolic letter,Ordinatio Sacerdotalis by Pope John Paul II. In this apostolic letter, the Holy Father made it very clear that it was his opinion that the Church of Jesus had no authority to ordain females to the office of priesthood.
At the time that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was first issued, there was theological speculation by theologians that the Holy Father's ban was in the form of an infallible statement. The consensus of most theologians and indeed the official Vatican newspaper was that the ban itself was not promulgated by the Pope as an infallible statement but rather as a most serious but ordinary magisterial document. The Ratzinger letter has changed all that.
Responsum ad Dubium regarding Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (The Ratzinger letter) asserts that John Paul II's ban on ordaining women is definitive and infallible. If this is a correct interpretation then the focus of the issue is at once broadened and shifted. If in factOrdinatio Sacerdotalis proclaims an infallible doctrine, then womens ordination ceases to be an issue where the merits or drawbacks may be argued on the basis of reason and appropriateness. Infallible statements are not argued upon merits or reason. Infallible statements become Catholic Dogma and as such they serve to define who is and who is might not be a member of the Catholic Church. They are argued only upon the authority of the Catholic Church to teach and proclaim the gospel. We see now the hightened scope of the problem. With Responsum ad Dubium regarding Ordinatio Sacerdotalis the issue becomes our understanding of the nature of the Church of Jesus and our acceptence of the doctrine of papal Infallibility.
San Francisco Bay Catholic will attempt, during the coming days, weeks and months, to report the developments and effects that this controversy has upon Catholics in general and Catholic women in particular. Check back here on a regular basis. We will make source documents and analysis available as soon as possible.
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Yours in Christ,