One cannot simply resort to the past - Tidningen Kulturen




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On Pentecost of 1994, Pope John Paul II summarized, in the apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” the outcome of a series of previous magisterial statements (including “Inter Insigniores”), concluding that Jesus has chosen only men for the priestly ministry. Therefore “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women. This judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”




The historical fact of the exclusion of woman from the priesthood because of the “impedimentum sexus” is undeniable. Nevertheless, already in 1948, and therefore well ahead of the disputes of the 1960’s, Fr. Congar pointed out that “the absence of a fact is not a decisive criterion for concluding prudently in every case that the Church cannot do it and will never do it.”

The statement was a clear word for those who maintained that the refusal of priestly ordination for women could be discussed. Nonetheless, some time later, following the problems raised not so much by the doctrine as by the force with which it was presented, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented with a question: can “ordinatio sacerdotalis” be “considered as belonging to the deposit of the faith?” The answer was “affirmative,” and the doctrine was described as “infallibiliter proposita,” meaning that “it must be held always, everywhere, and by all the faithful.”

Difficulties with the answer’s reception have created “tensions” in relations between magisterium and theology over the connected problems. These are pertinent to the fundamental theology on infallibility. It is the first time in history that the congregation explicitly appealed to the constitution “Lumen Gentium” no. 25, which proclaims the infallibility of a doctrine that is taught as definitively binding by the bishops dispersed throughout the world but in communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter.

Moreover, the question touches upon the theology of the sacraments, because it concerns the subject of the sacrament of Orders, which traditionally is indeed man, but this does not take into account the developments that the presence of woman in the family and in society has undergone in the 21st century. This is a matter of ecclesial dignity, responsibility, and participation.

The historical fact of the exclusion of woman from the priesthood because of the “impedimentum sexus” is undeniable. Nevertheless, already in 1948, and therefore well ahead of the disputes of the 1960’s, Fr. Congar pointed out that “the absence of a fact is not a decisive criterion for concluding prudently in every case that the Church cannot do it and will never do it.”

Moreover, another theologian adds, the “consensus fidelium” of many centuries has been called into question in the 20th century above all on account of the profound sociocultural changes concerning woman. It would not make sense to maintain that the Church must change only because the times have changed, but it remains true that a doctrine proposed by the Church needs to be understood by the believing intelligence. The dispute over women priests could be set in parallel with other moments of Church history; in any case, today in the question of female priesthood the “auctoritates,” or official positions of the magisterium, are clear, but many Catholics have a hard time understanding the “rationes” of decisions that, more than expressions of authority, appear to signify authoritarianism. Today there is unease among those who fail to understand how the exclusion of woman from the Church’s ministry can coexist with the affirmation and appreciation of her equal dignity.”

In the judgment of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” therefore, not only should the infallibility and definitiveness of John Paul II’s “no” to women priests be brought into doubt, but more important than this “no” are the “developments that the presence of woman in the family and society has undergone in the 21st century.”

These developments - the reasoning of the magazine continues - now render incomprehensible the “rationes” for prohibitions “that, more than expressions of authority, appear to signify authoritarianism.”

“One cannot always resort to the past, as if only in the past are there indications of the Spirit. Today as well the Spirit is guiding the Church and suggesting the courageous assumption of new perspectives.”

And Francis is the first “not to limit himself to what is already known, but wants to delve into a complex and relevant field, so that it may be the Spirit who guides the Church,” concludes “La Civiltà Cattolica,” evidently with the pope’s imprimatur.

 

Giancarlo Pani, S.J.

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