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Thursday, 2 September 2010

Fr Wang on women and the priesthood

Fr Stephen Wang, a priest of the Archdiocese of Westminster who is the Dean of Studies at Allen Hall Seminary, and blogs at Bridges and Tangents, has written a good piece about Women and the Priesthood. This is a difficult subject to write on because although the teaching of the Church is clear, the widespread confusion in our society over gender is a relatively recent phenomenon and reflection on the underlying reason for Christ's ordaining only men is in its infancy.

Therefore I think that Fr Wang has done the right thing in making it clear that Pope John Paul said that he did not have the authority to change this teaching, and to address straightforwardly the question of "cultural conditioning" which is one of the most popular arguments against Catholic teaching. For Catholics, it is also important to understand also that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a response concerning the status of this teaching. Since the text is not at the Vatican website, here it is for you:
Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.

Responsum: In the affirmative.

Responsum ad dubium circa doctrinam in Epist. Ap.“Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” traditam, October 28, 1995. AAS 87 (1995) 1114
Catholic campaigners for the ordination of women have the little joke among themselves of referring to this as the "dubious dubium". There is nothing dubious about it: the dubitation comes from a misunderstanding of infallibility in the Church. Pope John Paul did not issue a definition that would fall under the category the extraordinary magisterium of the Pope. The teaching is already infallible because of the universal ordinary magisterium; a solemn definition would perhaps have undermined the importance of the ordinary magisterium. The teaching is to be held definitively (definitive tenenda) and forms part of the deposit of faith. It is not therefore open to a Catholic theologian to say, for example, that he does not know whether women can be ordained or not.

That being said, it is still important to encourage theological reflection on the underlying reason for the male priesthood in the Christian Church. Fr Edward Holloway, back in 1975, offered a thoughtful approach to the question in his article Sexual Order and Holy Order, published by Faith. He argues that in the overall plan of God, the creation of the human person as male and female finds its ultimate meaning in the incarnation of Christ, born of Mary. Within the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, the priest receives a sacramental character in Holy Order whereby he is configured to Christ. Holloway suggests that this configuration is to the incarnate Christ the High Priest and that consequently, the sexual order of creation must be reflected within the sacrament of Holy Order.

Fr Wang's article has been taken up by the CNN Belief blog generating a very large combox (1,114 comments at the time of writing this post). Many of them are hostile to Catholicism generally and to the priesthood in particular. If you have the time, you might want to go over and join in the debate. I also recommend reporting comments that are genuinely abusive - lively debate and a fair amount of flaming is to be expected in the comments area of a major news outlet but most have posting guidelines. CNN's Terms of Use include:
You agree not to upload, post or otherwise transmit any User Content that is offensive to the online community, including blatant expressions of bigotry, racism, abusiveness, vulgarity or profanity.
It is quite proper to flag a comment when these terms of use have been violated.
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