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Joined: 10/24/2008
Posts: 21

Priesthood and the Nature of Men and Women

2/24/2010 10:55:31 PM
Contentious issues are, by definition, difficult to talk about. And, typically, there are two possible solutions to them. Ignore the issue, pretend it isn’t there for the sake of “peace and civility.” (The old, “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.”) Or do the more difficult but also more fruitful task of admitting that the controversy is there and allowing it mold us into more informed, more mature human beings.

The Catholic priesthood being reserved to men only is one of a number of contentious issues in our time, but it’s also something that I think we can learn more about the mind of God from and, for that reason, should attempt to do so. Those who were in Tim’s group last night were not privy to the discussion on this issue that began in Tom’s group. At one point, Tom discontinued the discussion and I understand and respect his reason for doing so. But I am hoping that he won’t mind further dialogue on the matter in this forum. (Assuming, again, that anyone besides he and myself still come around here and read any of these posts. :-)

In May of 1994, Pope John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter declaring that the Church has no authority to ordain women as priests. It’s not that the Church doesn’t want to or “feel like it” at this time. It’s that it can’t. It doesn’t have the power to. There are certain spiritual things over which the Church has “custody”, or stewardship and others which come directly from the mouth of God and thereby are what they are and cannot be changed by ANYONE up to and including the Pope himself. This is one of them. The manner in which John Paul spoke in this letter distinctly sounded like an infallible pronouncement to many people, and so many thought (and still think) that this was an infallible ex-cathedra pronouncement (a.k.a. dogma).

Well, what John Paul was teaching was in fact dogma. But dogma comes to us in more ways than just ex cathedra pronouncements from the Pope. This issue of the male only priesthood is one great example. In 1976, Pope Paul VI signed off on a document entitled “Inter Insigniores” written by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that declared that the reservation of the priesthood to men only was a matter of the Church’s constitution. That is to say that it is something that is a part of the Church’s “big T” tradition, or, in other words, something that has always been and always will be because it has been expressly ordained by God to be that way. It cannot change.

Effectively, when Pope John Paul came along 20 years later and declared in his own letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, that this teaching was to “be definitely held by all the faithful”, his assertion did not qualify as an infallible pronouncement ONLY BECAUSE the dogma had already been put forth (“pronounced”) by what we call the “ordinary magisterium”, or teaching authority, of the Church. Pope John Paul was simply taking a teaching that was already a dogma and clarifying for those who still, for whatever reason, had missed it or were not sure that indeed, the priesthood is reserved to men alone as a matter of divine and, therefore, inalterable will.

Faced with this reality, we have a choice to make. Call this dogma into question anyway and, by doing so, make all of the rest of the Church’s dogmas up for grabs, thus unraveling the entire core of the Christian faith. OR…We can accept this truth, even if we don’t understand it fully, and attempt to understand why it’s there.

Scripture is very clear about God’s ways not being our ways and vice versa. And it also makes clear that while some parts of the Christian faith are readily accessible to human reason (Rom. 1:18-23), other parts simply cannot be understood without the aid of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:14-16). There is a reason why men alone are allowed to be priests just as there is a reason why women alone are allowed to bear children. Men and women are different. Different talents, different skills, different orientation toward life. Different, but also complementary. I think it's worth understanding and appreciating those differences.

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is available here:

Inter Insigniores is available here:

(You may have to cut and paste the links into your browser.)

And Scott Hahn apparently has a good talk on the issue as well, whose title I do not recall at the moment. As soon as I figure it out (Ed, are you around?) I will post it here as well.

May God bless and enlighten us all,

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