Stifle debate, stifle church

Tony Flannery Website

        Irish Times article

The efforts made by the Vatican to silence discussion on the ordination of women over the past 50 years have been both unsuccessful and unwise. In 1975, Pope Paul VI declared that the Catholic Church “does not consider herself authorised to admit women to ordination”.

This was followed a year later by a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), which stated that the priest is a sign, and for that sign to be perceptible, “a natural resemblance” to Christ is required.

In the Mass the priest acts in persona Christi, and since Christ was male, the priest too must be male. The document concludes with an assertion of its authority: “It is the church, through the magisterium [teaching authority of the church], that decides what can change and what must remain immutable”. In short, “because I say so”.

This did not end the discussion, which continued apace around the church. So in 1994 pope John Paul II attempted to impose a final papal clampdown with his letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis: “I declare that the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church faithful”.

This document, and a follow-up by Pope Benedict, led to a major theological debate in the church as to what is an infallible statement, and what exactly is the status of a judgment that “must be definitely held”.

Because of this, a year later the CDF once again issued a statement. It judged it necessary, it stated, to dispel the doubts and reservations that have arisen by issuing a responsum ad dubium, approved by the pope.

It stated that the teaching on the ordination of women “requires definitive assent, since . . . it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium . . . and that it is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of faith”.
End of debate. Or is it? The doctrine of papal infallibility has caused a lot of soul-searching since it was first declared in 1870 at the first Vatican Council. The most generally accepted theological interpretation is that the pope speaks infallibly only when he is affirming something that is widely held by the Catholic faithful.

In order for that condition to be fulfilled there needs to be widespread discussion at all levels in the church. By laying down a diktat, as John Paul did, that there could be no discussion on this topic, it seems to me that he was attempting to prevent an essential prerequirement for any infallible statement.

And by thinking up this new category of something that must be “definitively held”, the Vatican is trying to give weight to something that has no theological, scriptural, or, indeed, good common sense arguments behind it.

So the debate continues, and grows more pronounced, as women increasingly find their voice in the church and in theology.
Though Pope Francis has said that this door is closed, his consistent call for open discussion and dialogue, and indeed for open doors, has created a climate where the whole issue of women’s place in the church is now centre stage.

Not credible
The argument that the priest, acting in the person of Christ ( in persona Christi), must be male, is no longer credible. Jesus was indeed male, but the risen Christ is equally present in all human beings, in that Christ is beyond race, colour, gender or any other category of exclusion.

We are all one, and equal, in Christ.
The effort by the Vatican to stifle debate, often by using methods that should never be part of the Christian community, is doing enormous damage to the church.
As the equality of women is being recognised as a given in most aspects of life and in most parts of the world, the church’s exclusion is being seen as a throwback to medieval times, and will continue to cause a major exodus of women from the church.

So the debate must continue; it must be free and open, and given as much time as it takes to achieve some form of consensus, so that when a decision on this difficult issue is made it will be generally accepted; and then, and only then, can real consent be given.

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  1. iggy o donovan says:

    Brilliant Tony. You give us all hope.

  2. Mary Vallely says:

    Yes, fair play to Tony Flannery for bravely stating what many ordained men believe but dare not say. Isn’t it a sad state of affairs that so many are afraid to speak out but I suppose Tony now has the freedom to do that as he has nothing more to lose. ( with respect, Tony!) However courage can be contagious and Tony and Brendan among others give us all hope that more will join in the campaign to insist on opening up dialogue on the centuries old unjust treatment of women in the Catholic Church. Funny though that, as a woman, I can say what I think because I have nothing at all to lose. Funny or sad?
    I’m dreaming of all those closets opening up and declarations of, ” I’m Spartacus” and the glorious freedom that would give to also open the closets of minds and hearts to tackle all injustices. I know that many must sigh and groan when the posts here are concerned yet again with gay and gender issues but if we were more open about these issues then the feeding of the hungry, the welcoming of the stranger, the caring for creation etc; would then take the priority they should.
    Sent from my iPad

  3. “I declare that the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the church faithful”.(John Paul II)
    Sorry, no can do. So that’s all the church faithful minus me.

  4. Willie Herlihy says:

    Tony, I concur with Mary Vallely’s statement @2 ‘Yes, fair play to Tony Flannery for bravely stating what many ordained men believe but dare not say’
    As an amateur student of history,it is clear to me that the Catholic Church,morphs in and out of Christianity when it suits its purpose.
    I will limit my discourse to examples from my own life time:
    In my youth God was a tyrant,we were constantly threatened with hell fire and damnation,this was done to control us,it had nothing whatever to do with Christianity.
    The Catholic Church, was the one true Church,at school we were advised not to go into Protestant Churches.
    The Child sex abuse scandal, sees the Catholic Church dispensing with Christianity,in favour of protecting the institution.
    Scripture tells us God’s love is infinite, he loves us all equally,the risen Christ is present in all human beings and that includes WOMEN,yet the Catholic Church ignores  scripture, when it suits its purpose,to defend the last bastion of male domination in the Christian World.
    Finally in the autumn of my years, the Catholic Church has gone full circle,now we are constantly being told God is Love.
    In my opinion the reason for this return to Christianity is, because people are voting with their feet,the law of diminishing returns now applies to our Church.

  5. Soline Humbert says:

    “A document, relevant to the issue of silencing, was produced by the Second General Assembly of the 1971 Synod of Bishops. Entitled Justice in the World . . .It says: “The Church recognizes everyone’s right to suitable freedom of expression and thought. This includes the right of everyone to be heard in a spirit of dialogue which preserves a legitimate diversity within the Church” (JW 44). The importance of this document exceeds the importance of any document produced by a Vatican dicastery because it bears the weight of the world’s bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome. This fact should be noted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF], which has silenced theologians and pastoral workers even after Vatican II. A higher authority than the CDF has validated free expression and public debate on controversial theological issues.
    The full text by Sr Jeannine Gramick is on http://www.churchauthority.org/resources2/gramick.asp

  6. George McGuire says:

    As children (in the 1940’s), we were told is childish terms, that Baptism imparts an indelible mark on the soul and that this Baptism entitles one to participate in the Sacramental life of the Body of Christ — all the sacraments, which must include priestly ordination. It is not a “natural resemblance” to Christ that is the basis for ordination. It is the supernatural oneness in Christ that results from Baptism. Does the nature of Baptism administered to a female child differ from the nature of Baptism administered to a male child? Are “souls” male or female? Vatican theology is conflated with biology.

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