By Fr. Kyle Schnippel
In our discussion of Inter Insigniores, we have so far examined why the teaching needed to be emphasized, as well as some of the Biblical roots for the teaching.
As we continue, two questions arise: is the attitude of Jesus and the Apostles important, and does this attitude have a permanent value? Some traditions, like requiring women to wear veils, have been changed, while others, especially those related to sacraments, have permanent value and cannot be changed. For example, the Church cannot change from using bread and wine in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. Pope Paul lifts up that the all-male hierarchical priesthood is not merely functionary, but also has a sacramental sign-value, which is much deeper than merely a conventional sign: "This norm, based on Christ's example, has been and is still observed because it is considered to conform to God's plan." An all-male priesthood is accepted as God's design; therefore the Church lacks the power or right to change it. For the priesthood is a connection not only for the community of believers themselves, but also a connection to the history of our salvation in Christ. The priesthood is, in fact, the way the community of believers is connected to The Event of our salvation, Christ's Crucifixion. Pope Paul surmises:
In the final analysis it is the Church, through the voice of her Magisterium, that, in these various domains, decides what can change and what must remain immutable. When she judges that she cannot accept certain changes, it is because she knows that she is bound by Christ's manner of acting. Her attitude, despite appearances, is therefore not one of archaism but of fidelity: it can be truly understood only in this light. The Church makes pronouncements in virtue of the Lord's promise and the presence of the Holy Spirit, in order to proclaim better the mystery of Christ and to safeguard and manifest the whole of its rich content.
The changing of the question back to one of fidelity to the promise that Christ has given allows for a freedom for the Church to continue to grow in our awareness of how Christ continues to lead and guide His Church through the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Pope Paul VI's hope that this document would quiet the movement for women's ordination in the Catholic Church went unfounded. As the movement progressed in the various Christian sects, there were renewed calls for this question to be reexamined in the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II addressed the question in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (On the Reserving of Priestly Ordination to Men Alone (1994)). In this document, the Holy Father quotes extensively from his predecessor, but adds the following:
Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.
Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) 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's faithful. (4)
In matters of such a strong statement, recourse must be made to see what implications this wording has for the faithful. Then-Cardinal Ratzinger issued a clarifier that this definitively settled the question of women's ordination for the Catholic Church. The dogma of Papal Infallibility, decreed at the First Vatican Council, and reaffirmed at the Second Vatican Council in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium:
In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra.
... And therefore [The Pope's] definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment.
...To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting. (LG 25)
Over the last thirty years, the teaching of the Church on this subject has been necessarily clarified due to the confusion among the faithful. To this teaching, we are to gladly give our assent.
Fr. Kyle Schnippel is the vocations director for the diocese of Cincinnati, Ohio.