Sunday, March 25, 2007

Do You Trust the Church?: A Conversation on Women's Ordination and the Role of the Magisterium (part 5.5)

NOTE: This is part 5 of a series on the question of whether the Catholic Church has the authority to ordain women priests. This continued conversation is between myself and Luis Guttierez, Phd., editor of a journal entitled Solidarity, Sustainability, and Non-Violence. The initial post concerning this matter was from February 14 and can be found in the archives for February or by clicking on the following link: . Part 4 was posted on Feb 19. You may also click on the label at the end of this post entitled “Women Priests?” to access these and other related posts. I will again place Luis’ remarks in red, and my responses in blue. I paraphrase previous remarks and statements for the sake of greater brevity. If you would like to see the full context of previous quotations see the earlier posts.

What is a Catholic required to believe?....

"There is no precondition that a magisterial teaching needs to meet any member of the laity’s standards for rationality or logic in order to demand assent. Nor is it required that a teaching result from consultation with the entire church."--CPDT

Regarding the force of the language in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and whether it has settled the matter definitively, Luis wrote:

This means you and I will never see it in our lifetime, but this is not a definition that provides "certainty of faith." Take a look at the dogma of the assumption or any other dogma. It must state that this document is a *definition* that such as such is *revealed truth.* Usually, these definitions are published as "apostolic constitutions" (the highest level of papal teaching), not as "apostolic letters" (the lowest level of papal teaching). This is not simply a matter of terminology. Remember that the Second Vatican Council deliberately refrained from proclaiming any new dogma. Can you find any "apostolic constitution" among the council documents" Can you find any new "definition" in any of the council texts?

I replied:
Even if he was not exercising papal infallibility (see above argument), the Pope may not have felt the need to issue an apostolic constitution because he stated that this conclusion about the Church’s authority to ordain women already “has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium” (Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Ad Dubium).

In any case, are we to adhere definitively to a church teaching only if it is formally defined as a dogma in an apostolic constitution?

Dei Verbum and Lumen Gentium are “dogmatic constitutions” in that they make statements regarding dogmatic matters. Would it be in the spirit of one in communion with the Church to refute and reject those teaching just because they are not apostolic constitutions or council canons?

The Second Vatican Council did not deliberately proclaim a new dogma, does that mean I do not have to adhere to its nuanced teaching on religious liberty (the Declaration on Religious Liberty)? Was that teaching just some unimportant pastoral statement? (In deed, it was such an important teaching that it was one of the predominant reasons for the schism of Archbishop Lefevbre [note: it was the only document that he voted against in the whole Council!]).

Yes, I am aware that Pius XII issued Munificentissimus Deus (defining the Assumption) as an apostolic constitution (as did Pius IX with Ineffabilis Deus--defining the Immaculate Conception).

I am looking at a list of some of the apostolic constitutions that Pope John Paul II issued: Universi Dominici Gregis: On the Vacancy of the Apostolic See and the Election of the Roman Pontiff; Ex Corde Ecclesiae (On Catholic Universities) and Sapientia Christiana (On Ecclesiastical Universities and Faculties) both concern Catholic education; Pastor Bonus deals with the curia organization; Sacrae Disciplinae Leges was issued for the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law. Do these apostolic constitutions have any new dogmas in them?

On the contrary, it is in his encyclicals that Pope John Paul II dealt with more dogmatic matters: the Eucharist and the Church, Faith and Reason, Mariology (Redemptoris Mater), Christology (redemptor hominis), the Holy Spirit, God’s mercy and Confession, social teaching (re labor, etc.), missionary activity of the Church, the dignity of human life (Evangelium Vitae), and Ecumenism.

It is true that many apostolic letters also, like Apostolic Constitutions, deal with non-dogmatic issues or issues of significance to very specific localities (nations, etc.). Browsing through JPII’s apostolic letters we see that he uses them for the beginnings of thematic years (the Marian year, Jubilee year 2000, year of Eucharist), to commemorate anniversaries of Councils, key documents (Sacrosanctum Concilium/Orientalium Dignitas), Church movements, saints, world events, etc (often reasserting previous Church teaching—some of which is dogmatic in nature). He addresses current events (Lebanon in ’89). He promulgates the Catechism; writes of the proclamation of a doctor of the Church (Therese), etc.

Some apostolic letters address the dignity of women, anniversaries of bedrock ecumenical councils, the Christian meaning of human suffering, etc.

I do not know exactly what circumstances lead the Pope to use an apostolic letter, apostolic constitution, or an encyclical—since all of these forms are used for a variety of topics and for a variety of teaching purposes. I have always thought that perhaps letters are issued for teaching that is not as lengthy or detailed (as compared with encyclicals—which are also geared to the entire Church). Of course, apostolic letters can also be addressed to the entire church as well (the letter on the Rosary [announcing new mysteries], Dies Domini, the letters on the thematic years, etc.). Are the apostolic letters used more often to deal with current issues of important in the Church? Dies Domini (On the Keeping of the Lord’s Day) was a response to a current neglect of a traditional moral dogma. Misericordia Dei (on certain aspects of the celebration of the sacrament of penance) was issued to revitalize the practice of the sacrament.

Perhaps JPII wrote on the authority of the church to ordain men only [also an issue addressed to the entire Church] in the form of an apostolic letter because: the treatment did not need to be lengthy enough for an encyclical,… and because the letter was issued in response to a recent controversy. I do not know for sure, that is just a guess.

What I do know is that, regardless of which forms of teaching the pope customarily uses to expound on doctrinal matters, he is not obligated to restrict his teaching function (or even his infallible teaching function) to one form (such as an apostolic constitution).

The dogmatic definition of papal infallibility does not specify the vehicle (type of writing, or a specific formula for definition) through which the Pope teaches ex cathedra. The dogma only states: “when the Roman Pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals. Therefore, such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the Church, irreformable.”

Neither does Lumen Gentium mention any specific vehicles for the exercise of ex cathedra teaching (LG#25). The Pope has no such restrictions: he can teach infallibly in any means he choses—he only needs to meet the specifications stated from Vatican I above.

Regarding what Magisterial teachings require the assent of the faithful, Luis wrote:

Unless I have certainty of faith, I can and should doubt, especially
regarding any pronouncements which are irrational and imposed by force
without consultation with the entire church. Are you old enough to
remember the worldwide consultation, down to the level of people in the
pews, preceding the dogma of the assumption? I was a boy (born 1942),
but I still remember, in my parish in Cuba (San Juan de Letrán, Vedado,
Havana, Cuba) the priests urging everyone to sign under either "yes" or
"no" a petition as to whether or not the dogma should be defined.
Believe me, when Pope Pius XII went into St Peter's basilica on 1
November 1950, there was *no doubt" as to what he intended to do.

I replied:

There is no precondition that a magisterial teaching needs to meet any member of the laity’s standards for rationality or logic in order to demand assent. Nor is it required that a teaching result from consultation with the entire church. Just because a teaching is an exercise of God-given authority does not mean that it is “imposed by force.” You are free to believe or not… but being in communion with the Church requires believing—that is the nature of any authority (whether we are talking about the authority of Scripture, of the Magisterium, etc.). Regarding doctrines taught through papal infallibility, Lumen Gentium states: “his [the pope’s] definitions are …irreformable by their very nature and not by reason of the assent of the Church…they are in no way in need of the approval of others, and do not admit of appeal to any other tribunal” (LG#25).

I was born in 1977, so I did not live through this extraordinary time. I have, however, read Pius XII’s definition so I am familiar with the process (Munificentissimus Deus #8-11). This was a case where many of the laity petitioned their bishops and the Holy See to proclaim this dogma. Unlike the case with the divine maternity (Ephesus) the pronouncement was not made by the Holy See as a result of some controversy about Mary, the Church, or the Last Things, etc. …it was a traditional belief and there was a genuine groundswell of demand that the teaching be explicitly defined.

Of course you know that it is not true that a pope necessarily MUST consult with the bishops or the laity before exercising papal infallibility or teaching at any level. Bishops are infallible when they teach in an ecumenical council—and they usually do not consult the lay faithful in such cases.

Besides, the Assumption is a completely different matter because there was a record of belief in the Assumption stretching back centuries (Tradition—writings of the Fathers)… there was a practical display of the Church’s belief in Tradition (a liturgical feast day in both the East and the West)… and the dogma can be supported through Scripture. None of these can be said of women priests.

In addition, the Pope was asking the bishops if they themselves and their people believed this. Actually, he asked whether the bishops “judged that the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin could be proposed and defined as a dogma of faith” and he added “do you, with your clergy and people, desire it?." In order to assess the matter, your bishop “polled” the parishes. That is fine, however, I do not think he had to do that… he could have just gauged what his people believed/desired and told the Pope. I wouldn’t interpret what your bishop did as some kind of democratic vote by the people as to whether they thought this dogma should be proclaimed.

Regarding who interprets the sign of the times, Luis wrote:

No, the entire church (everybody, everywhere) must be involved in the
discernment process.

I replied:

I agree, but see my comments above [post 5.3?] regarding the slippery topic of determining what the sense of the faithful is. Also, the entire Church needs to step up its knowledge of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture and be able to sufficiently think with the mind of Christ and not just the mind of secular society (seeing everything as politics).
By the way, the entire church (everybody, everywhere) would include places like Africa, which would not be too open to the idea of women’s ordination. I am not sure if this discernment process would ever transcend stand-offs and come to any conclusions (once again, see the Anglican Communion where you now have some primates who will not share communion with other primates, and bishops of the Episcopal Church in America saying that if conservative members do not like their policies, then they should be the ones to leave and vice versa). Yes, the entire Church is needed, but at the end of the day, I also want a Pope.


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