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the Church as debating society?

By Diogenes (articles ) | Nov 08, 2010

 Bishop Willie Walsh, the (thank God) retired Bishop of Killaloe, Ireland, responds thoughtfully to a question about ordination of women:

 “I really don’t want to cause division in the church, but what I have real difficulty with is that some subjects are not for discussion. I don’t see how we can be that certain of things – celibacy is another – which I don’t see as belonging to the essence of the Christian message.”

Leaving aside the point that women’s ordination and celibacy are two different things—one a question of doctrine, the other of discipline—is there any way to satisfy Bishop Willie? He does not see the all-male priesthood as essential to the Christian message, nor does he see how anyone can be certain about Church doctrine on that point.

(His point about matters “not for discussion” is a distraction. If one is really certain about X, then X is not subject to discussion. Intelligent people don’t welcome lengthy discussions about whether or not 2+2=4.)

There are two different ways to reach certainty about the Church’s teaching on the impossibility of priestly ordination for women. Option #1 is to be persuaded by the arguments that have been advanced. Bishop Willie is not persuaded. OK, then…

Option #2 is to recognize the authority of the teaching magisterium. We can be certain that Church teaching is true because the Church is guided by the Holy Spirit, Who does not lie. So when the magisterium sets forth a teaching—and notes that this teaching is what the faithful always and everywhere have held—we can be certain that the teaching is right.

The authority of the Church is of “the essence of the Christian message.” Indeed, if you don’t accept the authority of the Church, there is no matter of doctrine that could not be subject to discussion and debate.

There was a time when Christian took doctrinal disputes with such utter seriousness that physical violence would break out during theological debates. Looking back now we may regret that violence. But don’t count it as progress when a bishop is not only unable to understand what the Church teaches, but unable to recognize when the Church is teaching.  

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  • Posted by: geardoid - Nov. 09, 2010 11:12 PM ET USA

    You miss an opportunity for dialogue with bishops like Will with the guts to voice what troubles them: while female ordination belongs in the theological realm outside discipline, the Church has not produced a doctrine; rather it has claimed no authority to ordain women, appearing to some as a cop-out on the theological question. We need to go deeper in dialogue to see how this negative amounts to a theological assertion different from thinking women less spiritual than men. It can be done.

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