Attempted Ordinations to the Priesthood
I write with great sadness about the announced attempt to ordain two women of the Archdiocese of St. Louis to the Order of Priests, on this coming November 11th, at the synagogue of the Central Reform Congregation, located at 5020 Waterman Avenue in the city of St. Louis. The attempted ordination is a violation of what is most sacred to us in the Church, one of the sacraments. It imperils the eternal salvation of the women seeking the attempted ordination and the woman, claiming to be a Roman Catholic bishop, who proposes to attempt the ordination. It generates confusion among the faithful and others who are not Catholic regarding an infallible teaching of the Catholic faith. What is more, the hosting of the attempted ordination by the Central Reform Congregation constitutes a grave violation of the mutual respect which should mark the relationship between the Jewish faith and the Roman Catholic faith.
Given the gravity of the matter, I, as your shepherd with the responsibility to make clear the Church's teaching and to apply the Church’s discipline, offer to you some brief reflections. Space does not permit me to give a complete presentation of the Church's perennial teaching and practice regarding the reservation of the sacrament of Holy Orders to men alone. In order to understand better the Church's teaching regarding the reservation of priestly ordination to men alone, I refer you to the relevant articles contained in this week's issue of the St. Louis Review and to the resources available on the archdiocesan website, www.archstl.org. In referring you to these excellent materials, I express my deepest gratitude to Dr. Lawrence J. Welch, Ph.D., professor of systematic theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, our archdiocesan seminary, who has so ably responded to the many questions proposed by the media in the midst of the confusion caused by the announcement of the attempted ordinations.
Violation of the Most Sacred Realities
What is most painful about the proposed attempted ordinations is the calculated and grave offense they will offer to our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church. From the teaching in the Holy Scriptures, faithfully handed down to us in the Magisterium, there is no doubt that our Lord Jesus Christ chose only men for the Holy Priesthood, even as He, at the Last Supper, consecrated only men for the priestly office and ministry.
Down the centuries, the Church has faced, many times, the question about whether women can be ordained priests. Following faithfully the example of our Lord Jesus Christ, she has remained constant in the practice of ordaining only men to the priesthood. When the question about the possibility of the priestly ordination of women was raised again in our time, the Servant of God Pope John Paul II responded unequivocally:
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 (Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, "On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone," 22 May [Solemnity of Pentecost] 1994, n. 4).
A Catholic who continues to have a question in the matter is bound to inform himself or herself more fully about the Church's teaching, so that the question may be resolved in accord with the Catholic faith.
In addition to the sacrilege of the attempted ordinations to the Sacred Priesthood, there is added the sacrilege of any attempts by the women involved to offer the Holy Mass, after their supposed ordination. They have, in fact, announced that they will "co-pastor the Thérèse of Divine Peace Inclusive Community on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. beginning December 1, 2007," which will meet in Hope Chapel at the First Unitarian Church of St. Louis at 5007 Waterman Avenue. One has to suppose that they will attempt to offer the Holy Mass, a most grave offense against our Lord and His Church.
Need of Prayer for Those Involved
Given the most sacred nature of the sacraments which will be simulated, the women involved and any Catholic who knowingly and deliberately assists them risks the eternal salvation of their souls. They commit mortal sin. Because of the most grave, public and obstinate nature of the proposed act of attempted ordination, the Church automatically applies medicinal penalties to the parties who complete the act. Medicinal penalties, for example, excommunication and interdict, are aimed at calling the persons away from their sin and to reconciliation with Christ and His Church. The women involved have been duly admonished regarding the penalties which they will incur, should they proceed with the attempted ordination. Any medicinal penalties or censures incurred will be appropriately declared, so that the ecclesial status of the parties involved may be clear for all.
I urge you, therefore, to offer fervent prayers for the women involved, that they will repent and be reconciled with the Church. Please pray, too, for all who will be confused and led astray by their sinful action.
Confusion of Others
Although the attempted ordinations will produce no sacramental reality, that is, will be sacramentally empty, they will be the cause of much confusion among the faithful and others who are not members of the Roman Catholic Church. Already, the media attention to the proposed attempt to ordain two women to the Roman Catholic priesthood has generated much confusion about the Church's teaching and practice. In view of the confusion which has already been caused by the announcement of the attempted ordinations and will be caused by the eventual attempt itself, it is critical that Catholics be prepared to give an account of the Church’s teaching to those who may inquire with them about the matter or may wish to discuss the matter with them. In addition to Pope John Paul’s Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the document, Ten Frequently Asked Questions About the Reservation of Priestly Ordination to Men, prepared by the Committee on Doctrine of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, is most helpful. The article, Pastoral Response to the Teaching on Women's Ordination (129.84 Kb PDF file), by the eminent theologian Cardinal Avery Dulles is also most helpful. These resources are all available at the archdiocesan website, www.archstl.org. If you wish to study the matter even more extensively, I recommend the book, The Catholic Priesthood and Women: A Guide to the Teaching of the Church, by Sister Sara Butler, M.S.B.T., a most respected theologian and professor of dogmatic theology at Saint Joseph Seminary of the Archdiocese of New York.
Violation of Respect for the Catholic Church
Another painful aspect of the proposed attempted ordinations is the hosting of the event by a Jewish synagogue. To host an event which is offensive to the faith of the Roman Catholic Church is profoundly disrespectful and a most serious violation of the relationship which has developed between leaders of the Jewish faith and the Archbishop of St. Louis.
I have written twice to Rabbi Susan Talve of Central Reform Congregation, asking her to cancel the event, out of respect for the Roman Catholic Church. In her response to my first letter, Rabbi Talve informed me that it was the unanimous decision of the Board of Directors of Central Reform Congregation to host the attempted ordinations. Her response seemed to view the matter as merely a question of a difference of opinion among Catholics, in which the Jewish synagogue would merely provide a forum for one viewpoint to express itself. It does not take into account that it is a matter of Catholic doctrine and that the proposed event is the simulation of one of the most sacred rites in the Roman Catholic Church. As I explained in my letter to Rabbi Talve, it would be as if I, as Archbishop of St. Louis, would host an event at the Cathedral Basilica, which would simulate a Jewish ritual which at the same time would be offensive to the Jewish faith.
The Jewish Community Relations Council has issued a statement in the matter, in which it clarifies that each Jewish congregation "is free to act in accordance with its own understanding of Jewish tradition and law" and that, therefore, "Central Reform Congregation's decision to make its facilities available for the ordination event represents the action of that congregation, not of the organized Jewish community of greater St. Louis."
The statement also expresses regret over "any pain inuring from Central Reform Congregation's association with the ordination event to any of our many friends in the Roman Catholic community of St. Louis." The complete text of the statement is found on the archdiocesan website. I am most grateful for the statement. At the same time, I must observe that, in referring to the Church's teaching on the reservation of priestly ordination to men only as "current Roman Catholic doctrine," the statement fails to understand that the teaching involved is universal and constant, that is, it is not just "current" or subject to change.
I hope that the above helps you to understand better my response, as Archbishop, to the most sad situation of the attempted ordinations. I hope that it also leads you to seek a deeper understanding of the Church's teaching in the matter and helps you to be able to respond to the inevitable questions which will be raised to Catholics by friends and acquaintances. I thank you, in advance, for whatever you can do to help others to understand the Church’s teaching and practice.
Above all, I hope that my reflections will lead you to pray for the conversion of heart of the women involved, for the sake of their eternal salvation and for the sake of the many whom they will lead into confusion about the Church's teaching and practice. Prayer can accomplish more than we ever imagine, and the present situation needs the help of many prayers.