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Vatican journal article questions authority of ban on female ordination

February 08, 2017

A new article in the Italian Jesuit journal Civilta Cattolica raises questions about the teaching of St. John Paul II that women can never be ordained to the priesthood.

The essay in Civilta Cattolica carries special significance, because material in the journal is approved in advance by the Vatican. Moreover, the editor of Civilta Cattolica, Father Antonio Spadaro, is a key adviser to Pope Francis. The essay is by the deputy editor, Father Giancarlo Pani.

Although the essay does not directly advance the argument that women could be ordained, the author questions whether the statement by St. John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is an authoritative and binding statement of the Church magisterium. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) answered that question in 1995, stating plainly that the papal teaching was definitive and should be “considered as belonging to the deposit of the faith.” Nevertheless Father Pani reopens that question.

Citing “tensions” between the Church’s teaching and the work of theologians, the author says that the 1995 statement from the CDF “does not take into account the developments that the presence of woman in the family and in society has undergone in the 21st century.” He says that there is “unease among those who fail to understand how the exclusion of woman from the Church’s ministry can coexist with the affirmation and appreciation of her equal dignity.”

“One cannot always resort to the past,” the article argues, calling for a new approach to the issue. Father Pani closes with the observation that Pope Francis has shown that he will not “limit himself to what is already known.”

Pope Francis himself has said that the teaching of St. John Paul II on the impossibility of ordaining women is “the last clear word... and this holds.”


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  • Posted by: HKS - Feb. 10, 2017 8:33 PM ET USA

    I just happen to be reading " A Life With Karol" by his longtime secretary Cardinal Dzwisz that relates directly to this article. St. John Paul's words then could not be more clear: "Jesus Christ could have done it differently, but He didn't.And we have to remain faithful to what Jesus said and did."(That is, who he chose to ordain.)

  • Posted by: Biscjim - Feb. 09, 2017 11:27 PM ET USA

    The "softening up" begins.

  • Posted by: Bveritas2322 - Feb. 09, 2017 6:41 PM ET USA

    The damages from the sins of pride know no limits. God placed limitations on our intelligence but no limitations on our stupidity. If mornoic theologians cannot figure out that equality of innate human worth is not the same as equvilency, let them find an honest profession and stop insulting God. My equal humanity to Lewis Hamilton does not mean I can drive a race car like he does.

  • Posted by: Gil125 - Feb. 09, 2017 4:56 PM ET USA

    Better get to bed early, garedawg. You may not have long to sleep. I fear.

  • Posted by: garedawg - Feb. 09, 2017 11:16 AM ET USA

    Ho hum. Wake me up when the Pope actually does change Church teaching.

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 09, 2017 2:48 AM ET USA

    "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 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" ["Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" - St. John Paul II, May 22, 1994]

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Feb. 09, 2017 2:39 AM ET USA

    A shopworn approach "does not take into account the developments", "does not consider the changes", "does not consider the past is past", "does not consider, does not consider, does not consider...", but do consider that I am Jesuit!

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Feb. 08, 2017 11:12 PM ET USA

    Three words are all that need be said: in persona Christi. Mary was created as a woman so she could bear Christ. Christ came as a man to serve in the image of the Father. He did not come as a man because of Jewish culture or misogynistic cultural dominance, proficiency in battle, or so it would be possible for Him to undergo circumcision. He came as a man because it was God the Father's will that He do so. C. Ratzinger in Donum Veritatis n. 34 condemned any "parallel magisterium" of theologians.

  • Posted by: feedback - Feb. 08, 2017 10:44 PM ET USA

    We need to start praying for whoever will be the next Pope. He will have a lot of hard work to do.

  • Posted by: ElizabethD - Feb. 08, 2017 10:04 PM ET USA

    I personally like to think Civilta Cattolica is almost as magisterially authoritative as, and these and other publications are as "authoritative" as the "father of lies" in instances where they are saying things that are not true.

  • Posted by: Travelling - Feb. 08, 2017 6:58 PM ET USA

    Women are not excluded from ministry in the Church but only from ordained ministry.

  • Posted by: bernie4871 - Feb. 08, 2017 6:33 PM ET USA

    In a world filled with uncertainty, war, hate, error, Secularism, plunging Catholic influence in society, instability, etc., is it really necessary to grandstand and further unsettle society? Perhaps that is what the current occupant of Peter's Chair wants to do rather than tend to an already bewildered Flock. Where is his sense of gravity? It's as if he doesn't have enough to do

  • Posted by: ALC - Feb. 08, 2017 6:15 PM ET USA

    There is always tensions between the Church's teaching and theologians, but Church teaching always is to be adhered to until changed. To question St. JPII's authority is questioning the teaching authority of the Magesterium and particularly the Pope. Dogma is not defined by the secular world or what society does. Truth remains the same, in season and out of season. It's time someone remembers that. Can we impeach a pope???

  • Posted by: clinnickr49 - Feb. 08, 2017 6:14 PM ET USA

    If Francis was a pope of the integrity and holiness of St. John Paul II or pope Benedict XVI he would silence this nonsensical questioning of established orthodox truth. This need not be done publicly, Fr. Pani could be sent on an open ended intellectual honesty and spiritual integrity retreat. I do not suggest this action with any animosity whatsoever. Does Fr. Pani deep in his heart doubt that the Risen Lord is with His Church on these matters? Really?

  • Posted by: rjbennett1294 - Feb. 08, 2017 6:02 PM ET USA

    Here we go. First, there were hints that Communion for the divorced and "remarried" would be "reconsidered," and we had Amoris Laetitia. Then we had a softening on the language on abortion, with what that portends. And now we have authoritative "questions about the teaching of St. John Paul II that women can never be ordained to the priesthood." The gates of hell may not be able to destroy the Church, but Dear God, they're getting awfully close.

  • Posted by: MWCooney - Feb. 08, 2017 4:31 PM ET USA

    St. Thomas Aquiinas defined heresy as "a species of infidelity in men who, having professed the faith of Christ, corrupt its dogmas," and it seems prudent for us today to study the case of Pope Honorius before we descend any deeper into that abyss. He did not specifically contradict dogma, but he tacitly approved of those who did.