22 May 2014

Is Ordinatio Sacerdotalis Infallible?

Today is the 20th anniversary of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. In honour of this important document, I am republishing something I wrote around the years 2002 or 2003.. maybe even 2004:


On May 22, 1994, the Solemnity of Pentecost, Pope John Paul II released an apostolic letter titled Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. The objective of this letter was to put to rest the debate regarding the priestly ordination of women, and to affirm that the reservation of priestly ordination for men alone is not merely a custom upheld by disciplinary force, but in fact a part of Sacred Tradition and to be held by all the Church's faithful. This letter leaves no doubt that woman cannot be ordained to the priesthood; however, many believe that this document does not contain infallible teaching, and therefore does not close the discussion of priestly ordination of women. The question, then, is this: was the pope speaking ex cathedra in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis?


The decrees of the First Vatican Council define that the pope is speaking ex cathedra when

  1. in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians,
  2. in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority,
  3. he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church.
The portion of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in question is as follows:

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.
Does this statement meet the above mentioned criteria for infallibility?


in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians,

The Holy Father specifically says, "I declare," which specifies that he is not stating his opinion, but is teaching in his official capacity.

in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority,

The Holy Father specifically says, "in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren," which asserts his supreme apostolic authority. As well, he cites Luke 22:32, which is the very same scripture quoted in the dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus, concerning the infallibility of the pope.

he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals

This doctrine does concern faith and morals. The Holy Father even says that it is "regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself."

to be held by the whole church.

The Holy Father specifically says, "that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."


Responsum ad Dubium

In response to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a reply on October 28, 1995, that was approved by Pope John Paul II. This reply responded in the affirmative "that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith." By stating that it "is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith," is to state that it is infallible doctrine.

This response goes further to state, "This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium." Note that the word infallibly was specifically used.


Conclusion

John Paul II infallibly defined in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 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." Therefore, the discussion of priestly ordination of women is closed.



On the Delict of Attempted Sacred Ordination of a Woman

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in virtue of the special faculty granted to it by the Supreme Authority of the Church (cf. Can. 30, Code of Canon Law), in order to safeguard the nature and validity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, decreed, in the Ordinary Session of December 19, 2007:

In accordance with what is disposed by Can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, he who shall have attempted to confer holy orders on a woman, as well as the woman who may have attempted to receive Holy Orders, incurs in a latae sententiae excommunication, reserved to the Apostolic See.

If he who shall have attempted to confer Holy Orders on a woman or if the woman who shall have attempted to received Holy Orders is a faithful bound to the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches, he is to be punished with the major excommunication, whose remission remains reserved to the Apostolic See, in accordance with can. 1443 of the same Code (cf. can. 1423, Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches).

The present decree enters in force immediately after its publication in L'Osservatore Romano.

William Cardinal Levada
Prefect

Angelo Amato, s.d.b.
Titular Archbishop of Sila
Secretary

Other Resource Regarding the Ordination of Women: