Is the ban on women’s ordination infallibly taught?

Ordination ban not infallibly taught,” editorial in the National Catholic Reporter


  1. John, perhaps Fr. Ruff cares, as he posted this thread. If so, do you wonder why? Can he be troubled by conscientious doubts that can be resolved only by an infallible definition? Or by doubts that such a definition has not been made? Anxious and hungry for spiritual guidance from the Holy Father, is Fr. Ruff awaiting only such a definition to indicate his docile and prompt submission, even if it be at the cost of reversing his personal opinions or preferences? Poor fellow.

    Or is Fr. Ruff trying to stir the pot?

    I ask only for information.

    1. I think the question of whether it’s infallibly taught or not is theologically tremendously interesting on a variety of levels. So many things intersect – systematic theology, sacramental theology, ecclesiology, epistemology, etc. etc. Plus the tremendously important issue of how the current leadership exercises its office. The politics of it – that the leadership seems to be pushing in the direction of holding it’s infallible, albeit without going completely in that direction – at a time when many theologians and laity hold otherwise. It would be tremendously significant if the leadership were to push through an infallible definition in these circumstances.

      Hence my post.

      But then again, I like theology. Theology is where we look at interesting questions. You could also call that stirring the pot. I get that some of our regular readers basically don’t like theology.

      I would think anyone with an interest in theology would be interested in this question – i.e., whether the teaching is infallible – quite apart from their own views on the possibility of ordaining women.


      1. I think the question of whether it’s infallibly taught or not is theologically tremendously interesting on a variety of levels.

        Ah, so it’s an academic question, to beguile the idle hours of the Catholic mandarinate. One in a series, I trust. What a relief to know you’re not troubled by scrupulosity.

        Being one of the theology-despising unwashed, I call it stirring the pot. I’m sure you understand.

      2. To suggest that the purpose of doing theology is to “beguile the idle hours of the Catholic mandarinate” is mind-boggling.

        I, for one, never get the sense that anyone is treating me like a “mandarin,” a situation with which I am quite comfortable.

      3. Christian, no one has suggested that. I hope this helps un-boggle your mind.

      4. It does, to a point. If, however, the point of theology isn’t so trivial, then how does the raising of an interesting theological question provoke a response of “Who cares?” and the imputation of pot-stirring motives?

        My mind is sufficiently un-boggled, but that isn’t making your comments any clearer.

        It *is* an interesting question, and remains one. I hardly think pursuing it should be considered suspect.

      5. Of course the issue is a joke, which is why you won’t find theologians discussing it. It’s on the same level as the CDF’s explanation of the Third Secret of Fatima. You don’t realize how decadent Vatican discourse has become.

  2. Wel, I previously mentioned on this blog that I would have less of a problem listening to the majority views on this blog on the changes to the English translation of the Roman Missal if i knew it was not part of a wider campaign not only to change how we worship but what we believe. It is at least clear now that what drives a sudden interest in English grammar and praxis is a desire to support the attempt to turn the church into something it has not heretofore been.

    1. One might also ask whether these questions apply to the new translation itself and the process of producing and imposing it.

    2. “the attempt to turn the church into something it has not heretofore been.” Céile Dé

      Yes. That describes the Holy Spirit’s role magnificently.

  3. Ceile De :

    It is at least clear now that what drives a sudden interest in English grammar and praxis is a desire to support the attempt to turn the church into something it has not heretofore been.

    I’m sorry: I don’t get that impression simply from a question being raised and a link to an off-site article being posted.

  4. It would seem that some are determined to provoke a schism in order to have a smaller, purer Church.

    Can one be a Catholic without being a Papist? We may find out sooner than any expect.

    Et unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam.

    The term “Roman” doesn’t appear!

    1. When I call myself a Catholic, I think of the Eucharist, the Communion of Saints, the Resurrection of the Body, generous compassion for other people and a solid respect and appreciation of Creation which leads to awe of the Creator. Obedience to the Bishop of Rome is way, way down on my list.Truth to tell, it’s increasingly off my list.

      What if bishops were chosen locally, pastors chosen by parishes and the College of Bishops was truly a College of Bishops which worked by consensus rather than dictates from the Vatican? Would we still be Catholic?

    2. “I define the term as one who accepts the authority of the Pope.”

      News flash: the Patriarch of Constantinople and the Archbishop of Canterbury, just to cite two examples, “accept the authority of the Pope” and, surprise, surprise, they’re not “Papists” so maybe you need to revisit your certitude.

  5. And here is a fascinating discussion of the complexities of whether the teaching is infallible or not. An excellent article. From the National Catholic Reporter.

    Two interesting corrections are found in the article: First, one of the sources interviewed corrects the NCR for its sloppy reporting – and the NCR printed this, to their credit. Second, one of the sources interviewed corrected the Vatican’s faulty teaching, and the Vatican, to its credit, changed the official Latin in the Catechism when it was called to its attention.


  6. Anyone who reads Ordinatio Sacerdotalis must admit that it is an infallible teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium:

    “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.”

    To parse that definitive pronouncement as not infallible is quite a feat of theological sophistry.

    1. By the same token, the church infallibly teaches that slavery is in accord with natural and divine law, etc. etc. Heard of hermeneutics?

    1. This is complicated stuff!

      But ably teased apart by hand-picked partisans in the pages of a middlebrow newspaper aimed at an unspecialized readership. And no extra charge for the pat on the head from the wise and kindly Fr. Ruff!

      You crack me up.

    1. Given the many, many times Popes have been wrong over the centuries, you may wish to re-examine that statement.

      Faith, Hope and Love – where did Paul mention obedience?

      For that matter, if Paul hadn’t protested, none of us would ever eat an Easter ham!

  7. “you don’t fully understand what the question is, or what infallibility is”

    Then let us define our terms, shall we? You first 😉

    “Of course, infallible or not, it must still be obeyed.”

    Yes. This is where I am coming from. Those who deny OS speaks infallibly too often combine that theological point with an obvious disobedience toward the teaching itself. They seek to undermine the teaching by insisting it is not “infallible”. But these are two separate issues. Just because something is not, by incredibly complex definition, “infallible” does not mean that it is not incumbent upon faithful Catholics to give that teaching the assent of faith.

    1. Mark,

      I think you might have missed what the question is here. It is not whether to ordain women, it is whether the teaching on the ordination of women is infallible. Please note, these are two completely different questions.

      What is your basis for accusing those who takes up the first question of dissenting on the second question? You have no way of knowing that.

      If you think the first question should not be discussed because it necessarily means dissent on the second question, I disagree entirely.

      To repeat: the first question is highly interesting, whatever ones views on the second question.


    2. The definition of papal infallibility in 1870 has had the effect of limiting very narrowly the range of truths that demand “the assent of faith” — these are extremely few.
      The other teachings demand only a religious obsequium.

      Those labeled “dissenters” in our paranoid church usually are those who reject non-infallible teachings.

  8. Fr. Anthony’s comment is exactly to the point: “This is complicated stuff.” Yet there are always those who want to see everything in black and white. And every serious theologian and canonist knows that a pope’s strong language does not necessarily constitute an infallible statement. Nothing could be stronger than Pius V’s solemn teaching about those who would dare to change the Missal of 1570: “Accordingly, no one whosoever is permitted to infringe or rashly contravene this notice of Our permission, statute, ordinance, command, direction, grant, indult, declaration, will, decree and prohibition. Should any person venture to do so, let him understand that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.”

  9. Here is an apologia about an Australian catholic who rejected Vatican II, etc. It strikes me that the subject of this apologia believed, acted, and talked like some of those posting here.


    Comment on the apologia and author:

    “It is the most brilliant insight into both (a) the intellectual and emotional paradigm from which this small remnant section of the population operates which literally does believe they alone have been given special graced insight into “the mind of Almighty God” — that is even superior to that of conservative popes; and (b) why, even with the assembled legions of the entire communion of saints, nobody on earth, or even in heaven, can argue with these people and certainly not reason with them. To stand in their way you not only put your own welfare at risk; you effectively put the welfare of civilisation at risk. It is no wonder even bishops and archbishops, possibly even popes, are petrified of their presence.”

    “God save the Church — because no one else on earth is capable of doing it in the face of the zealot-like certitudes of people typified by the personalities drawn out in this brilliantly insightful and wonderfully revealing article by Michael Baker.”

    (guess Fr. Anthony also needs to fear?)

    Reminded of Aquinas – “faith seeking understanding”….faith is not certitude; in fact, it is a loving relationship that has no answers to the doubts and pain of this life and yet continues to love and to seek to understand, come what may.

    1. Exactly, Bill. A great description of faith. As distinct from belief, which is a human construct, to articulate faith, and which does and must change. As our understanding of faith grows ad develops, that understanding needs to be expressed in modified statements of belief.

  10. I am always sorry to see a thread, which could be rich with the exchange of thoughts and ideas go astray with a real lack of charity. I always wonder why people such as, and I say with due respect, Robert B. Ramirez, start off with a question like “Who cares?” Even if that is what you want to say, are there not more charitable ways to put it? And if you do not care, why comment?

    Ceile De says: “Wel, I previously mentioned on this blog that I would have less of a problem listening to the majority views on this blog on the changes to the English translation of the Roman Missal if i knew it was not part of a wider campaign not only to change how we worship but what we believe. ”

    With due respect to, it sounds like you are discussing a conspiracy theory and not a blogpost.

    Ultimately, is this blog about “worship, wit and wisdom,” as the banner tells us? If so, this discussion is worthwhile, because it addresses worship. Might I also add that wisdom (Sophia) points to the feminine, so I add that as well. And with that, you have all my wit for the night, hopefully charitably submitted.

  11. “It is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.”

    – Benedict XVI

    1. This is a great quote, but I’m not sure it’s relevant to the question at hand.

      That question – still unsettled – is whether the Church’s teachings on women’s ordination is infallible or not. Dissent could not possibly be an issue here, because there is not clear teaching not on the status of the teaching.

      There could be dissent on the issue of whether to ordain women. But please note – that’s not the question this post is about.


  12. I think this is a good discussion to have since it seems pertinent to our time. Perhaps I’m off base, but I imagine that women’s ordination is something the Holy Ghost would protect the Church from were it not able to occur since it would directly affect the validity of the sacraments. If it is something that can occur, then I imagine God will eventually allow it. I can’t say I would be bothered by female clergy.

    1. There is a methodological problem when assessing the status of a paragraph in the CCC. It’s a compendium of teaching material on truths which are themselves in hierarchical relationship with one another.

      Therefore a statement quoted from the CCC is only as authoritative as the sources on which it is based.

      Secondly, beliefs reflect current wisdom and knowledge. As knowledge increases, beliefs have to integrate the developments and progress of science. No statement of a mystery, exhausts the reality of that mystery and is therefore not the whoe truth. This applies even to the creeds.

      To expect that any formulation would be held everywhere and for always is to adopt an idolatrous approach to a formula and a lack of belief in the presence and guidance of the Holy Spirit.

      As for canon law, law changes.

  13. There are so many issues underlying this question–issues of the interpretation of Scripture, Church history, and the status of Vatican I and its decree on infallibility–that the matter cannot be settled easily, and particularly not with a “Roma locuta est” attitude. Consider: Jesus ordained no one; if whatever happened at the Last Supper could be considered an ordination, then there were probably about 120 people ordained at that time, including the women and children who would have been presnt, and not just the Twelve. If the perennial teaching of the Church is against ordaining women, then it is likely against the practice of St. Paul, who seems to have appointed or accepted women as the heads of some of his communities as well as against the practice of bishops in Communist Ukraine, who ordained women as well as married men in admittedly unusual circumstances. As to the wider history of the Church: We don’t know who was ordained or how they were chosen in the early communities; we only have a relative handful of documents testifying to what some bishops in a limited number of communities did. Granted, many of those come from major Christian centers, but what went on in Antioch, for example, wasn’t necessarily followed in other, smaller communities. So you really can’t argue “universal practice” until perhaps after the year 1000, since we just don’t have the historical witness to prove what was going on. Further, if local synods were anathematizing the ordination of women (and I don’t know whether or not that was the case), then it’s likely that someone somewhere was ordaining women.

    1. History is often very inconvenient. Pliny’s Epistulae 10.96, or his interrogation of the Christians of Bithynia, is very challenging to read from a Catholic context. The women interrogated certainly had leadership roles in the Bithynian Christian community. Interpreting their experience as the travails of merely “pious women” ignores the dread prospect that these women held what we would today consider clerical roles.

      The rather plausible but highly heterodox explanations (from a Catholic standpoint) for the ostensible diaconal or even perhaps sacerdotal role of women in Christian antiquity must be countenanced even after ordinatio sacerdotalis. To deny textual possibilities because of confessional conviction is not honest scholarship. This example highlights the strong conflicts but also the fruitful polyvalent perspectives engendered when solid scholarship and faithfulness to the Church’s teachings meet.

  14. Hilariously, Jack Wayne, you’ve gone a fair way further than Bishop Morris did (all he said was that if the Church allowed them to be ordained, he would do it) – so I hope you’re not a bishop, and if you are, that Anthony doesn’t give your internet details to the Thought Police.

  15. the same people who advocate women’s ordination (and I won’t name names) very often (if not always?) have an issue with the Church sexual moral teaching on, say, issues like homosexuality.

    How is this relevant? The group who advocate ordaining women, which is small compared to the group that supports ordaining women, also has other issues which it advocates. But what is relevant is those who support OW, not those who advocate it. I recently compared this to the Tridentine liturgy: the Lefebvrists were a small group compared to those who supported the use of that liturgy, but would not advocate it until the Pope allowed it.

  16. Why would the Ordinary and Universal Maigsterium exist as one of the agents of infalliblity if there were no way to ever prove when it was actually defining something infallibly? There will never be a way to read the mind of every bishop everywhere in all of history. This is similar to the question of what makes an ecumenical council actually ecumenical (ie infallible). My understanding is, in the case of the latter question, it is that the council is called by a pope and that a pope later recognizes iits teachings as being those of an ecumenical council. If the same reasoning is applied to the Ordinary and Universal Magisterium, it seems almost that the Pope can call anything infallible that does not contradict something previously found as infaliible.

  17. This is an important topic. If this has been taught infallibly, then it is to be believed. If it has not, it only has to be held. Very different things that should not be confused.

    And if it has been taught infallibly, it was by the bishops, not by the Pope, and not while in Council. This supports the teaching collegiality of the bishops, and presumably should encourage them to make their position known if they are simply holding to the teaching rather than believing it. Only the bishops can discern if their position is something they hold because of a papal decision, or if it is a part of the divine faith granted to them by God. Since it is their authority that establishes the doctrine infallibly, exercising their authority to make this distinction is a necessary part of JP2’s definition.

  18. The first seven Councils all dealt with controversy in the church- not just any controversy, but that which was dividing the chruch’s communion. And several of the Councils were never accepted by some churches, and even to this day- Copts and Ethiopians for example.

    But since the definition of the Papal excersize of that infallibility, up to now it was used to only define something all Catholic bishops already taught, even though these teachings were controversial with other Chistians not in communion with Rome.

    Here is the prospect to the use of Papal pronouncment to settle a question within the Catholic church. There is no way that the unanimity of the bishops indicates anything other than they were vetted on what they think beforehand. So does the modern (after 1870) Catholic church actually think the consensus of the bishops is worth anything?

    But study the history of the Councils, which is what J23 did. None of them just stopped the discussion or theology. Just set a new benchmark for further elaboration. If that were not so there would have been only one Council at Nicea.

    So my question is: does the modern (since 1870!) Catholic church want there to be theology done in and throughout the church? Is doing theology part of how God guides the church in it’s teaching and belief? Or is it unnecessary since there is a way to know the right answer without any theology being done?

    There has been very little open, church wide discussion of these things. I agree with the Orthodox theologian Met. Kallisto Ware: if we are going to ordain only men, we will have to say why. He does not say he is proposing to ordain women. Only that in his opionion is the reasons advanced SO FAR are not solid ones. Would union with Rome mean he is not allowed to think that? That is not worth union with Rome. Better keep theologians like him and others out of it so they can think and speak.

    Mark MIller

  19. In 1998, the Vatican published some changes to canon law that added some additional statements to the professions of faith made by some Church officials. Then Cardinal Ratzinger signed a doctrinal commentary that addresses the parts of this discussion that I find interesting.

    There are 3 categories of doctrine described in the professions of faith:
    1>those which the Church… sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.
    2> each and everything definitively proposed by the Church
    3>teachings which [bishops] enunciate when they exercise their authentic Magisterium

    Those in category 1 are accepted as a part of divine faith; we accept and hold those in category 2 on the basis of our faith in the Church’s magisterium; and a religious submission of the mind and will is the response to those in category 3.

    The commentary asserts:
    With regard to the nature of the assent owed to the truths set forth by the Church as divinely revealed or to be held definitively, it is important to emphasize that there is no difference with respect to the full and irrevocable character of the assent which is owed to these teachings.

    Is this schema valid? Is something that has been taught definitively irrevocable? A number of examples of definitive teaching are cited: ordination of women, the invalidity of Anglican Orders, etc. The latter seems particularly problematic to me, since I have seen pictures of the Abp of Canterbury in full episcopal garb praying alongside the Pope and the Patriarch of Constantinople in similar attire. If the way we pray is the law of belief, then Anglican Orders are not “absolutely null and void” despite Leo XIII’s definitive teaching. The CDF has taught, based on Leo’s definition, that Anglican Churches are not “sister churches”, but Paul VI used that phrase to refer to the Church of England.

    The way we pray does not always fit with what has been taught. I think it is right to look for God’s place in these things to find what has been revealed and to understand the Magisterium better.

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