Cardinal Policarpo: No theological reasons against women’s ordination

Yes, you read that right. The patriarch of Lisbon, Portugal, Cardinal Jose da Cruz Policarpo, says that there will be women priests when God wills it, but for now it is better not to raise the question. The Catholic Church’s ban on women priests is a tradition dating back to Jesus and the apostles, but theologically there is no  obstacle to women’s ordination. Read the article at “Vatican Insider,” Andrea Tornelli’s well-informed (but clumsily translated) blog of La Stampa.


  1. This is the sort of talk that got Bp Morris suspended. I suspect that people are muttering “Off with his head!” in the roman court.

    The New York bishops react with cry-baby pettiness to the new legislation. What a pity that they did not urge gay marriage themselves 40 years ago — it could have forestalled the AIDS holocaust. Indeed, what a pity that they did not marry themselves and get in touch with humanity.

    The hallowed biblical institution of slavery was renounced by the Church in the times of Leo XIII. Hallowed homophobia, manicheanism, and sneering at marriage and love seem to be going the same way at last. The CHurch would do well to consider extending sacramental marriage to people of the same gender. We need new institutions that reflect the Gospel and not the hallowed horrors of archaic societies.

    1. I often agree with you, Joe, but you’re out to lunch on gay marriage. If the state chooses to provide for civil unions we can adjust to them as we did with civil divorces. For the church to abandon the covenant bond of male and female as spoken of so eloquently in Ephesians and Colossians would be innovative but unorthodox. Not all things new are good ideas.

      1. The idea of a Covenant takes many forms in Scripture, including the covenant between David and Jonathan. Is there a sound theological reason for not extending the marriage covenant to same-sex couples, at least in an analogical sense? I have yet to find one.

        When you talk of abandoning the marriage covenant or when you lump divorce and gay marriage together, missing the fact that the latter is a positive achievement, you only confirm my realization that there are no good theological arguments against recognition of gay civil unions, and even sacramental ones.

  2. I wonder what the Cardinal’s stance is on other issues. I often find that there is a link between rejection of the impossibility of women’s ordination, and other issues. I would hope not.

    In this case, the trouble for the Cardinal is that he risks placing himself in direct opposition to defined Magisterial teachings. One can only hope that there are aspects lost in translation and perhaps he was manipulated by the interviewer for that particular magazine, OA.

    1. Well, then you should probably assume all sorts of horrible things about this Cardinal you don’t know.

      What does your link have to do with this post? I see no connection. The story is such wide-ranging and irresponsible mud-slinging by an angry old man, I’m not going to reply to any of it in detail.


  3. Mark – you have reposted a link from the blog post – Liturgy and Church Reform. From my post #23 on Hitchcock:

    “…most of what Hitchcock writes is second or third hand “sound bites” based on his own copy/pasting. It is a form of gossip boxed up neatly to appear as a scholarly article.

    He gives no footnotes; he quotes out of context in almost every section/paragraph in order to make his point.

    The most obvious example of this for me is his reference to Michael Rose’s Goodbye Good Men which is filled with innuendo; outright lies and half-truths, and mis-characterizations but which he notes as factual and true. Rose has been confronted by some on a number of his articles and projects – at times, he has promised to make retractions but never follows through (he has admitted publicly that some of his allegations are not independently verifiable). The focus of Rose is that a “lavendar or gay mafia” has taken over seminaries and created corruption in the clerical ranks.

    Hitchcock picks up on this but slightly revises his focus/thesis so that any “liberal” (read gay) groups have created corruption in the church. He picks up on the famous talk by Cardinal George in the late 1990’s when he posited the “death of catholic liberalism.” George – who can’t quite seem to manage abusers in his archdiocese; who was instrumental in running over the USCCB with the new translation.

    For a faculty member at St. Louis University to quote and reference Rose as if his statements are factual and to disparage noted Catholics in the public eye via rumors and half-truths is despicable (does Hitchcock give any verifiable evidence for what he claims? He uses discredited information as if it is a reliable which only lessens his overall credibility).

    As a historian, his comments have little to do with the profession of historal study, writing, and interpretation.”

  4. Since he is seventy five and just recently renewed for another two years as head of his diocese, he may have wanted retirement.

    1. Looks like the Patriarch is mainly taking the position that the question is still open for discussion because there has not been a good theological case for closing it, and that the case has mainly been made on the basis that it has not been done, and that we don’t have the authority to do it.

      The statement that it will happen “when God wills” seems mainly a pious statement that God is in charge of history and the Church.

      Other than the fundamental equality of Christians he does not seem to making many arguments in favor, either biblical or historical. He seems to be saying that it is NOT pastorally appropriate now.

      So he is not really going far out on a limb. He is probably saying what many if not most bishops think privately.

      Of course, B16 and his aides want to say that the case it closed, and having cardinals and bishops going around saying it is open will not help. They will find the Patriarch’s successor in far less than two years (which is what I think the Patriarch wants).

    2. John Allen adds the interesting information that the Patriarch is “former dean of the theology faculty at the Portuguese Catholic University, Policarpo was considered by some a dark-horse candidate for the papacy during the late John Paul years. He is generally seen as a theological and political moderate, and a bridge-builder between the church in Europe and in Latin America.

      Maybe this is a “campaign interview” for the next conclave. Then again, saying that one can’t wait to retire to do theology is not incompatible with running for the Papacy.

  5. The Cardinal brings us back to a salient point: is the prohibition against the ordination of women really a matter of doctrine or Church discipline?

  6. I believe he is saying it’s not quiet either, but in a distinct category which I might translate as “this is the way our family has done this” – the word tradition is both too strong and too weak to describe it adequately.

  7. The bottom line on women’s ordination is the authority of the Magisterium. Currently it appears to be settled against it; however if voices like the cardinal’s become a majority within the Magisterium perhaps there could be a change, but that change will only occur if the pope decrees it all by himself, or if together he and an ecumenical council decree it. Or he alone might make a clearer “infallible” statement against it or he and an ecumenical council will do it. No matter the decision or turn of events it won’t affect my participation in the Church.

    1. The bottom line on women’s ordination is scripture, tradition, magisterium and reason.

      There is no scriptural basis for excluding women from ordination. Tradition is at best, ambivalent. Reason supports it. The only remaining problem is the magisterium, which seems to prefer the power structure that currently exists, to any change in the status quo.

  8. The Cardinal may very well disagree with the Pope in private. But open defiance and stirring controversy in a delicate matter that I am sure was given much thought and settled by Pope John Paul II is just perpetuating the idea that if it is OK as a Cardinal to rebuke the Magesterium then it is just as OK for lay folk. There is sometimes unforeseen collateral damage from statements like these. I’m surprised.

    1. Actually, we’re long past the point where the laity need that as an excuse or rationalization. It’s more of an issue of the pathological Roman fear of the brutta figura, a fear that has done far more damage and evil than good. It needs to be driven through by the stake, and firmly. Garlic and crucifix are optional.

  9. A thought experiment. Consider this pronouncement from a future pope:

    “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 full authority to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

    Would you consider the matter infallibly taught or open to further question and even principle resistance?

    Because it is, of course, simply John Paul II’s teaching reversed.

    And if excommunication latae sententiae were laid upon any of the faithful who refused to participate in a sacrament enacted by a licitly ordained female, would you consider it a tyrrannical abuse by a fearful power or a ringing defense of the dignity of women?

    1. No, I would not consider it infallibly taught, and I would consider it open to question.

      Nor would I agree with ELS applied to those who questioned. I believe ELS should be limited to situations where there is an assertion of communion that is questionable (for example, the ordination of a bishop outside the Church’s discipline), so that the faithful are not put in the situation of wondering if they are bound by it.

      Finally, I should add that that is not the way I would like to see the issue resolved. I am opposed to doing Vatican III in a Vatican I manner, as it were.

      Pretty easy for me. Then again, a certain amount of messiness strikes me as normal for the faith, rather than utterly neat-and-tidy.

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