In an article written yesterday in L’Osservatore Romano, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [CDF] who is soon to become a cardinal, Luis Ladaria, stated that the teaching on the all-male priesthood is “definitive” and cannot be changed now or in the future.
In 1995, the CDF under Joseph Ratzinger (the future Benedict XVI), in a response to a dubium, stated that the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is to “be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.”
Then in a doctrinal commentary of 1998, the CDF under Cardinal Ratzinger explained the distinction made by John Paul II in Ad tuendam fidem between two categories of doctrine:
- first, doctrines “divinely and formally revealed and, as such, as irreformable,” which are given assent “based directly on faith in the authority of the word of God,” and
- second, doctrines which might either be
- defined ex cathedra or
- taught “infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church.”
Doctrines in either the first or second category are to be definitively held “based on faith in the Holy Spirit’s assistance to the Magisterium and on the Catholic doctrine of the infallibility of the Magisterium.”
The teaching on the all-male priesthood is held to belong to the second subdivision of the second category – not defined ex cathedra, but to be definitively held based on the infallibility of the ordinary and universal magisterium.
(There is a further third category in Ad tuendam fidem, not treated here, which concerns “teachings set forth by the authentic ordinary Magisterium in a non-definitive way.”)
The effect of Ladaria’s article is to reaffirm that the teaching on the all-male priesthood, in the second subdivision of the second category, is to be definitively held.
In his article Ladara writes:
It is a matter of serious concern to see the emergence in some countries of voices that question the definitiveness of this doctrine. To argue that it is not definitive, it is argued that it was not defined ex cathedra and that, then, a later decision by a future Pope or council could overturn it.
It is difficult not to see the passage as a rebuke of Cardinal Schönborn, who has stated,
One of the key questions is the role of women in the church. In this, religious organizations as a whole are in need of development… The question of ordination is a question that surely can only be settled by a council. A pope cannot decide this by himself. This is too large a question for it to be settled from the desk of a pope.
Was the recent statement of Schönborn the reason for Ladaria’s article to appear just now? Or was it provoked by other statements advocating women priests or questioning the status of the prohibition?
Or… did Ladaria think the restatement was needed as a reassurance now because the Vatican commission on women deacons will be issuing a positive report? That is pure speculation.