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From the editor's desk > Ladaria can’t stop people talking

06 June 2018

Ladaria can’t stop people talking

Women's ordination

It cannot be healthy when members of a household, including the household of the faith, are forbidden from talking about certain topics. This includes the ever-relevant topic of the ordination of women. Pope John Paul II attempted to stifle the conversation in 1994. His apostolic letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, concluded: “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

The debate has never been entirely silenced, but senior church figures have kept off the subject. In a recent interview Cardinal Christoph Schönborn of Vienna, described by Pope Francis as a fine theologian, appears to have broken the taboo, reportedly saying that the question of women’s ordination could “only be clarified at an [ecumenical] council. It cannot be solved by a pope alone. It is far too important a question for it to be solved from the desk of a pope.” Asked if he was referring to the possibility of women deacons in the Catholic Church, he said he meant bishops, priests and deacons.

The significance of Cardinal Schönborn’s comments has been boosted by a forthright riposte from the new Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Archbishop (soon to be Cardinal) Luis Ladaria wrote in L’Osservatore Romano that suggesting that the matter was still open for discussion “creates serious confusion among the faithful”. But on this point the faithful are only too happy to be confused, even seriously. Nor are they quite as theologically harebrained as he seems to imply. The faithful do talk about such things, and should be encouraged to do so openly and intelligently. The position of women in the Catholic Church is right at the very top of the Church’s current agenda. But it cannot be discussed in an honest way if, on the orders of an all-male hierarchy, and on intellectually shaky ground, female ordination must not even be mentioned. Archbishop Ladaria is worried about undermining the authority of the Church’s magisterium. That cuts both ways.

There has to be a debate. If the case made for the impossibility of the ordination of women made by Pope John Paul II, and by the earlier CDF statement Inter Insigniores of 1976, is carefully examined, it will become clearer to what extent it reflects subjective cultural preferences that are now not so self-evident. The significance of “maleness” and of gender in general is contested in a way that was unheard of 40 years ago. And the experience of ordained female ministry in the Anglican Communion gives us much valuable evidence that was not available then. It would be hard to argue that the understanding of the ordained ministry in the Church of England has been revolutionised by, say, the ordination of a woman as the Bishop of London. In fact, many argue that women priests have simply been drawn into a clericalised caste system that needed a fundamental shake-up. So let the household conversation proceed, and see where the Spirit leads it.

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