11 July 2019, The Tablet

Now let an open debate begin


In an article in The Tablet last month, the former Bishop of Middlesbrough, John Crowley, asked for “free and open discussion throughout the Church at every level” regarding the ordination of women. This is apparently in flat contradiction to the directive given 25 years ago by Pope John Paul II in his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. He declared that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, and this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful”. What John Paul II did not, and could not, forbid is discussion about the content of the apostolic letter itself. For instance, was Pope John Paul II acting within his jurisdiction? What did he mean by “definitively held”? And, could any authority whatsoever overrule opinions held in good conscience?

If those issues can be discussed without defying papal teaching, it has to follow that the substance of the apostolic letter can also be discussed. Are the reasons given for the ruling the best ones or are there better? For instance, John Paul II’s ruling is often defended on the grounds that Jesus’ decision not to include women among the 12 apostles was made in order to defend the proposition that women and men are equal but different – that they are complementary rather than interchangeable.

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