24 September 2020, The Tablet

Time to remove the gagging order

Women’s ordination


Has the time come to set aside the ruling in Ordinatio sacerdotalis, issued by Pope John Paul II in 1994, thereby opening up a debate about the ordination of women priests that he intended expressly to forbid?

John Paul declared: “The Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women,” and went on to order that “this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful”. It is not disloyalty to that ruling to ask: what did it mean exactly? The Church expresses its authority over ordination, and all the other six Sacraments, through its canon law. For instance, Canon 1031 states: “The presbyterate is not to be conferred except on those who have completed the twenty-fifth year of age and possess sufficient maturity …” That could obviously be amended to change the qualifying age, say, to 27 or 24. Canon 1024 asserts: “A baptised male alone receives sacred ordination validly.” John Paul II appeared to be saying that it was impossible for the Church ever to amend that canon, for instance by inserting “and women” in place of “alone”. But what if a subsequent pope did so, at the stroke of a pen? Can one pope bind another in this way? For ever?

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