This is a personal response to The definitive character of the doctrine of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis ~ About some doubts by Archbishop Luis Ladaria, Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, L'Osservatore Romano, 29 May 2018. This response raises some anthropological issues and some doctrinal questions that pertain to the Catholic faith and the mission of the Church in a post-patriarchal world. Some of the social and ecological repercussions of religious patriarchy are also analyzed, specifically with reference to the concepts of integral human development and integral ecology.
Should the patriarchal priesthood of the Old Law, restricted to males, still be normative for the sacramental priesthood of the New Law? For a timeline analysis of the currently unfolding process of discernment pursuant to the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate in the Catholic Church and other liturgical churches, see Religious Patriarchy in the Judeo-Christian Tradition.
The patriarchal culture of male headship, rooted in a defective anthropology that emerged as a consequence of original sin (Genesis 3:16), is now passing away. St. John Paul II's Theology of the Body provides a more adequate anthropology based on a comprehensive exegesis of biblical revelation. The following essays attempt to articulate an integral, relational anthropology pursuant to transcending religious patriarchy:
An Integral Anthropology for Integral Human Development
An Integral Anthropology for an Integral Ecology
Integral human development entails development of each person and of the whole person. As the patriarchal era passes away, we are hopefully on the threshold of a renewal of humanity, including a renewal of interpersonal relations. Beyond the patriarchal culture, such renewal must include a balancing of gender relations pursuant to integral human development.
An integral ecology also requires development of each person and of the whole person in harmony with the entire community of creation. Since the man-nature relation is a mirror of the man-woman relation, a renewal of gender relations is essential for both social justice and ecological justice.
Should the Church remain frozen in a passing culture rooted in a defective anthropology?
Provisional Character of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis
This is a critical analysis of Archbishop Ladaria's text (Google translation from the Italian). Each paragraph of the original article is followed by some comments and/or questions.
"Remain in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself if it does not remain in the vine, so neither can you remain in me" (John, 15:4). If the Church can offer life and salvation to the whole world, it is thanks to her roots in Jesus Christ, her founder. This rooting takes place primarily through the sacraments, with the Eucharist at the center. Established by Christ, they are the founding pillars of the Church that generate her continuously as his body and his spouse. Intimately linked to the Eucharist is the sacrament of order, in which Christ makes himself present to the Church as the source of his life and his work. Priests are configured "to Christ the priest, so as to be able to act in the name of Christ, head of the Church" (Presbyterorum Ordinis, #2).
Is the masculinity of Jesus essential for the redemption? Is the Eucharist the bread of life or the male of life? Is the Church a woman with a male head? For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, the masculinity of Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes.
Christ wanted to give this sacrament to the twelve apostles, all men, who, in turn, communicated it to other men. The Church has always recognized herself bound by this decision of the Lord, which excludes that the ministerial priesthood can be validly conferred on women. John Paul II, in his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, of 22 May 1994, taught, "in order to remove any doubt about a matter of great importance concerning the same divine constitution of the Church" and "by virtue of [his] ministry to confirm the brothers" (see Luke, 22:32), "that the Church in no way has the power to confer priestly ordination on women and that this sentence must be definitively held by all the faithful of the Church." (#4). The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in response to a doubt about the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, reiterated that it is a truth belonging to the deposit of faith.
Isn't this a conflation of patriarchal culture and revealed truth? Is everything that Jesus did under the Old Law also normative under the New Law? After the resurrection, the Church has elected all successors to the apostles. Is apostolic succession dogmatically contingent on masculinity? If so, when was such a dogma infallibly proclaimed? The Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," but not necessarily patriarchal. Are we to believe, with certainty of faith, that the Risen Christ would today elect 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel?
In this light, 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. Sowing these doubts creates serious confusion among the faithful, not only on the sacrament of order as part of the divine constitution of the Church, but also on the ordinary magisterium that can teach the Catholic doctrine in an infallible way.
Isn't it painfully evident that, 24 years after the publication of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, it has not been universally received by the faithful as revealed truth? The credibility of the Church suffers when fallible culture is conflated with revealed truth. As the cultural evolution toward a post-patriarchal world unfolds, how much longer should the Church remain patriarchal? Again, the Church is "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic," but not necessarily patriarchal.
In the first place, as regards the ministerial priesthood, the Church recognizes that the impossibility of ordering women belongs to the "substance of the sacrament" of order (see Denzinger-Hünermann, 1728). The Church has no capacity to change this substance, because it is precisely starting from the sacraments instituted by Christ that it is generated as a Church. It is not just a disciplinary, but a doctrinal element, in that it concerns the structure of the sacraments, which are the original place of the encounter with Christ and of the transmission of the faith. Therefore, we are not facing a limit that would prevent the Church from being more effective in its activity in the world. If the Church cannot intervene, it is because the original love of God intervenes at that point. He is at work in the ordination of priests, so that the Church always contains, in every situation of her history, the visible and effective presence of Jesus Christ "as the principal source of grace" (Francesco, Evangelii Gaudium, #104).
All human beings, men and women, are made of the same flesh, of the same substance, fully homogeneous "in their whole being," as is clearly explained in St John Paul II's Theology of the Body (TOB). There is one human nature, not two. This is the same human nature, the same flesh that was assumed by the Logos at the incarnation (John 1:14, Galatians 4:4); else, since what is not assumed is not redeemed, women could not be baptized. The dogma on the institution of the priesthood of the New Law does not mention a masculinity requirement for apostolic succession. Why should an artificial classification of masculine versus feminine "substance" be a theological reason for excluding women from apostolic succession? Why should the sacramental economy remain constrained by the patriarchal either/or "binary"? Human flesh, male and female (TOB 8), is the flesh of Christ (Corpus Christi) and is the substance of the Eucharist. How can it not be the proper substance for the sacrament of Holy Orders as well?
All human beings, men and women, are a "unity in diversity," a homogeneous communion of persons of the same nature, the same flesh, the same substance (TOB 9) in the image of the Trinity.
Aware that we cannot change this tradition by obedience to the Lord, the Church also strives to deepen its meaning, since the will of Jesus Christ, who is the Logos, is never meaningless. The priest, in fact, acts in the person of Christ, spouse of the Church, and his being a man is an indispensable element of this sacramental representation (see Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Inter insigniores, #5). Of course, the difference in function between man and woman does not carry with it any subordination, but a mutual enrichment. Remember that the best figure of the Church is Mary, the Mother of the Lord, who did not receive the apostolic ministry. Thus we see that the masculine and the feminine, the original language that the creator has inscribed in the human body, are assumed in the work of our redemption. Precisely the fidelity to the design of Christ on the ministerial priesthood allows, then, to deepen and further promote the specific role of women in the Church, given that "in the Lord, neither man is without woman, nor woman is without man "(1 Corinthians, 11:11). Furthermore, a light can be shed on our culture, which struggles to understand the meaning and the goodness of the difference between man and woman, which also affects their complementary mission in society.
What about the original unity of man and woman? The simplistic patriarchal "binary" assumes that body, sex, and gender are simply identical. An integral anthropology recognizes that the human body is normally male or female, but each personal subject is more than just a body. Furthermore, being in gendered relation to others is integral to human personhood. Gender is deeper than body in the structure of the personal subject, with a unique combination of masculine and feminine polarities abiding in each human person. Human nature, body and spirit, is a singularity that subsists diversity. Each personal subject is unique, but all human beings are fully homogeneous in one and the same human nature. All human beings (male, female, intersex, heterosexual, homosexual) are made of the same flesh, no other than the flesh Christians believe the Logos assumed at the incarnation.
Secondly, the doubts raised about the definitiveness of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis also have serious consequences on how to understand the magisterium of the Church. It is important to reiterate that infallibility does not concern only solemn pronouncements of a council or of the Supreme Pontiff when he speaks ex cathedra, but also the ordinary and universal teaching of bishops throughout the world, when they propose, in communion with each other and with the Pope, the Catholic doctrine to be held definitively. John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis referred to this infallibility. Thus he did not declare a new dogma but, with the authority conferred upon him as Peter's successor, he formally confirmed and made explicit, in order to remove all doubt, what the ordinary and universal magisterium considered throughout the history of the Church as belonging to the deposit of faith. Precisely this way of pronouncing reflects a style of ecclesial communion, since the Pope did not want to work alone, but as a witness listening to an uninterrupted and living tradition. On the other hand, no one will deny that the magisterium can infallibly express itself on truths that are necessarily connected with the formally revealed truth, since only in this way can it exercise its function of holily guarding and faithfully exposing the deposit of faith.
Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is addressed to the bishops, not to the entire Church. It does not say it is a dogmatic definition, so it is not infallible as either extraordinary teaching (Pope ex cathedra) or ordinary teaching (Pope and bishops together have never taught infallibly that women cannot be ordained to the sacramental priesthood). It is entirely written in past and present tense. It says nothing about what the Church can or cannot do in the future, so it is "definitive" for the past and the present, but cannot possibly be "definitive" for the future, since it says nothing about the future. How can Ordinatio Sacerdotalis be retroactively understood to be infallible by invoking a doctrine (Lumen Gentium, #25) that was never infallibly proclaimed?
Further proof of the commitment with which John Paul II has examined the issue is the prior consultation that he wanted to have in Rome with the presidents of the episcopal conferences who were seriously interested in this problem. All, without exception, have declared, with full conviction, for the obedience of the Church to the Lord, that she does not possess the faculty of conferring priestly ordination on women.
It is a matter of public record that many bishops were taken by surprise. There was no open consultation with clergy and faithful. Is this the proper manner of exercising the Petrine ministry? There has never been a widespread overt devotion to the exclusively male priesthood. It was traditionally taken for granted as "the natural order of things," the "natural" continuation of the patriarchal priesthood of the Old Law. So the redemption made no difference? Why should we assume that Christ wants to have only male bishops in the pilgrim Church until he returns in glory? Why not open debate as in Acts 15?
Benedict XVI also insisted on this teaching, recalling, in the Chrism Mass of 5 April 2012, that John Paul II "declared irrevocably" that the Church regarding the ordination of women "had no authorization from the Lord." Benedict XVI later asked himself about some who did not accept this doctrine: "Is disobedience really a way? Can we perceive in this something of the conformation to Christ, which is the presupposition of every true renewal or, rather, only the desperate drive to do something to transform the Church according to our desires and our ideas?"
Equally harmful would be to freeze the Church in a patriarchal culture that is passing away. What if we are dealing with an inordinate attachment to the modus operandi of the patriarchal culture? Religious patriarchy is a cultural tragedy that is becoming a doctrinal travesty and a pastoral disgrace. Why keep Christ and the Church immobilized in the patriarchal culture that emerged after original sin (Genesis 3:16)?
Pope Francis has also dealt with this argument. He, in his apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, reaffirmed that "the priesthood reserved for men, as a sign of Christ the Spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion,"
and called not to interpret this doctrine as an expression of power, but of service, so that the equal dignity of men and women in the one body of Christ is better perceived (#104). In the press conference, on the return flight from the apostolic trip to Sweden, on 1 November 2016, Pope Francis reiterated: "On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last clear word was given by St. John Paul II, and this remains."
Analogies are about similarities and dissimilarities: Christ is the "head" of the Church because he is a divine body-Person, not because he is a "husband" and the Church is his "wife" as understood in patriarchal cultures. A rigidly patriarchal interpretation of the bridegroom-bride analogy (Ephesians 5:22-33) effectively reduces the mysterium magnum to a benign patriarchal covenant. In reality, the Christ-Church nuptial covenant is a great mystery; and the Church is metaphorically a woman, but is more than a woman with a male head. The continued conflation of patriarchal gender ideology with the truth revealed in Christ Jesus is a cultural tragedy that is becoming a doctrinal travesty, a doctrinal rationalization that significantly erodes the credibility of the institutional church, with potentially disgraceful pastoral consequences.
At this time, in which the Church is called to respond to the many challenges of our culture, it is essential that it remains in Jesus, like the branches in the vine. This is why the teacher invites us to make his words remain in us: "If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love" (John, 15:10). Only fidelity to his words, which will not pass, ensures our rooting in Christ and in his love. Only the acceptance of his wise design, which takes shape in the sacraments, reinvigorates the roots of the Church, so that it may bear fruits of eternal life.
Should the patriarchal priesthood of the Old Law, restricted to males, still be normative for the sacramental priesthood of the New Law? All men and women share one and the same human nature, the same biblical flesh. For the redemption, and the sacramental economy, the masculinity of Jesus is as incidental as the color of his eyes. The sacramental priesthood of the New Law is ministerial, not patriarchal. The exclusively male priesthood conceals the divine feminine in the Incarnate Word. The presence of Mary in the Christian community is not a sacramentally suitable substitute for the presence of Christ in the priest when acting in persona Christi. Christ is the vine, we are the branches. Christ never identified himself as a patriarch. Why should the Church be a patriarchy? Women should be ordained to the priesthood and the episcopate, for the glory of God and the good of souls.
The Trinity is a communion, not a patriarchy; and the Church is a communion, not a patriarchy. Nothing can be more confusing, and more harmful to the body of Christ, than pushing provisional doctrines as dogma. When this happens, human ideologies become false "certainties of faith" and this inevitably leads to facile accusations of heresy devoid of charity. Honest questions are suppressed, and appeals to authority preempt fraternal dialogue. The credibility of the Church suffers, and people start throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The faithful can be intimidated into silence but do have a sense of what is truly a matter of faith and what is passing cultural stuff. "A custom without truth is ancient error." (St. Cyprian, 3rd Century CE)
Ecclesiastical patriarchy is a cultural construct, not divine law. Continued suppression of a feminine presence around the altar is becoming an increasingly repugnant anachronism. And the feminine presence must be in the flesh; an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary is not enough to make ChristoSophia integrally present. The "signs of the times" are increasingly clear: the sexual abuse of minors, diminishing vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life, people leaving in great numbers to join fundamentalist sects and any other community where they can have a voice. Pastorally, the dictatorship of cultural absolutism is as bad as the dictatorship of cultural relativism.
The human family is male and female, and not a patriarchy. As human beings, we are bodies, but we are more than bodies. The body is a sacrament of the entire person, but is not the entire person. The body makes the entire person visible, and makes visible what is invisible but not any less real -- the inner self, the human spirit. In Christian terminology, every human being is integrally a body-person, or body-soul; unique and complete yet always needing to be in relation with others in order to flourish in all dimensions of life.
Gender relations are the most universal manifestation of interpersonal relations. It is evident that gender shapes the world: "Gender differences form the basis for family life, patterns of socialization, distribution of tasks, and spheres of responsibilities. The way gender is articulated shapes the world of individuals, and of the societies they live in." For this reason, human development that is not engendered is endangered. For the same reason, by wrongfully implying that God is exclusively male, religious patriarchy is an obstacle to integral human development.
Since the man-nature relation is a mirror of the man-woman relation, a renewal of gender relations is essential for both social justice and ecological justice. A renewal of man-woman relations is essential for integral human development. It is also essential for attaining an integral ecology. This renewal of gender relations must be based on an integral anthropology that transcends the patriarchal culture of rigid gender stereotypes, such as male headship, and leads to a culture of balanced interpersonal relations.
"There can be no ecology without an adequate anthropology." (Laudato Si' #118). The human habitat is increasingly being degraded by humans via physical disruption, chemical toxification, biodiversity decimation, and all manner of human manipulation that ensues from population and consumption growth. The patriarchal era de human civilization, which started with the Agricultural Revolution and was further exacerbated by the surplus energy of fossil fuels and the Industrial revolution, is based on an inadequate anthropology of male headship and domination. The patriarchal human-nature relation is inexorably leading us to an ecological crisis of biblical proportions. If such an inadequate anthropology is the problem, we need a more adequate anthropology that recognizes the symbiosis of man and woman and, by extension, the mutually beneficial relationship between humanity and our common home. Perpetuating religious patriarchy is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Past, Present, and Future
As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin pointed out, "the future is greater than all the past." Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, entirely written in past and present tense, is definitive about the past and the present; but it cannot possibly be definitive about the future, because it says nothing about what the Church can or cannot do in the future. The future is now. The Church must discern the will of Christ now, and the Church has full authority to choose whom to ordain (Catechism #1598). Canon 1024 is, in effect, an artificial contraceptive and abortifacient of female vocations to the sacramental priesthood. In today's world, would the Risen Christ choose 12 males to represent the patriarchs of the 12 tribes of Israel? Why should the Church keep aborting female vocations to episcopal ministry?
Mary of Nazareth, Mother of the Eucharist, pray for us.