Sunday, June 08, 2008

Responding to Excommunication

Earlier today my friend Judith e-mailed me the text of a media release from Roman Catholic Womenpriests. As you’ll see, it’s the group’s response to the Vatican’s recent penalty of excommunication.


Roman Catholic Womenpriests’ Response
to Vatican Decree of Excommunication

Roman Catholic Womenpriests reject the penalty of excommunication issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stating that the “women priests and the bishops who ordain them would be excommunicated ‘latae sententiae’.” Roman Catholic Womenpriests are loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy disobedience to an unjust law that discriminates against women.

We hold up heroic women in the church’s tradition like Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc and St. Theodore Guerin who obeyed God, followed their consciences and withstood hierarchical oppression including interdict, excommunication and death.

In obedience to Jesus, we are disobeying an unjust law. The Catholic Church teaches that a teaching or law of the church is authoritative only if it is “received” by the sensus fidelium, the community of faith. If the community of faith does not accept the law, it has no effect on us. All people have a moral obligation to disobey an unjust law. St. Augustine taught that an unjust law is no law at all. Since 70% of U.S. Catholics favor women’s ordination and a growing majority of Catholics worldwide also favors women’s ordination, we do not “receive” or accept the Church’s prohibition against the ordination of women and the church’s continued reliance on sexist metaphors, beliefs and assumptions for denying ordination to women.

Pope Benedict XVI, when Cardinal Ratzinger, wrote in the commentary section of The Doctrine of Vatican II, volume V, page 134, stated: “Over the Pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one’s own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.”

Roman Catholic Church laws are often contradictory. In this instance, canon 1024 limits sacred orders to men, while canon 849 states that baptism is the gateway to the sacraments. Scholar Bishop Ida Raming, doctor of theology, points out a prior church understanding: “some medieval canonists hold that not maleness but baptism is the pre-requisite for valid ordinations: “After being baptized, anyone may be validly ordained.” (The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood: Causes and Background)

Recent scholarship affirms that women were ordained in the first thousand years of the church’s history. The first half of the church’s history provides us with images and accounts of the inclusion of women in Holy Orders that contradict the later prohibition. We are reclaiming this important tradition in order to bring equality and balance, and reconciliation and renewal to the church we love, and to all the holy people of God who have been hurt, marginalized, and ostracized in the name of Jesus Christ, who always and everywhere said, as we do, that ALL ARE WELCOME.

“Roman Catholic Womenpriests are leading the way to a renewed Roman Catholic Church in which the full equality of women will be a reality,” commented Bridget Mary Meehan, U.S. media spokeswoman. “Like Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles, and the women deacons, priests and bishops who served in the early centuries of our church, we are offering a model of a renewed priesthood in a community of equals.”

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Roman Catholic Womenpriests Ordained in Minneapolis
Thoughts on Ordination, Intellectual Dishonesty, and the Holy Spirit of which the Prophet Joel Speaks
Could Christ Have Been a Woman?
Reflections on The Da Vinci Code Controversy
Thoughts on The Da Vinci Code

Recommended Off-site Links:
Why Ordain Women? - The Australian Ordination of Catholic Women.
Roman Catholic Womenpriests
Women-Church Convergence
Women’s Ordination Conference
“Some Women Seeking Ordination Won’t Wait for Church’s OK” - National Catholic Reporter, January 27, 2006.
“The Defiant Deacon” - Minnesota Women’s Press, December 2005.

Recommended Blogs:
God is Not 3 Guys
Bridget Mary’s Blog


kevin57 said...

I feel conflicted about this problem. On the one hand, I do believe that the magisterial teaching is not well explained or received, and thus is problematic. Most insulting of all is the Church's refusal to even allow discussion of this issue. That is condescending and futile in the long run.

Still, of all the sacraments, the sacraments of vocation are to be public and are must receive the approbation of the Church publically and officially.

I wonder about the bishop(s) who ordained these women. Why have they had the guts to step forward to be counted? Moreover, without a congregation to receive them and with whom they can be acknowledged as sacrificial and sacrificing ministerial servants, what does their ordination really mean?

Michael J. Bayly said...

Hi Kevin,

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

I think it's important to remember that there are many parishes ready to receive these women. There is, after all, a shortage of priests.

Yet until that time when these women are either assigned by bishops to these parishes or called by the parishes themselves (which is how it really should work), they will continue to serve as ministerial servants in places such as hospitals, nursing homes, base Christian communities, etc.

And I agree with you about the bishops who first ordained these women. They need to step forward. I believe such action on their part will encourage others within the hierarchy to come out in their support of female ordination. My sense is that there's more support for these women than we know.



CDE said...

I think it's important to remember that there are many parishes ready to receive these women. There is, after all, a shortage of priests.

But this begs the question. You can't supply a lack of priests with non-priests.

The fact that these women reject the consequences of their own behavior does not mean there are no consequences. It only means they don't acknowledge the consequences. This is no surprise.

The word "loyal" seems a bit of a stretch to describe these women, especially when one considers the way in which some have abandoned key principles of Christian faith and have adopted practices from paganism and Wicca in the pursuit of power over the past thirty years (see Ungodly Rage for numerous examples).

Dan said...

The Catholic Church teaches that a teaching or law of the church is authoritative only if it is “received” by the sensus fidelium, the community of faith.

Um, you got a footnote for that?

Also, as I wrote about here, Ratzinger (who wasn't a Cardinal at the time, BTW) was by no means endorsing the notion that final authority in the Church for matters of faith and morals rests with the individual and his or her consience. In the above mentioned commentary, Ratzinger continued:

"As regards the binding force of erroneous conscience, the text [of Gaudium et Spes, 16] employs a rather evasive formula. It mere says that such a conscience does not lose its dignity. We must note here that the thesis emphatically asserted by J.B. Metz in particular, that Aquinas was the first definitely to teach to obligatory force of an erroneous conscience, is historically and objectively the case only to a certain extent and with considerable qualifications. Historically speaking, Aquinas here is following Aristotelian intellectualism, according to which only what is presented to the will by reason can be its object; and the will is always in the wrong if it deviates from reason. It cannot once again control the reason, it has to follow it; it is consequently bad if it contradicts reason, even if reason is in error. In reality, Aquinas's thesis is nullified by the fact that he is convinced that error is culpable. Consequently guilt lies not so much in the will which has to carry out the precept laid upon it by reason, but in reason itself, which must know about God's law. The doctrine of the binding force of an erroneous conscience in the form in which it is propounded nowadays, belongs entirely to the thought of modern times."

kevin57 said...


I think you may be confusing two things. The statement is not arguing (I don't think.) that sin or lack of culpability are being argued. Rather, it is saying that magisterial teachings are not incubated and promulgated from behind Curial offices in the Vatican alone. The sensus fidelium is a key component in a teaching's being authoritatively declared.

I have no "citation" for this but historically this is accurate and theologically it makes complete sense. Even the doctrine of papal infallibility and extraordinary infallibility in general is based on the infallibility of the Church, not just some office in isolation. To this day, cardinals in conclave literally hold their breath when a new pope is presented to the faithful after his election. This is not just a concern for positive PR (or if it is, then they should be ashamed of themselves). Theologically, there is a real sense that the faithful must "approve" the election of the new bishop of Rome. Such approval, no, is not definitive for validity, but on the other hand, it is nothing to be shrugged off, either.

Anonymous said...

My take on this situation is (not for the first or last time) you have (at least) two different groups using the word "catholic," having different definitions of "catholic," and claiming the definition they each teach is the authoritative, correct version. Which use, definition and teaching is correct? One, the other, both, neither?

You could ask "Which definition creates 'disciples of Jesus' and offers on-going support for and formation in such discipleship? Again, the answers to the questions:

* Who is Jesus?

* What constitutes discipleship?

* What are the grounds of discipleship - scripture? Tradition? Some mixture? Which scriptures and what traditions?

Vary, depending on who's speaking. The pastors of the Roman Catholic Church answer these questions one way. Participants in the Womanpriest and Womanbiships movement(s) (there is not just one) answer these questions another way.

The Womanpriest/Womanbishop folks (not just women after all) see historic evidence of a past, suppressed presence of women in Roman Catholic ministry. What we may be seeing, currently, is a replay of that past suppression. Is such suppression only patriarchy & kyriearchy (sic), or the Holy Spirit acting in and through the Church's pastors to protect the "faith once delivered?"

Picking up Clayton's point, some say that "We (women, that is) were not included in the theological task & process, so the resulting view of God is too narrow." Conversely, to the extent that "some have abandoned key principles of Christian faith and have adopted practices from paganism and Wicca," that view of God may be too wide to be seen as Christian at all.

Reiterating, there are at least two groups of people talking past each other. Declarations of excommunication on one side, and press releases rejecting excommunication on the other, only illustrate this point. The room seems to have sorted pretty clearly to me.

Anonymous said...

All this b.s. is why I am no longer Roman Catholic, in honesty.

Who wants to be part of a club that must use threats of "excommunication" (says who? Says the Vatican? Whatever...)

Makes me happy I left, in honesty.

Anonymous said...

The Church is NOT a democracy. Because a majority of Catholics in a country, at any given time, believe in something - or anything, or nothing - is never reason to suspend judgement, and declare a matter resolved.

There is such a thing as sensus fidelium, but I don't believe it's quite the way it is being used here. Vatican II's Lumen Gentium addressed it: "The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One (cf. Jn 2:20, 27), cannot err in matters of belief. They manifest this special property by means of the whole people's supernatural discernment in matters of faith when 'from the bishops down to the last of the lay faithful' they show universal agreement in matters of faith and morals. That discernment in matters of faith is aroused and sustained by the Spirit of truth. It is exercised under the guidance of the sacred teaching authority, in faithful and respectful obedience to which the People of God accepts that which is not just the word of men but truly the Word of God (cf. 1 Thes. 2:13). Through it, the People of God adheres unwaveringly to the faith given once and for all to the saints (cf. Jude 3), penetrates it more deeply with right thinking, and applies it more fully in its life." (Lumen Gentium, No. 12).

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger also expressed his opinions on the matter, in a series of published interviews with Peter Seewald in 1996. He seemed to take the matter somewhat further, and posits that the Church is not just those Catholics who happen to be alive on earth at any particular time. It makes for interesting speculative theology. I'm sure that some rush to the judgement that this is just an attempt to push the base-line that much further back.

"In the Church, there is another element in addition to the example given us by the law of the state (which also has significance for the Church), namely, the fact that the Church lives not only synchronically but diachronically as well. This means that it is always all - even the dead - who live and are the whole Church, that it is always all who must be considered in any majority in the Church. In the state, for example, one day we have the Reagan administration, and the next day the Clinton administration, and whoever comes next always throws out what his predecessor did and said; we always begin again from scratch. That's not the way it is in the Church. The Church lives her life precisely from the identity of all the generations, from their identity that overarches time, and her real majority is made up of the saints. Every generation tries to join the ranks of the saint, and each makes its contribution. But it can do that only by accepting this great continuity and entering into it in a living way." p.188, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Salt of the Earth / The Church at the End of the Millenium / An Interview with Peter Seewald, 1996


"There is an ideology that fundamentally traces all existing institutions back to power politics. And this ideology corrupts humanity and also destroys the Church. Here is a very concrete example: If I see the Church only under the aspect of power, then it follows that everyone who doesn't hold an office is ipso facto oppressed. And then the question of, for example, women's ordination, as an issue of power, becomes imperative, for everyone has to be able to have power. I think that this ideology, which suspects that everywhere and always what's at stake is basically power, destroys the feeling of solidarity not only in the Church but also in human life as such. It also produces a totally false point of view, as if power in the Church were an ultimate goal. As if power were the only category for explaining the world and the communion present in it. After all, we are not in the Church in order to exercise power as if we were in some kind of association. If belonging to the Church has any meaning at all, then the meaning can only be that it gives us eternal life, hence, real life, true life as such. Everything esle is secondary. If that isn't true, then all "power" in the Church - which then sinks to the level of a mere association - is nothing but an absurd "spectacle". I think we have to escape from this ideology of power and this reduction that derives from Marxist suspicion." p.165

I highly recommend this book to anyone. It is a fair appraisal of the state of the Church, by a brilliant mind.

Michael J. Bayly said...


Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts.

If you’re going to declare that “the Church is not a democracy,” then you also need to acknowledge that neither is it an absolute monarchy.

As William Hunt notes in this previous Wild Reed post:

One can’t absolutize church authority to the point that there is no room for the active participation of the laity. . . . Similarly, one cannot stress the hierarchical nature of the Church to the point where the Church becomes identified with the Bishops and Pope with no place for the laity or to the point where it negates the notion of the Church as the people of God.

These ideas have to be held in creative tension as the Church adapts to the needs of the time. As such they form the basis for sisterly and brotherly dialog as to where the contemporary Church should fall within the extremes. For example, we need to address the question: How should hierarchical oversight be exercised so as to encourage the active participation of the faithful.

Also, I think we need to be mindful of what Paul Collins says of papalism – a term that for Collins (and others) reflects the reality that “the papacy has increasingly espoused a parochial moralism and a historically superficial scholastic theology that draws little from the contemporary world and has scarcely anything to say to it.”

In his book, Papal Power: A Proposal for Change in Catholicism’s Third Millennium, Collins observes how “recent papal and curial utterances sound increasingly sectarian and apocalyptic, couched in language and rhetoric that is simply meaningless to most people. Instead of being the institution that crosses cultural divides, the papacy has lost the sense of being a bridge builder.”

“Papalist ideology,” writes Collins, “tries to keep us fixated in the realm of doctrine, for it is there that the theoreticians of papal power can try to insulate us from the realities of papal history.”

Indeed, “the ideology that at present underpins contemporary papalism is profoundly suspicious of history,” says Collins. This is ironic as this same ideology “pretends to be traditional.”

Yet as Collins reminds us: “Tradition is the living expression of history; it makes sense only within a historical context. But papalism has no sense of history. It holds the view that there are permanent and never-changing absolutes, and such a mindset stymies its ability to comprehend the evolution and development not just of the Church’s belief, but also of its structure and experience.”

Contrary to what some may want us to believe, the papacy has related to the Church in several different ways in its long history.

Accordingly, “there is no reason why [the papacy] cannot discover a new role in the [new] century,” says Collins. “Development is an ongoing process . . . In order to move we need firstly to draw on the long tradition of Catholicism, and secondly to feel free to use our imaginations.”

After all, writes Collins, if Saint Robert Bellarmine in the seventeenth century “felt free to apply the contemporary idea of absolute monarchy to his model of the papacy, so present-day theologians should not be afraid to use models from our time – such as a synodal or democratic approach. Historically, no model is exhaustive or absolutely normative.”



Michael J. Bayly said...

And concerning the sensus fidelium . . .

When discussing the "sense of the faithful," the Vatican II document Lumen gentium does not refer to the "faithful departed," but rather to those who allow the Gospel message to shine forth through their "daily family and social life." That seems very much in the "here and now."

The pope (when Cardinal Ratzinger) may have "taken the matter somewhat further" and included the faithful departed as part of the sensus fidelium, but as you yourself acknowledge, that's just his opinion.

Here's what Lumen gentium actually says:

[Christ] fulfills this prophetic office, not only through the hierarchy who teach in his name and by his power but also through the laity. He accordingly both establishes them as witnesses and provides them with an appreciation of the faith (sensus fidei) and the grace of the word so that the power of the Gospel my shine out in daily family and social life.

Reflecting on this understanding, theologian Richard R. Gaillardetz in his book By What Authority? A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium, and the Sense of the Faithful writes:

The 'sense of the faithful' includes the whole faithful, cleric and lay . . .[It] emerges with full vitality when the whole church dares to embrace that eschatological modesty most becoming of a pilgrim Church, a Church that believes that it abides in the truth but does not possess it in its entirety. This pilgrim Church will be faithful to its truest identity when all the baptized - pope, bishop, and layperson - acknowledge the wisdom of listening before speaking, of learning before teaching, of praying before pronouncing. (p.118)



Anonymous said...

The quote from Lumen gentium could have come out of J. H. Newman. It's so obviously necessary, unless people think "catholic" means ultramontane, not "wide consensus."

I forget, but was not this document issuef as "dogmatic?" Dei verbum was, but if Lumen gentium is also dogmatic, the Church has spoken for all time according to conciliar theology.

Not that Popes listen to their ecumenical councils, but it might be of interest.