in a ‘note’ written (?) by Pope Benedict XVI
In this note Pope Benedict states that his predecessor ‘infallibly and irrevocably decided
against the ordination of women
Background to the Pope’s note
In a “note” on 11 December 2009 to Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, Pope Benedict XVI discusses the case of Bishop William Morris ofToowoomba, whom he eventually removed from office on 2 May 2011.
In 2007 the Pope had dispatched Archbishop Charles Chaput, then of Denver, USA to investigate the Australian diocese. Months after the American Capuchin prelate had filed his report, the Vatican asked Bishop Morris to resign voluntarily. He refused. Cardinal Re sent the Pope the draft of the letter he was preparing to send the bishop and this was the Pope’s reply:
Pope Benedict’s note to Cardinal Re
Thank you for drafting the letter … I would further insert the following points (in your letter to Bishop Morris):
…. The bishop (Bishop Morris) states that this (his conflict with the Vatican) concerns only cultural differences that do not regard communion.
In fact, in his pastoral letter – in addition to pastoral choices that are highly questionable – there are at least two proposals that are incompatible with the doctrine of Catholic faith:
The letter (Bishop Morris’s Pastoral Letter) says one could even start ordaining women to overcome the priest shortage.
But the Holy Father John Paul II decided in an infallible and irrevocable way that the Church does not have the right to ordain women to the priesthood.
(2.) He (Bishop Morris) says furthermore that even ministers of other communities (Anglicans, etc.) could help out in the Catholic Church.
But according to the doctrine of Catholic faith, the ministries of these communities are not valid, are not “sacrament” and therefore do not permit them any actions linked to the sacrament of priesthood.
There is no doubt about his (Bishop Morris’s) excellent pastoral intentions, but it is clear that his doctrinal formation is insufficient. A diocesan bishop must also and above all be a teacher of the faith, seeing that faith is the foundation of pastoral work. This is the reason for the invitation to reflect in conscience before God about the free renunciation of his current ministry in favour of a ministry, more suited to his gifts. Assure him of my prayers.
In a previous section of the same note:
The bishop (Bishop Morris) continuously talks about a “process”, of “defects in process”… He says: “I have been denied natural justice and due process”; “there had not been a canonical process”, etc. …
It must be said that in fact there was no process, but a fraternal dialogue and an appeal to his conscience to freely renounce his office as diocesan bishop. We are convinced that his doctrinal formation is not adequate for this office and it was our intention to explain to him the reasons for our conviction.
The bishop (Bishop Morris) speaks of “a lack of care for the truth” on our part.
This statement is unacceptable. But obviously there was a misunderstanding, created -I think – by my insufficient knowledge of English. At our meeting I tried to convince him that his resignation was desirable, and I understood him to have expressed his willingness to renounce his duties as Bishop of Toowoomba. From his letter I can see that this was a misunderstanding. I acknowledge that, but I must state firmly that there was not “a lack of care for the truth”.
Issue 1: Infallible decision?
The Pope claims that his predecessor, Pope John-Paul II, decided the question of women’s ordination ‘infallibly and irrevocably’.
This is curious indeed!
(2.) Pope Benedict himself, when still Cardinal Ratzinger, clearly stated in 1995 on October 28, that Pope John Paul II himself did not make an infallible declaration, but only confirmed an infallible teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium.
“It should be emphasized that the definitive and infallible nature of this teaching of the Church did not arise with the publication of the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. In the Letter, as the Reply of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also explains, the Roman Pontiff, having taken account of present circumstances, has confirmed the same teaching by a formal declaration, giving expression once again to quod semper, quod ubique et quod ab omnibus tenendum est, utpote ad fidei depositum pertinens. In this case, an act of the ordinary Papal Magisterium, in itself not infallible, witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church.” Read the full text here.
(3.) Benedict (as Cardinal Ratzinger) expressed the same by stating in a parallel document on the same day:
“This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium (cf. Second Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium 25, 2).” Read the full text here.
(4.) The ‘Ordinary and Universal Magisterium’ is the faith held by all the Bishops of the world. Read an explanation here.
(5.) But for the ‘Ordinary and Universal Magisterium’ to hold an infallible doctrine, five conditions need to be fulfilled as Vatican II states:
‘The Bishops proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly whenever, even though dispersed through the world, they maintain the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter, authentically teach matters of faith and morals, and are in agreement on one position as definitively to be held.’
Lumen Gentium§ 25b.
The five conditions are:
- It is clear that the bishops must be involved in an exercise of teaching authority as one body.
- The bishops must be free to express their own considered opinion.
- The bishops must listen to the Word of God and the ‘sensus fidelium’.
- The teaching must concern matters relating to the object of faith.
- The bishops must want to impose the doctrine as definitely to be held.
(6). When Benedict, as Cardinal Ratzinger in 1995, made the claim that the issue had been decided by the Ordinary and Uiversal Magisterium, top theologians from all over the world publicly protested and expressed their reasons.
- The Catholic Theological Society of America
- Nicholas Lash, professor of divinity, Cambridge University, UK
- Francis A. Sullivan SJ, emeritus professor Gregorian University Rome
- Elizabeth A. Johnson, C.S.J., professor of theology at Fordham University, New York
- Gisbert Greshake, professor of theology at the University of Freiburg, Germany
- Ann O’Hara Graff, professor of theology at Seattle University, Washington
- Peter Hünermann, professor of theology at Tübingen University, Germany
- Sidney Cornelia Callahan, pastoral theologian, USA
- David Knight, pastoral theologian, Memphis, USA
- Richard Gaillardetz, associate professor, University of St. Thomas, Houseton, USA
- Klaus Nientiedt, ‘How Binding? “Ordinatio sacerdotalis” unleashes debate on the Magisterium’, Herder Korrespondenz 9 (1996) pp. 461-466.
- John H. Wright, ‘That all doubt may be removed’, America 171 (July 30-Aug. 6, 1994) pp. 16-19.
- Fr. Joseph Moingt SJ, editor of Recherches de Science Religieuse.
- Hugh O’Regan, editor of the on-line magazine, San Fransico Bay Catholic.
- The commission on “Woman and the Church” of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference
Issue 2: The process of dismissal
The Pope claims Bishop Morris agrees to resign. Bishop Morris gives a different account of what happened.