On the question of Women deacons

Over at Fr. Z’s blog, he discusses women’s ordination. What Fr. John Zuhlsdorf asserts contains a doctrinal error:

The Roman Pontiff made it clear that Holy Church has no authority to ordain women. It simply cannot be done. Any attempt to ordain a woman to any of the three levels of Holy Orders would be invalid. This is the irreformable doctrine of the Church which all Catholic are bound to accept as definitive, even as infallible as the CDF made plain.

The teaching of Pope John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is that the Church has no authority to ordain women to the priesthood. The document is very clear on this specific point:

1. the title itself specifies ordination to the sacerdotal degree (i.e. priestly ordination:

2. the document begins by specifying priestly ordination: “Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone.”

3. the document continues to repeatedly specify priestly ordination:
” ‘She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons…. her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God’s plan for his Church.’ ”

“the Church ‘does not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination.’ ”

The terms “ministerial priesthood” and “priestly ordination” are used repeatedly throughout the document.

4. the document concludes with an exercise of the papal magisterium which, in my considered opinion, meets all of the conditions for an exercise of papal infallibility:

“Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

But the above definition specifies priestly ordination. Now a Bishop is a type of priest, since a Bishop can perform all minsterial and sacramental functions of a priest (plus more besides), and a Pope is a type of Bishop. So the Church lacks the authority to ordain women as priest or Bishop, and lacks the authority to choose a woman as Pope.

But the question of the ordination of women to the deaconate remains an open theological question. The faithful may hold the opinion that the Church has the authority to ordain women as deacons only (or the opposing opinion). However, since no form for the ordination of a woman has been established, any attempted ordination of a woman deacon, at this point in time, would be invalid.

Fr. Z asserts a doctrinal error when he claims that the faithful are required to believe, as an infallible doctrine, that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women to any degree of Holy Orders. The question of the deaconal degree has not been decided by the Magisterium.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Biblical scholar

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