Dignity Canada Dignité
This Teaching Cannot Be Infallible
This statement was released December 8, 1995 by the
National Coalition of American Nuns
Dedicated to studying, working, and speaking out on issues
related to human rights and social justice
The National Coalition of American Nuns is surprised and deeply
disturbed that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the
Faith has used the claim of infallibility to support and
perpetuate the injustice of the Church's teaching which excludes
women from the ordained priesthood.
The National Coalition of American Nuns holds that this teaching
cannot be infallible because the teaching is unjust and,
therefore, in error. The Church may not employ gender to limit
the call of the Holy Spirit to minister in a priestly fashion.
In its Nov. 18, 1995 response to a dubium posed to it, the
Congregation answered that this teaching, which was contained in
Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter Ordinatio
Sacerdotalis, is infallible because it is "founded on the
written word of God." Yet the Vatican's own Pontifical Biblical
Commission stated in 1976 that there are no convincing scriptural
arguments to prohibit ordaining women to the priesthood.
Interpreting scripture to say that Jesus ordained only men is
misleading. Theologians question whether Jesus "ordained" anyone
in the sense that the Church understands that concept today. The
Church has never interpreted the Gospel on the basis of the
gender of the people whom Jesus addressed or served. For
example, the Church does not teach that only women can proclaim
the Gospel message of the Resurrection because women were the
first to do so in recorded Scripture.
The Scripture teaches that "In Christ Jesus there is neither Jew
nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female; you
are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28). Male-female equality
in Christ means that discrimination based solely on gender is
unworthy of the disciples of Jesus. Excluding a person from an
ecclesial role on the basis of gender rather than on that
individual's charism to fulfill the role is sexist and wrong.
The Vatican's infallibility judgement further relied on the
"tradition of the church." But tradition should not be invoked
as a sacramental to bless centuries of injustice. The
persistence of an evil practice over time does not legitimate its
continuation. From a vantage point of 20 centuries, the Church
can recognize that many firmly-held teachings in the past have
been reversed and are not now considered part of the Church's
authentic tradition. The injustice of excluding women from the
ordained ministry has become increasingly embarrassing to the
Church as women assume worldwide leadership and engage in other
roles previously closed to them in secular society.
Teachings considered infallible in the Catholic Church are those
which have been accepted as true by the entire community of the
faithful. The principle of infallibility should not be used as a
tool to settle a disputed opinion or to cut off discussion but
only to ratify the universal assent of the community to a
Because there is no universal assent as yet from bishops,
theologians, or the faithful on the question of ordaining women
as priests, any statement claiming to be infallible on this issue
is premature and inappropriate. Millions of Catholics in
Austria, Germany, Switzerland, England, Ireland, Canada, and the
United States have spoken out in favour of women priests and have
asked Church leaders to rectify this erroneous teaching. Even
theologians and bishops have called for dialogue on this issue.
Therefore, the National Coalition of American Nuns:
reaffirms its call, first made in 1970, for the ordination of
women as priests in the Roman Catholic Church.
asks those women who feel called to priesthood to ask their
bishops for ordination because "one who possesses certain rights
has likewise the duty to claim those rights as marks of one's
dignity" (Pacem in Terris par. 44).
calls on all Catholics, including priests and bishops, to speak
their views publicly and courageously regarding the ordination of
women to the priesthood so that the Vatican can recieve the sense
of the faithful.
As women of faith, devoted to God and to the service of God's
people, the National Coalition of American Nuns believes that the
Spirit of God, Who cannot be thwarted, will ultimately lead the
Church to correct its error.
National Coalition of American Nuns
Adopted by the Board
December 8, 1995
Hypertext version © 1996 Ingrid H. Shafer