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 particular belief.

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

    Dignity Canada Dignité is Canada's organization of Roman Catholics who are concerned about our church's sexual theology, particularly as it pertains to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender persons. We work in collaboration with other Catholic organizations seeking reform in our church's leadership and teachings.