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John Paul II’s Recent Words on Women

BY Jim Cosgrove

July 5-11, 1998 Issue | Posted 7/5/98 at 2:00 PM

 

The following is an excerpt from Pope John Paul II's May 21 ad limina address:

“As bishops, you must explain to the faithful why the Church does not have the authority to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood, at the same time making clear why it is not a question of the equality of persons or of their God-given rights. The sacrament of holy orders and the ministerial priesthood are given by God as a gift: in the first place, to the Church; and then to the individual called by God. Thus ordination to the ministerial priesthood can never be claimed by anyone as a right; no one is “due” holy orders within the economy of salvation. That discernment belongs, finally, to the Church, through the bishop.

And the Church ordains only on the basis of that ecclesial and episcopal discernment.

The Church's teaching that only men may be ordained to the ministerial priesthood is an expression of fidelity to the witness of the New Testament and the constant tradition of the Church of East and West. The fact that Jesus himself chose and commissioned men for certain specific tasks did not in any way diminish the human dignity of women (which he clearly intended to emphasize and defend); nor by doing so did he relegate women to a merely passive role in the Christian community. The New Testament makes it clear that women played a vital part in the early Church. The New Testament witness and the constant tradition of the Church remind us that the ministerial priesthood cannot be understood in sociological or political categories, as a matter of exercising “power” within the community. The priesthood of holy orders must be understood theologically as one form of service in and for the Church. There are many forms of such service, as there are many gifts given by the same Spirit (1 Co 12:4-11).

The Churches-in particular the Catholic and Orthodox Churches — which set sacramentality at the heart of the Christian life and the Eucharist at the heart of sacramentality are those which claim no authority to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood. Conversely, Christian communities more readily confer a ministerial responsibility on women the further they move away from a sacramental understanding of the Church, the Eucharist, and the priesthood. This is a phenomenon that needs to be explored more deeply by theologians in collaboration with the bishops.

At the same time, it is indispensable that you continue to pay attention to the whole question of how women's specific gifts are nurtured, accepted and brought to fruition in the ecclesial community (cf. Letter to Women, 11-12). The “genius” of women must be ever more a vital strength of the Church of the next millennium, just as it was in the first communities of Christ's disciples....”