Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Creeping infallibility?! Give me a break...

One of the more disingenuous lines of the ex-Bishop of Toowoomba Morris' defence has surely been the claim, reiterated once again in the US National Catholic Reporter - that it was news to the bishop that the impossibility of ordaining women had been defined as an infallible doctrine of the Catholic Church, and the associated claim that he is concerned about 'creeping infallibility'.

Recent Popes have made hundreds of infallible definitions!

I've got news for those who think that there have only been three uses of papal infallibility, all relating to Marian doctrines.  In fact, courtesy not least of Blessed Pope John Paul II's enthusiasm for canonising saints, decisions the Church as long held to be infallible (as distinct from the situation with beatifications), there have actually been hundreds of infallible definitions!

There are several relatively recent cases of dogmas or dogmatic facts being defined infallibly.

And when it comes to the ordination of women, how could it possibly be a matter for debate whether or not the definition was infallible?  If the clear wording of Ordinatio Sacerdotis wasn't enough for some in 1994, a response to a dubium by the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith removed any room for doubt the next year.  Moreover, the official position has been restated on numerous occasions subsequently.

Was there ever any doubt?

The claim that the situation relating to women's ordination was somehow still open for debate gets another run today in the US National Fishwrap, courtesy of the ever reasonable sounding - but all the more damagingly subversive for that seeming reasonableness - John Allen.

Allen portrays the debate over whether or not this and other matters had in fact been defined definitively as a contest between two schools of thought - between US theologians such as  Fr Charles Curran and assorted Jesuits on the one hand, and the then Cardinal Ratzinger on the other.  Only now, he suggests, is Pope Benedict XVI in a position to get those who agree with his position into positions of authority, and apply his longstanding convictions on this subject to the Church as a whole.

The problem with this characterization of the debate is that the then Cardinal Ratzinger was always in a position of authority on this matter. 

As head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he had, with the support of the then Pope, the power to make definitive rulings on this subject, and did so.  All that has changed - though it is no little change - is the extent to which the Church is willing to enforce its own rules across a wide variety of fronts.

But no amount of liberal hand wringing and vocal dissent can change what has in fact always been the objective situation in relation to this issue.

The heresy of anti-dogmatism

The real, underlying, problem, I think, is the widespread nature of what I hereby dub the heresy of anti-dogmatism - the view that absolutely every element of the Catholic faith  - except of course the sacred dogmas of the spirit of Vatican II (which generally bear little or no resemblance to the actual words of that Council's documents) - is open to debate and change.

Let's look at the actual situation.

First a little catechism for the confused on the subject of infallibility.

Vatican I set out the infallibility of the Church in general - that is either the Pope alone, or the bishops in conjunction with the Pope (for example at an Ecumenical  Council) - to define doctrines relating to faith or morals definitively, and clarified the authority of the Pope in particular to do so.  Vatican II's Lumen Gentium 25 restated the dogma quite clearly, and the current Catechism of the Catholic Church (890-891) quotes the relevant text extensively.  

When such definitions are made they can never be 'reformed', and, as the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it, "Every one of the faithful [and yes, that includes even bishops!] must adhere to such teachings with the obedience of faith." (No 185).

A definition is infallible when the Pope says it is...

So what are the conditions for an infallible decision?

Vatican I set it out as follows: "...when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA, that is, when in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church.

Look at the wording now, of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis:

"Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

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."

Pretty clear cut you would have thought.

But some did nonetheless continue to try and argue the toss.  In 1995 the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith issued this official (and magisterial) response to the question:

Dubium: Whether the teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to be held definitively, is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.


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). Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32), has handed on this same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.

The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect, approved this Reply, adopted in the Ordinary Session of this Congregation, and ordered it to be published.  Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Feast of the Apostles SS. Simon and Jude, October 28, 1995."

The Magisterium of me...

A claim then to be unaware - or in reality to reject the repeated assertions - of the Magisterium in favour of the ever popular these days Magisterium of Me.

The Magisterium of Me is unfortunate when it comes from priests and others who influence people.  But devastating when it comes from a bishop with the power to impose it on his people and then attempts to intimidate those who dare complain.

It is true of course, that bishops do have teaching authority.  But it is not independent of that of the Pope's!

Bishop Morris apparently missed the Vatican's statement back in 2007 that the attempted ordination of women would result in the automatic excommunication of all those involved.

And the changes to Canon Law last year that made it a 'grave delict' and made possible the laicization of any (real) priests involved also apparently passed him by.

Well perhaps not - the Vatican has after all, apparently been going backwards and forwards with Bishop Morris on this for the last four years!  One can only say three cheers for the appointment of  Cardinal Marc Ouellet as prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, since he seems to be taking a much tougher line on erring bishops in general.  Or perhaps the change is that the Pope himself feels he has built enough of a support base to act more decisively on such matters now.

Either way, the scandal is not that it has taken four years to dismiss a bishop who dissents on this topic, but that it has taken nearly seventeen years on this subject alone to take effective action to enforce the idea that a bishop must act in concert with the Church not contrary to it.  Action of various kinds is at last being taken on matters such as of the ordination of women (Bishop Morris), ecumenism (think Newcastle), and access to the Traditional Latin Mass (coming soon one hopes!).

In that light we should welcome the big changes made over the last year or so in the Church's willingness to actually enforce its own rules.

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