Thursday, October 22, 2009

On the infallibility of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis

In light of the Richard Gaillardetz scandal, some people have inquired about the infallibility of the Church's teaching on the ordination of women. You can read an in-depth dissection of the issue at Socon Or Bust. I'll offer you my abbreviated version.

The Church's teaching on women's ordination is unquestionably an infallible teaching of the Church. If one reads the words used by John Paul II in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, you can see that he used very heavy and deliberate language to authoritatively define this teaching. 

In the following months, the Church realized that this document was not accepted by everybody and that some controversy remained. After all, in such a large Church, it is not surprising that a variety of interpretations could emerge for Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, despite the very definitive language used. So like a good Mother, the Church wished to reassure her children by repeating this teaching in a very explicit matter with the firm intention of dispelling any controversy that may have remained. 

This document, called the Responsum ad dubium Concerning the Teaching Contained in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was issued less than 18 months after Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. It’s quite unusual for the Vatican to repeat itself so soon. It also contains the key word “infallible”. Let’s read a juicy quote: 

“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”

That's very strong language!  How much more needs to be said?  But there is something else that you probably didn't notice.  All three sources of divine revelation are mentioned in that one sentence:

-Word of God
-Tradition (capital T)

The three sources of divine revelation are invoked in the same sentence as “requires definitive assent” and “infallible”. The Vatican is telling us something profound: they didn't make this up, it is divinely revealed.  Let anyone with ears to hear listen!!

It doesn't matter how definitive you or I think that this teaching is. All that matters is that the Vatican intended for it to be definitive and infallible. At that point, debate and discussion must cease and gave way to humble obedience.

Now someone could argue that we don't really know how definitive the Vatican meant to be on this matter. All we have is a written document, and like any document, it is subject to diverse interpretations. So how do we really know that the Vatican meant to teach infallibly? This is essentially the position that Mr. Gaillardetz is taking. This is a very dangerous course because it would essentially nullify the wonderful gift of the Magisterium. We could never really know what the Vatican teaches and we would be open to our own personal interpretations on everything. In such a world, theologians would become the official interpreters of magisterial teaching. Even more, individual Catholics could also become their own interpreters of magisterial teaching and hence be allowed to contracept “in good conscience” despite what the church has taught for 2,000 years, and even before that going back to the earliest Old Testament texts.

Have you ever seen the skit called "Who's on first?"  It's a classic by Abbott and Costello.  Similarly, imagine if you're trying to explain something to a friend and he just doesn't get it.  No matter how many times you say it and how many different ways your word it, he still doesn't understand.  Wouldn't that be annoying?  That's exactly what Mr. Gaillardetz does with regards to the Vatican and women's ordination.  How many times does the Vatican have to say “definitive” and “infallible” before he finally accepts the teaching?

Do you see how all the pieces are coming together now? Once trust in magisterial teaching breaks down, everything else falls apart. Gaillardetz has made a living by playing on nuances and by instilling doubts about the infallibility of various Church teaching. This gives them free reign to put forward his own interpretations.