COVER LETTER TO BISHOPS' CONFERENCE PRESIDENTS Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
November 8, 1995
The publication in May 1994 of the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was followed by a number of problematic and negative statements by certain theologians, organizations of priests and religious, as well as some associations of lay people. These reactions attempted to cast doubt on the definitive character of the letter's teaching on the inadmissibility of women to the ministerial priesthood and also questioned whether this teaching belonged to the deposit of the faith.
This congregation therefore has judged it necessary to dispel the doubts and reservations that have arisen by issuing a responsum ad dubium, which the Holy Father has approved and ordered to be published (cf. enclosure).
In asking you to bring this responsum to the attention of the bishops of your episcopal conference before its official publication, this dicastery is confident that the conference itself, as well as the individual bishops, will do everything possible to ensure its distribution and favorable reception, taking particular care that, above all on the part of theologians, pastors of souls and religious, ambiguous and contrary positions will not again be proposed.
The text of the responsum is to remain confidential until the date of its publication in L'Osservatore Romano, which is expected to be the 18th of November.
With gratitude for your assistance and with prayerful best wishes I remain,
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
CONCERNING THE TEACHING CONTAINED IN ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS RESPONSUM AD DUBIUM
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
October 28, 1995
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.
Responsum: In the affirmative.
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.
Joseph Card. Ratzinger
Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli
It's pretty clear. Ratzinger (then prefect/puppeteer of John Paul II) was alleging that the Roman Catholic Church's position on the ordination of women is an infallible, irreformable teaching, despite the fact that there is presently (or at least certainly was) dissent within the heirarchy as to whether the failure to ordain women is proper.
Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (the group formerly known as the Inquisition), and Bertone (Emeritus Archbishop) clearly are teaching this doctrine. Ratzinger is now pope. Furthermore, Ratzinger alleges that John Paul II approved this document. So, it virtually has the approval of two consecutive popes.
But here's the rub.
The document itself is not an exercise of papal infallibility. The document merely alleges that the teaching is something "set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium." But this document itself is not the ordinary and universal Magisterium. This document is fallible.
So it is possible (whether or not it is likely), that some future pope's prefect may decide that Ratzinger erred. The practice of non-ordination of women is just something culturally conditioned and a long-standing discipline ... and hey-presto, this document ceases to have any authoritative weight against the new document.
Worse yet (for the traditionalists), some future pope may infallibly define that both women and men may be properly ordained. If he does, what will be the use of this document!
As many folks know, the women priests movement continues to be active despite the opposition of the current papacy (link to recent example article).