The Roman Catholic Church teaches with authority, and when faced with new reality and new experiences it adapts and changes.  Catholics should be pleased with this history because Christ’s work in the world is always in today’s world.

THE POWER OF CHURCH TEACHING:  When the Church takes a position on an issue, it signals everyone about right and wrong, good directions and bad.  When the Jews became our “kindred nation of the Old Covenant,” it ended centuries of official anti-Semitism and allowed John Paul II to say at the gate of Auschwitz,  “Never again anti-Semitism!”  On the other hand, in refusing to ordain women, the Vatican lends support to every other form of gender discrimination in the world.


First Vatican Council:  1870, “ the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra,… is infallible.”  This authority has been used twice.

Second Vatican Council: 1965,  “The body of the faithful as a whole, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief.”  Change always comes from within the body of the faithful.  Even Vatican II was an expression of changes that were in process in the people for decades.

What is the Church to do when “the body of the faithful” does not accept a present Church teaching?  Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, gives us the answer.  “Where there is neither consensus on the part of the universal Church nor clear testimony in the sources, no binding decision is possible. If such a decision were formally made, it would lack the necessary conditions and the question of the decision’s legitimacy would have to be reexamined.”  Our Church has, and always will, reexamine decisions that have not been accepted by the people, and do not have “clear testimony in the sources.”  Here are some examples with quotes from councils and popes:


OLD   –   1229,  “We prohibit that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old and New Testament.”  AND  1816, “If the sacred books are permitted in the (local) tongue…that changlessness which is proper to divine testimony would be utterly destroyed.”

NEW  –  1965,  “Easy access to Sacred Scripture should be provided for all Christian faithful.  If these translations are produced in cooperation with the separated brethren as well, all Christians will be able to read them.”


OLD  –  1252,  “The ruler is hereby ordered to force all captured heretics to confess and accuse their accomplices by torture.” AND  1906, “That the state must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false…an obvious negation of the supernatural order.”

NEW  –  1965,  “This Vatican synod declares that the human person has the right to religious freedom.”


OLD  –  655,  “Children of clerics are to be enslaved.” (to enforce celibacy)  AND  1866,  “Slavery itself…is not at all contrary to the natural and divine law.”

NEW  –  1965,  “Whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation…subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, and selling of women and children…all these things and others like them are infamous.”

WOMEN IN THE CHURCH – A change in process

OLD  –  200,  “You women are the devils gateway.”  AND  829, “In some provinces women press around the altar…even dispense the body and blood of the Lord to the people.  This is shameful and must not take place.”  AND 1903, “Women, therefore, being incapable of such an office, cannot be admitted to the choir.”

NEW  –  1965,  “Any type of social or cultural discrimination in basic personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion, must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design.”  AND  1972, “All faithful should be led to the full conscious and active participation in liturgical celebrations.” AND  1987,  “Without discrimination women should be participants in the life of the Church and also in consultation and the process of coming to decisions”  AND  1994, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”  Three steps forward and one step back.

TOMORROW – 20??  “Whatever violates the dignity of the human person must be curbed and eradicated.  Any type of discrimination in the full participation of women in the life of the church is incompatible with God’s design.”  (Adding only, “full”.)

What future council or pope will have the courage to see that “there is neither consensus on the part of the universal Church nor clear testimony in the sources” and move to lift up women into full participation?  Today there is no consensus on the rule excluding women from full participation.  Many  sisters, priests and bishops and two out of three lay Catholics find no problem with full participation for women.  There is also no clear testimony in scripture.  In 1976 Pope Paul VI created a Biblical Commission to study if there was anything in scripture that precludes women from being priests?  Their answer, “NO.”  The time for this change is overdue.

Most quotes come from the book “Rome Has Spoken,” which is a collection of quotes with commentary.  Assembled here by John Houk, June 2012.

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