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Full Participation of Women in the Life of the Catholic Church. By Edward J Kilmartin, S.J. from 'Sexism and Church Law' edited by James A. Coriden

Full Participation of Women in the Life of the Catholic Church

By Edward J Kilmartin, S.J.

from Sexism and Church Law
edited by James A. Coriden
1977, pp. 109-135.

Published by Paulist Press, New York/Ramsey, N.J./Toronto
Republished on our website with the necessary permissions

This essay is concerned with the question of the future possibilities of women for full participation in the life of the Roman Catholic Church and the foreseeable impact which changes in the legal structure would have on other churches, notably Anglican and Orthodox-Oriental Churches. Since the future is both proximate and remote, this theme will be treated in two parts. First the current official position of the Catholic Church is discussed together with some important changes in discipline which are seen as possible within this framework. This is followed by an evaluation of the impact which projected changes in discipline may have on other Christian churches.

The second part of this essay deals with an evaluation of the official doctrinal position of the Catholic Church on the key issue of ordination of women to the pastoral office and the theological significance of the pastoral responsibility currently awarded to women in the Catholic Church. These considerations provide partial grounds for judging whether full participation of women in the life of the Catholic Church is a remote possibility.


Within the last six years the Roman Catholic Church has been in the process of developing an official position with regard to the question of participation of women in the life of the church. Within the scope of this theme the Roman Magisterium has been obliged to formulate a response to the problem of ordination of women to the episcopacy and presbyterate (= pastoral office).

An important step in this direction was taken by the Canadian delegation at the III Synod of Bishops, 1971. The spokesman for this group, Bishop Flahiff, raised the question of the possibilities for women in the ministries of the church and requested the formation of a mixed commission to study the problem. (1) A related statement and a recommendation were incorporated into the synod's document on Justice in the World. Here it is affirmed that women "should have their own share of responsibility and participation in the community life of society and likewise of the church." The further suggestion is made that "this matter be subjected to serious study employing adequate means." Among the adequate means is mentioned the formation of "a mixed commission of men and women, religious and lay people, of differing situations and competence."(2)

One year later the Motu Proprio, Ministeria Quaedam, did address the question of participation of women in the liturgy. On a relatively minor point, and running contrary to practice already widely established, Norm VII excludes women from admission to the ministries of lectorate and acolyte.(3) However this negative reaction to the participation of women in the liturgical ministries of the church was followed by the announcement. May 3, 1973, of the creation of the Vatican Study Commission on Women in Society and in the Church. (4)

Among the limitations of the commission's competence was the exclusion of the investigation of the question of ordination of women. At the press conference it was said that this pertained to the International Theological Commission. (5) However a more significant limitation came to light with the unauthorized publication of the secret memorandum on the mandate and competence of the commission which was leaked to the press three days later. (6)

This memorandum indicates that the commission is to take for granted that man and woman have "specifically different" and "yet complementary roles." The commission is asked to investigate the role of woman and related functions in society and church. Nevertheless the memorandum does not develop the scientific basis of the presupposed "specifically feminine." No indication is given of the extent to which the role determines woman's functions, nor, indeed, is function defined.

The memorandum states that the specific character of woman is lost if she extends her role. In the concrete it is affirmed that priesthood lies outside woman's role. On the other hand this document foresees the possibility of women actively participating in leadership of Catholic organizations or pastoral institutions of the church, membership or consultorship in curial organs of the universal church. The possibility of some more active share in the liturgy is also granted. To qualify women for certain tasks the suggestion is made that a "special rite" could be instituted "which would have a sacramental value."

At the IV Synod of Bishops, 1974, the study commission made a progress report. It refers briefly to the inconclusive contribution of the human sciences to its study. On the other hand it stresses the need for a theological investigation of the mystery of man and woman in their share in the mystery of the Trinity and which entails a deepening of ecclesiology and mariology. (7) The commission judged this study to be of the highest importance for clarifying the tradition of the church in the matter of accession of women to the ministries and for orientating current research on the new ways of participation of women in ecclesial responsibilities.

The next document originating from the study commission is the Study Kit provided on the occasion of the International Women's Year I975. (8) It includes practical suggestions, a questionnaire on participation of women in the life of the ecclesial community, recommendations made to the synod of bishops, the UN Declaration on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and a similar address of Paul VI. The theological content of the Study Kit conforms to the general direction of the commission's work. No attention is paid to the contribution of the human sciences. The first of two biblical studies emphasizes the nuptual symbol and mariology; the second treats of the novelty of the Gospel outlook on women. In the latter essay the following statement is inserted abruptly and without further explanation: "The women do not receive an official call to follow Christ, as do the men, they follow him spontaneously; but they are given a special mission in the apostolic community." (9)

This statement is unexpected in a document of a commission which is not ex professo concerned with the question of ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood. It implicitly bases the exclusion of women from the pastoral office on the practice of Jesus. The same thing is stated in an unequivocal manner by Paul VI on April 18, 1975, in his address to the Committee for the International Women's Year. In what appears to be a paraphrase of the aforementioned statement, he says that "women did not receive the call of the apostolate of the Twelve and therefore to the ordained ministry." (10)

The study commission met for the last time on January 26—31, 1976, to discuss its final report. In February, 1976, Bishop Bartoletti, president of the commission and the one who was to have edited the report, died. While the full report is not available, the recommendations formulated during the final session have been published.(11) They reflect an advance over the recommendations made to the IV Synod of Bishops. In the latter case the commission called for placing women "in positions of recognized and effective responsibility" in local communities, ecclesiastical organizations, temporary commissions of bishops or the Holy See, departments of the Holy See (as consultors, members, officials). (12) In the new recommendations, two are particularly significant.

In no. 3 the suggestion is made that "competent bodies" should make a thorough study of the following questions: 1) accession of women to non-ordained ministries of the church; 2) participation of women in the liturgy: considered in the light of II Vatican's Constitution on the Liturgy, the norms established by the Congregation of the Sacraments and Divine Worship and the current practice in various churches; 3) participation of "non-ordained persons in jurisdiction (in the wide sense) within the church." No. 4 asks that adequate provision be made in the revision of the Code of Canon Law for the responsible participation of women in the life and mission of the church.

The foregoing documents show considerable openness to participation of women in the ministries of the church. Still they exclude the possibility of ordination of women to the pastoral office. What, then, might one reasonably expect from a serious study of the question of ordination of women undertaken by Roman commissions? At least one answer was given by Bishop Bartoletti in an interview on November 24, 1975. He stated that the study commission on women was persuaded that a profound study on the ordination of women was necessary. However he judged that such a study would result in no recommendation for a change in practice. It would only provide a more adequate presentation of the grounds for excluding women from the ministerial priesthood.(13)

The decision to employ the Pontifical Theological Commission and the Pontifical Biblical Commission for such a study was made by the Vatican in 1975. The results of the work of the former commission are not available. The report of the Pontifical Biblical Commission, however, was recently obtained from unofficial sources by the press. (14)

A key sentence of this report, unanimously accepted by the members of the Biblical Commission which began its work on April 8, 1975, affirms: "It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate." (15) This carefully qualified statement can be interpreted in several ways as is clear from the fact that the members of the commission could vote 12 to 5 in favor of this proposal: "Scriptural grounds alone are not enough to exclude the possibility of ordaining women." (16)

The reports of the two commissions were made to the Doctrinal Commission which is presumably preparing a paper on the question of ordination of women. As yet that document has not been published. In the meantime, however, as the work of the commissions was going on, no moratorium was declared on the issue. On July 9, 1975, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote to inform the Pope about the growing consensus in the Anglican Communion "that there are no fundamental objections in principle to the ordination of women to the priesthood." (17) In response to his request for "ecumenical counsel," Paul VI wrote on November 30, 1975, that the Catholic Church "holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood for very fundamental reasons." He then lists the arguments which he deems decisive in the matter: 1) the example of Christ choosing apostles only from among men; 2) the constant practice of the church; 3) the constant teaching of the magisterium that women are excluded from the priesthood "in accord with God's plan for His church." (18)

In this summary of Vatican documents relating to the question of ministry of women, one other must be mentioned. It is a study issuing from the Pastoral Commission of the Sacred Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples. It was made public in March, 1976 and is entitled: "The Role of Women in Evangelization." (19)

This document deals with the "specific role of women in evangelization." This exclusive concentration on women is justified on the presupposition that the biological differentiation of the sexes and the complementarity in the physical procreation of life is intended by God to be extended to "every human enterprise, including therefore evangelization." To support this view an appeal is made to the Book of Genesis which "indicates briefly but clearly the complementary nature of the two sexes." Evidence is given for the active cooperation of women in the political and religious spheres in the Old Covenant. Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is seen as prototype of this role of women both through her cooperation in the Incarnation and in the time of the church as "Queen of the Apostles." Reference is made to the women who followed Jesus, who were associates of the apostles, and the modern missionary efforts of Christian women. All of this shows that in the course of history women have exercised a significant role in the work of evangelization.

Continuing on this historical perspective the document notes that current developments in the progress of emancipation of women call for a new study of the extent of the possibilities of women's participation in the work of evangelization. As a contribution to this study some reflections are offered on the "specifically feminine qualities" which must be considered in order that the responsibilities, functions and ministries of women be consistent with the "true nature of their charism."

What these specifically feminine qualities are can be gleaned from observations of women at work. They are grounded in the fact that women are "givers of life and consecrated by nature to its service." Thus in keeping with the intimate association which women have in the process of "germination of persons, according to nature and grace," women are more sensitive to the conditions required for the development of the human person and develop in themselves peculiar traits which foster their role as 'fashioners of life.' "

In the concrete, women, as opposed to men, are awarded a greater capacity for intimate personal relations: "A woman is better suited to all that relates to life rather than to structures. She is better equipped for acting in the areas of personal relations," This theme is amplified by stating that women have a "great capacity for loving," for self sacrifice, sensitivity toward the individual person and practical initiative based on the intuitive grasp of the proper response to be made to the aspirations of mankind. Man, on the other hand, is viewed as a "being of ideas," and is more suited to what relates to structures: leadership role in formulation of ideology and administration at the highest levels.

The document distinguishes between various activities in which women may legitimately engage in the life of the church. Along with the "indirect apostolate" traditionally exercised by missionary Sisters in hospitals, schools and welfare services, various modes of proclamation of the Gospel are enumerated. They extend from "apostolic home visiting" to teaching of theology. On the level of parish activities two situations are distinguished.

In the first case women can be placed at the service of a resident pastor and given responsibilities in administrative and directly pastoral activities. In the latter instance, however, the activities do not constitute "ministries in the strict sense." In the second case a situation is envisaged in which "Sisters" are "permanently in charge of parishes, with the authorization of the bishop." Here they can do everything which is not of its "nature sacerdotal and so may be made the object of 'diakonia' or service on the part of women." It is recommended that the commissioning for such responsibility "be left to the local bishop, once the conditions to be fulfilled have been determined by the highest competent authorities." It could be based on "a juridical type of mandate or on an appropriate blessing or on some other mode of commission to be determined." In any case the only women considered for such a ministry are women who belong to religious communities.

From the foregoing Vatican documents we can conclude that the current official Roman Catholic position on women excludes them only from pastoral functions which are "sacerdotal." While a list of such functions is not given, the celebration of the Eucharist, Confirmation and Penance are certainly included in the activities reserved to ordained ministers.

It is unlikely that the more open way taken by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) in their study of the question of ordination of women will be followed in the near future in any Vatican paper on the subject. This report of the NCCB lists seven arguments against the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood. (20) While the first four are seen as inconclusive, the fifth argument: concerning the necessity of correspondence between Christ the male and those who act officially in persona Christi, and the sixth argument: derived from the practice of Jesus in selecting males as apostles, are judged to need further study. The seventh argument is based on the practice of the church and the traditional interpretation of it as "of divine law." This is considered to be of "ponderous theological import." Still the possibility of "contrary theological development" is not absolutely excluded. The report concludes that the main problem is this: Has the magisterium "already given a definite and final answer?" (21)


The ecumenical impact of the official Catholic position and projected changes regarding woman's participation in the life of the church can be discussed under three headings: (I) The Major Reformation Churches; (2) The Anglican Communion; (3) The Orthodox and Oriental Churches.

(1) The Reformation Churches

All major denominations have already gone beyond the official Catholic position in theory and practice. In general they do not foster a dualistic view of human nature which attributes precise roles to man and woman. Supported by their traditional theology of pastoral office, they consider the role of woman in the ministry to be a matter of church discipline subject to change under different historical conditions. (22) However any concrete change within the Catholic Church favorable to women may be expected to influence the attitude toward women ministers of those churches which still give them a position of "professional marginality." (23) Yet the refusal to ordain women by the Catholic Church will only serve to support theologians and others in these churches who are convinced that the practice of ordaining women is contrary to New Testament order and take for granted that a truly Christian anthropology excludes women from the pastoral office. (24)

(2) Anglican Communion

What has been said about the major Reformation Churches is partially applicable to the Anglican Communion. Practical changes in the Catholic Church will serve to support the present position of women in consultative and decision making positions within the Anglican Communion. But the official position of the Catholic Church on ordination of women will help to foster the present debate on the matter in Anglican circles. Furthermore this stand of the Catholic Church will cause a good measure of hesitancy among Anglicans who favor ordination of women only with the consent of the whole church.

However it seems unlikely that the present Catholic position will have any decisive effect on the future Anglican policy. While the Anglican Communion as a whole does not yet accept the practice of ordaining women to the office of presbyter and bishop, there has been a steady growth in this direction over the last fifty years. (25) The number of those opposed to such ordinations in principle seems to be waning. (26) The recent action of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A. reflects this. The House of Bishops voted 95 to 61 to permit ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopacy on September 15, 1976. On the following day the House of Deputies approved this decision by slightly more than fifty percent, thus reversing its stand taken in 1970 and 1973. The immediate effect of this decision on the whole Anglican Communion is not yet known. Still it seems likely that this step as well as a similar one taken by the Episcopal Church of Canada will be imitated elsewhere.

The major difficulty for some Anglican leaders and theologians appears to be their desire for approval of the Catholic and Eastern Churches before any innovation takes place. The letter of Archbishop Coggan to Paul VI, which occasioned the letter of the Pope mentioned earlier, indicates this. He refers to the "slow but steady growth of a consensus of opinion within the Anglican Communion that there are no fundamental objections in principle to the ordination of women to the priesthood." (27) On the other hand, by informing the Pope in a formal way, he manifests his concern to act in the matter within a collegial context. Indeed, he goes on to say: "Thus in view of our concern, both for the truth as it is understood within the Anglican tradition, and for ecumenical counsel, we are already in correspondence with his Eminence Cardinal Jan Willebrands . . ," (28)

This communication shows sensitivity toward two types of argumentation which present a problem for the Anglican Communion: (1) the capacity of women for the ordained ministry; (2) the possibility of one "branch of the church" acting against the received tradition of the other branches of the church without their consent. (29) Archbishop Coggan would prefer to have the approval of other churches for any positive action of the Anglican Communion. Still his letter seems to imply that the Anglican Communion will act in accord with the truth as it understands it if arguments to the contrary are found untenable.

A decision of the Anglican Communion as a whole to ordain women will, of course, somewhat complicate the relationships being developed with the Catholic Church. One more difficulty will be raised for the Catholic Church in the matter of recognition of Anglican Orders. But it is unlikely that the recent decisions of the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A., or a similar general decision of the Anglican Communion, will have a decisively negative effect on Anglican-Catholic relations as a whole. (30)

(3) Orthodox and Oriental Churches

The official position of the Catholic Church falls in line with that of the Orthodox and Oriental Churches. These churches have made no official statements on the question of women. The mechanism for such an action is not readily at hand, especially for the Oriental Churches. The proposed Pan-Orthodox Synod would provide the occasion where such a statement might be made by the Orthodox Church as a whole. In the meantime we can only expect declarations of individual national churches. They will most certainly coincide with the official Catholic position. Orthodox theologians, in general, accept the duality of human nature, the essentially different roles of man and woman and so the impossibility of ordination of women to the priesthood. (31)

At the same time the Orthodox and Oriental Churches have no fixed stand against the involvement of women in decision making positions within the life of the church. The Greek Archdiocese of North and South America has women holding positions on Archdiocesan councils. In the matter of liturgy, of course, women are not given an active role as lector, homelist, etc.

Projected changes in Catholic Church discipline regarding women will probably cause some difficulty in two areas. Eastern churches will find problems with a decision to allow women a more active share in liturgical activity. They will have even greater difficulty with a decision to include women in a share in the power of jurisdiction traditionally given to those ordained to the priesthood or episcopacy. These churches already have difficulty with the Catholic Church's approach to the relationship between power of orders and power of jurisdiction. In practice the Orthodox and Oriental Churches do allow, at times, ordinations in which the candidate is not immediately given pastoral jurisdiction (e.g. auxiliary bishops in the Greek Archdiocese of North and South America). But they have no theology to justify this. Hence it remains an anomaly. In the Orthodox view ordination confers the power of being a priest (power of orders) and the right to actively function as such (power of jurisdiction). In other words it involves a pastoral installation into a community in some sense. Moreover this installation is always conditioned by an ordination. Hence any decision of the Catholic Church to grant power of jurisdiction traditionally related to ordination would be seen as a deviation from the recognized order. It would probably provoke the charge that the Catholic Church misunderstands the nature of the office of bishop and priest.

Certainly any movement of the Catholic Church in the direction of ordination of women would have a decisively negative effect on its relations with these churches. Individual Orthodox leaders and theologians take very seriously the arguments, also proposed in official Vatican circles, against the ordination of women: (1) the practice of Jesus; 32 (2) the traditional practice of the church; (33) (3) the order of creation as unfolded in Genesis in which the roles of man and woman are not interchangeable; (34) (4) symbolic correspondence between Christ the male, head of the church and the person who acts officially in the person of Christ. (35) Some Orthodox leaders have already indicated that a decision in favor of the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion would have a "decisively negative effect" on Anglican-Orthodox relations. (36)


Within the last six years the Vatican position on women has developed to the point where women are excluded in principle only from the ordained pastoral office. In certain circumstances not only may they be awarded a form of pastoral jurisdiction but also allowed to exercise leadership in various forms of liturgical worship, excluding perhaps only the celebration of the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Penance and the completion of the baptismal initiation: Confirmation. In brief women are seen as capable of exercising a ministry of word and sacrament. Only the ministry of the sacraments is limited in principle.

What is the theological explanation proposed to justify this latter limitation? Is the granting of pastoral jurisdiction compatible with this?

The exclusion of women from the full ministry of the sacraments is grounded in the theological arguments used to exclude women from the ordained ministry. But from the viewpoint of tradition ordination is the basis for the exercise of pastoral jurisdiction. In the course of history it is true that a de facto separation of the power of orders and power of jurisdiction obtained at times in both the East and West. Moreover this was justified theoretically in the West and so appears less of an anomaly than in the East. One can also point to the Western canonical theories of the late Middle Ages which required only tonsure as the basis for the power of jurisdiction. Still on the whole both traditions have required ordination at least as a conditio sine qua non for the exercise of the power of jurisdiction. Moreover in the Catholic Church today the pendulum is swinging back to the ancient view, witnessed in the authentic whole liturgical tradition, that the power of jurisdiction is rooted in the ordination rite and not in a post factum deputation to a concrete mission.

From the perspective of tradition the awarding of ordinary pastoral jurisdiction to women while refusing to ordain them appears to involve a failure of right order. However before discussing this question in some detail the arguments proposed in official Catholic circles against ordination of women will be analyzed.


These arguments are reducible to two types: (1) appeal to scriptural and traditional theological statements about the specific role of women vis-a-vis man and the practice of excluding woman from the pastoral office; (2) theological explanations of traditional doctrine and practice which attempt to fathom the divine plan reflected in the received doctrine and practice. The first argument is considered decisive; the second, since it offers an explanation of the reasonableness of the practice, is an attempt to support the conviction that the practice is "of divine origin." Hence one who grants the validity of the first argument accepts only the responsibility of showing the reasonableness of the church's practice. On the other hand, one who finds difficulty with the first argument will look on the theological explanation as crucial.

(I) Argument from Traditional Practice and Doctrine

Those who simply appeal to traditional practice and statements to exclude women from the pastoral office view the historical facts as directly reflecting the mind and will of God for us now. They presuppose that at least some statements and practices can be generalized and so considered independently of the situation in which they arose. They do not appear to accept the position that an adequate hermeneutic always demands that the interpreter discover an analogy between the historical situation and the practice and statement linked to it, on the one hand, and the present historical situation and question which is being asked, on the other hand.

The extreme form of this outlook ignores or denies the historicity of all human speech and conduct in those aspects of church life where a seemingly constant practice and consistent interpretation have been maintained. Consequently little attempt is made to distinguish between constant practices which express Catholic Faith from those which pertain to cultural conditions. The context of the message that is expressed: its purpose, its relation to local and temporal conditions, is not explored. Within this mind set one feels secure in simply transposing the message and practice across space and time and expects the Spirit to exercise only a basically conservative role, i.e., of not allowing the church to deviate from the established doctrine and practice.

In this understanding of historical reality, scripture, Jesus and the apostles are seen to have handed on a complete set of truths applicable to any historical situation. These truths are considered to be eternally valid, independent of the context in which they were first spoken and always known by the church. No problem is envisaged in the process of transmission of these truths from age to age or the need of anything but the negative assistance of the Spirit. The question of the emergence of truth out of a previous pre-cognitive state is not given serious attention.

Operating on this basis it is clear that a non constat will be written against proposed women priests. On the other hand, this view of reality is being seriously challenged under its various forms by Catholic and Western Christian theology in general. Modern Catholic theology and biblical exegesis works from the principle of the historicity of all human speech and conduct, including that of Jesus. Catholic scholars are conscious of the problem of the normative value of traditional practices and interpretation. They take for granted that truth emerges to some extent from pre-cognitive stages. They appeal to the concrete history of the church for the fittingness of awarding to the Spirit a creative role in guiding Christians in the formulation of doctrine and practice for new times and conditions.

This fundamental difference of perspective within the Catholic Church will have to be overcome before any general consensus can be attained — whether pro or con — on the question of ordination of women. To set a timetable for the resolution of the problem would be too daring. One can only point to the general trend of thinking, evidenced also in II Vatican, which inclines to take seriously the historical dimension of ecclesial practices and teaching. This movement affords the basis for judging that in the future more weight will be given to the theological arguments and the results of the work of the human sciences in settling the question of ordination of women.

In this connection one has but to reflect on the change of thinking regarding the significance of the term jus divinum. Traditionally it was used in Catholic circles to describe the value of certain historical concretizations of church structure. When used, the structures were understood to have been instituted by positive divine law, at least in most cases, and so to be absolutely immutable. In the Code of Canon Law the statement is made that the tripartite form of ministry in its present form is derived from divine institution." (37) However history tells a slightly different story and it is well known that II Vatican was sensitive to this history. Thus while the Council of Trent states: "If anyone says that in the Catholic Church there is not a hierarchy, instituted by divine ordination, which consists in bishops, presbyters and ministers, ans." (38), II Vatican is more cautious: "The divinely instituted ecclesial ministry is exercised in different degrees by those who from ancient times have been called bishops, priests and deacons." (39)

This example shows how important it is to relate ecclesiastical decisions to their historical context, to be sensitive to the many open questions concerning the dogmatic history of the sacrament of orders and to recognize the distinct possibility that many individual structures of pastoral office derive from human changeable right. In fact it is extremely difficult to escape the conclusion that while pastoral office concretizes certain data of revelation, the concretizations are always determined by historical factors and so not only are changeable but should be changed with varying circumstances lest they become irrelevant and ineffective. (40)

In view of the many difficulties associated with the assessment of the normative value of any traditional practices and interpretations, the simple appeal to the traditional exclusion of women from the ministerial priesthood and the sporadic attempts to link this to divine institution do not provide a solid basis for refusing ordination to women in principle. To move toward a solution of the question theological arguments which relate this problem to the whole economy of salvation are important. Perhaps they will prove even decisive in conjunction with the findings of the human sciences.

(2) Theological Reflections on Traditional Practice

The theological justification for the traditional practice of excluding women from the ministerial priesthood usually involves considerations of the order of creation, the mystery of the Trinity, christology and ecclesiology. While the argument is presented as a whole, the christological and ecclesiological groundings are considered crucial. We can begin with an outline of this argument. This will be followed by some comments on one central issue which it raises.

A. Order of Creation. Since

God created male and female with complementary functions and gifts, they have different roles. Some functions and gifts are common to both realizations of human nature and so they are interchangeable. The fundamental roles are not. Man has the role of headship; women has the role of protectress and channel of life. Since these roles are intrinsic to man and woman, a change of roles leads to dehumanization.

B. Trinitarian Considerations.

Gen 1:27 reveals partially why this order of creation was instituted: "God made man to his image and likeness; in the divine image he created him: male and female he created him." Here it is implied that the division of humanity into male and female is one of God's ways of revealing His mystery. The male reveals God as one who continually presides over His handiwork; the female serves as transparency for God as source of life and harmony in family and society

With the explicit revelation of the Trinity through Jesus Christ one comes to know God more fully: God the Father, as primordial source of all life; God the Son, as creative source of the world; God the Spirit, as the perfective cause of the world. Consequently one recognizes that the male is to witness to its prototype, the Father and the female to its prototype, the Spirit. Where both use their gifts to build up the family and community, they reflect the mystery of the Son: creative cause of the world.

C. Christological Considerations.

The Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as male has deep symbolic significance. Because he is Lord of the Church, he comes as male in accord with the order of creation in which the male has headship and represents the Father: primordial source of all blessings.

D. Ecclesiological Considerations.

Christ is the head of the Church composed of males and females. Hence all believers are called to represent Christ to the world as mediator of salvation. They do this through the charisms of the Spirit which they possess and which allow them to serve as transparency for Christ's active presence in the world in a variety of ways. Among the charisms which believers possess are included either malehood or femalehood. This particular charism fits the person for different roles and functions.

In the matter of pastoral office the charism of maleness is required. To this must also be added the special charism given by the Spirit which qualifies the person to serve as representative of Christ, the Lord of the Church. This special charism is not given to females and not given to all males. It is a relational entity which enables the chosen male to directly represent Christ in the task of leadership of the Christian community. This charism is bestowed through ordination within the community. This act enables the community to recognize the gift of the Spirit which is bestowed and so enables the person to exercise his pastoral office. Thus the pastor directly represents Christ the head of the church before the community through the charism of the Spirit which makes him an icon of Christ and so enabled to build up the church. Of course the pastor also represents the church, as confessing believer, in his official acts.

In this interpretation of the economy of salvation, women are excluded from the pastoral office in principle. In the order of creation the role of headship is given to male. This order is followed in the New Covenant where the headship of the church is given to Christ the male. In the order of creation the role of protectress and channel of life is given to the female. This order is followed in the New Covenant where the role of protectress and channel of life is given to Mary. The role of Mary, type of all women, has its prototype in the Spirit; the role of Christ the man, type of all men, has its prototype in the Father who presides over all life.

Women can share in many functions of men in the church because they are interchangeable. But the role of woman cannot be exchanged for that of man. Hence they cannot be ordained to pastoral office: leadership of the church. In principle all men have an essential charism required for pastoral office but more is necessary since the church is hierarchically structured. Only some males receive the additional call and charism of the Spirit to fulfill the task of pastoral office.

Argued abstractly this view of the economy of salvation can appear very consistent. The trouble comes when it is confronted with the concrete situation where women exercise with success leadership functions together with males in secular society and in Christian communities without any apparent "dehumanization." The proponents of this argument are thus forced into the position of affirming the unique situation of the pastoral office vis-a-vis secular office. The pastor has the function of representing Christ the head of the church. Hence the appeal is made to the necessity of the church preserving the "ideal" order of creation in order to witness to the mystery of the Trinity and to the fact that Christ the male is Lord of the church. Only male pastors can fulfill this role.

A detailed criticism of this argument cannot be presented here. Only one basic affirmation will be analyzed in some detail because it is so basic to the whole structure of the reasoning that its weakness is indicative of the value of the whole argument and the faulty methodology employed.

Some modern papal encyclicals and documents of II Vatican speak of the priest as representative of Christ. (41) Although in these same writings the precise theological explanation of the relationship of the priest to Christ is not developed, some modern Catholic theologians, taking their cue from these official statements, have insisted on this theme as the key to the theology of ministerial priesthood. (42)

Much of the recent literature which follows this line of thought is open to criticism from two directions. First of all the typical mistake of traditional scholastic theology is made: failure to use the liturgy as a true source of theology. (43) Secondly the assumption is made that the representative role of the priest in relation to Christ can be explained apart from the priest's role to represent the church.

An adequate answer to the question of the relationship of the priest to Christ and the church requires a systematic consideration of the various modes of presence of Christ in the church and their relationship to the faith of the church. When all this is taken into consideration one is drawn to the conclusion, in harmony with the authentic whole tradition of the liturgy of ordination and the Eucharist, that the pastoral office directly represents the faith of the church and so represents Christ who is the sharing source of this faith along with the Holy Spirit."

Because the office bearer represents the church united in faith and love in his role as leader, he represents Christ the head of the church. Of course this conclusion does not imply that the pastoral office arises from a simple delegation of the community. From the christological point of view, it is grounded in Christ who is present as active source of the faith of the church. Consequently the office bearer acts in the name of but not simply by the commission of the local church.

In this interpretation the peculiarity of pastoral office consists in the official caring for the common matter of all believers: the mission of Christ. But the fulfillment of the mission of Christ is only possible through the active presence of the "Spirit of truth" whom Christ promised (Jn 16:7-14) and who, with the development of Trinitarian theology, is identified as the Third Person of the Trinity: the principle of sanctification in the time of the church. Therefore an adequate theology of pastoral office must take into account its function to represent the Holy Spirit who is present as sharing source of the faith of the church. This pneumatological dimension sheds light on the essential relationship of the ministerial priesthood to the church. It guards against the temptation to define the priest only in relation to Christ and so to forget the essentially social character of the ministerial priesthood.

The christomonism underlying the scholastic theology of priesthood is not adequate to express the theology of pastoral office expressed in the ordination rites of the East and West, which stress participation in the Holy Spirit. Sufficient attention is not paid to the and in the theological statement that the priest represents Christ and the church. This and signifies a relationship of interdependence of one representative role on the other. Only by attending to this is one able to develop an adequate theology of ministerial priesthood which is sensitive to the principle of intelligibility in all theology: the relationship of each aspect of the economy of salvation to all the others.

Certainly the ministerial office, an essential aspect of the sacramental reality of the church, represents Christ. But the priesthood of all believers grounds another form of representation of Christ. Both representative functions derive from the sacramental nature of the church in which Christ is present together with the Holy Spirit as sharing source of the faith. Consequently the peculiarity of ordained ministry cannot be explained by an unqualified appeal to the concept of representation of Christ or even by making a distinction between the general mission of the baptized to represent the mystery of Christ in the world and the role of the ordained ministry to represent Christ as head of the church. The context of the ordination rites offers a more ample perspective which must be taken into account. Celebrated in the framework of the prayer of invocation of the entire community, the ordained is seen as inserted in a special way into the Spirit-filled church.

The unilateral view of the priest as representative of Christ inevitably leads to stress on the individual character of the grace of ordination. In this theology it is difficult to explain the inner connection between ministry and community. Thus scholastic theology, which takes this point of departure, was constrained to develop the theory that insertion of the priest into ecclesiastical responsibility is not included in ordination but rather depends on a post factum concrete assignment.

This christological perspective is intimately linked, possibly in a reciprocal cause-effect relationship, with the medieval scholastic theory of "absolute ordination" wherein ordinations were recognized when carried out by a bishop without jurisdiction and involving candidates who had no title of mission. (45) It rests on a serious misunderstanding of the relation between law and sacrament. Another result of this faulty outlook is the conception of the relationship of the priest to the universal church and local church. It tends to see the priest in immediate relationship to the universal church and only secondarily to the local church and bishop. (46)

By failing to articulate the pneumatological and ecclesiological aspects of ordination, the christomonistic view of ministerial priesthood is incapable of explaining the relationship between law and sacrament, local church and universal church, specific responsibilities of ministers and responsibilities of all Christians in the mission of Christ. It lacks a Trinitarian perspective which gives due consideration to the role of the Spirit.

Recent studies on the ordination rite of bishop and presbyter have underlined the fact that the authentic whole tradition of the East and West understands that the bishop receives the threefold office of pastor, priest and teacher and that the priest is given a share in this threefold office. (47) This research serves to support recent attempts to rethink the doctrine of "priestly character" in terms of a permanent relation of the subject to a gift of the Holy Spirit, a collegial charism, received at ordination in view of a pastoral ministry. Within this theology of character, the ordained minister is understood to be committed without reservation to a leadership role and to be representative of the Spirit in an eminent way: the Spirit of the priestly church, the source of all sanctification in the time of the church. (48)

The relevance of this more ample christological, pneumatological and ecclesiological theology of ministerial priesthood for the question of ordination of women seems obvious. Here the priest emerges as directly representing the church united in faith and love and so representing Christ and the Holy Spirit, sources of unity and faith of the church. Consequently the argument based on the presupposition that the priest directly represents Christ is difficult to use against the proposal to ordain women. Logically an appeal to the representative function of the priest would seem to support the view that women should be ordained. For the priest must be seen as representing the one church composed of males and females and so the Lord of the church and the Spirit who ground the unity of faith and love. But this seems to demand, in the proper cultural context, both male and female office bearers. Moreover if one is inclined to follow through the argument from symbolic correspondence to its logical conclusion, it would seem to end with a preference for females, given the traditional role awarded to the Holy Spirit in the liturgical tradition of the ordination rites. But there is another reason why the question of ordination of women represents a true theological problem. It has to do with the concrete structure of pastoral office being realized in the modern Catholic Church.

(3) Theological Significance of Pastoral Responsibility Currently A warded to Women

The Vatican document on the role of women in evangelization refers to the current practice of placing Sisters "permanently in charge of parishes, with the authorization of the bishop." This is only one aspect of the recent move within the Catholic Church to award an increased share in ecclesiastical tasks to women as well as to married men.

These persons are being given assignments formerly exercised exclusively by the ordained. While they are unable to receive ordination because of marital status or sex, they do perform works for which the power of jurisdiction, linked to the power of orders, was formerly necessary. Even today these works can only be undertaken by special ecclesiastical mandate. Consequently in functioning as leader of the liturgy of the word, preaching at gatherings of Christians, giving religious instructions at all levels of parish life, these persons must be recognized as acting in the name of the church.

Circumstances are forcing the sharing of women and married men in regular pastoral tasks. This development is initiating a situation in which the ordained are being replaced by others in the sphere of the ministry of the word. Because of their dwindling number, priests are being forced to concentrate more on the particular ministry of the sacraments. Thus the genuine interlacing between the ministry of sacraments and word is increasingly loosened.

Moreover the commissioning of laity to act in the name of the church goes against the ancient tradition in which ordination and commission to a ministry came together. Even in the Middle Ages and up to the recent present the understanding of pastoral office involved an essential relation between ordination and official commission to act in the name of the church. Therefore the practice of appointing laity to pastoral ministry raises the question concerning the identity of ecclesiastical office: the essential Catholic unity of the ministry of word and sacrament, of rationality and grace.

At present we are in a situation in which, on the grounds of the traditional practice of not ordaining females and married men and considerations such as the maleness of Christ, church authorities are content to loosen the unity of the ministry of word and sacrament and the connection between sacramental ordination and juridical commission for a particular pastoral service.

In a recent article J. Neumann points out that these considerations show why the question of ordination of women is an essentially theological one and an important one. He does not view the developments which have taken place as healthy and foresees a situation in which the priest will be more of a "magician" who goes about celebrating certain sacraments without exercising a true ministry of the word. (49) He advises that the Catholic Church should reflect on the fact that it lives in history and in its historicity is bearer of God's truth and fidelity. Church leaders should ask whether they are acting in conformity with the comprehensive will of God when they exclude at least half of the members of the church from full participation in pastoral office on the grounds of sex or marital status. In his judgment the tradition of almost two thousand years should not provide an obstacle to ordaining women if serious attention is paid to the dependence of religious structures on historical circumstances. Preference should be given to the creative role of the Spirit in the life of the church rather than to a Latin-Stoic tradition. He concludes with this remark: "The exclusion of women and married men from spiritual office does violence not only to the spiritual 'right' of all baptized, but clashes with the freedom of the Spirit." (50)

The situation we have been discussing is concerned with the woman who is commissioned to act as pastor. It would be incorrect to qualify her as a "church employee," as though she was acting without a juridical mandate and so without true authority. In this connection the Study Commission on the Role of Women in Society and in the Church speaks of "participation of nonbaptized in jurisdiction (in the wide sense) within the church." In this instance a separation of the power of orders from jurisdiction is difficult to justify theologically. And, in any case, those who would justify this separation in the case of women who exercise a true pastoral office seem to be open to the charge of inconsistency. At least this question can be raised: Can they logically maintain the historicity of this church structure and at the same time appeal merely to the constant tradition of the church to exclude women from ministerial priesthood?


The current theological arguments raised against the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood in official Catholic circles are rather weak. Moreover the practice of awarding permanent pastoral assignments to women in certain parts of the Catholic Church does not harmonize well with the exclusion of women from the ordained pastoral office. In this situation a definitive decision to rule out ordination of women would clash the "majesty of the facts," One might even say that the onus probandi is shifting from those who advocate change to those who support the status quo.

It is difficult to avoid the impression that an adequate explanation of the official Catholic Church position on ordination of women must go beyond the theological arguments proposed. A number of pastoral concerns and at least one important ecumenical consideration are involved. Among the pastoral concerns can be enumerated the following: 1) the lack of readiness of many local churches to accept women priests coupled with the administrative inability of the Catholic Church to allow local decisions in such matters; 2) the shocking effect which such ordinations would have on the self-understanding of many priests; 3) the desire to upgrade the self-image of priests through stressing in every way possible the essential distinction between ministerial priesthood and the common priesthood of all believers; 4) the fear of what this change in church discipline would have on the relatively stable administrative life of the Catholic Church.

Beyond these concerns which pertain to the inner life of the Catholic Church, there is an important ecumenical one. The Catholic Church will be able to live with the decision of the Anglican Communion to ordain women and this decision, when it comes on the international level, cannot be expected to greatly influence Catholic Church practice. Churches look to their past for their identity. The Catholic Church is always able to say to the Anglican Communion: We are your past; you are not our past. The situation, however, is different in the case of the churches of the East.

There is discernible in the Catholic Church a genuine longing for reunion with the churches of the East. This is evident in the spectacular declaration of II Vatican about the reverence for Eastern Churches and the openness of the Catholic Church to "worship in common." (51) In this regard one can also point to the Vatican's current ecumenical efforts directed especially toward the Eastern Churches. Coupled with this is the anxiety not to fall under the judgment of these churches which never cease to repeat: We represent your past; you do not represent our past.

It is perhaps the fear of the effects of change within the Catholic Church and the guilt feeling which the Eastern Churches instill through their criticism of the Western Church's "lack of fidelity to the past" which may prove for the proximate future to be the real grounds for excluding women from full participation in the life of the church.


1. A request which received considerable support. Cf. M. T. van Lunen-Chenu, "La Commission pontificale de la femme: une occasion manquee," Etudes 34 (1976) 880.

2. Third Synod of Bishops (1971). The Ministerial Priesthood and Justice in the World (Washington: USCC, 1972) 44.

3. August 15, 1972. Cf. J. O'Connor, ed., Canon Law Digest 1 (New York: Bruce Publ. Co., 1973) 694. Also: Ministries in the Church. Bishops* Committee on the Liturgy, Study Text 3 (Washington: USCC, 1974) 7.

4. On the occasion of this announcement it was stated that this action was inspired by a discourse of Pius XII and the address of Paul VI to the women of the world given at the close of II Vatican. Cf. L.-Chenu, op. cit,, 884.

5. L.-Chenu, op. cit., 884.

6. Ibid., 884-889.

7. Ibid., 889.

8. International Women's Year 1975: Study Kit (Washington: USCC, 1975).

9. Ibid., 20.

10. Origins 4 (1975) 719.

11. "Recommendations on Women in Church and Society," Crux Special (September 20, 1976). Also: L'Osservatore Romano (English ed.) August 12, 1976,4-5.

12. Study Kit, 28-29.

13. L.-Chenu, op. cit., 886, n. 29.

14. "Biblical Commission Report: Can Women be Priests?" Origins 6(1976)92-96.

15. Ibid., 96.

16. Ibid., 92.

17. "Letters Exchanged by Pope and Anglican Leader," Origins 6 (1976) 129.

18. Ibid., 131.

19. Crux Special (October 4, 1976).

20. "Theological Reflections on the Ordination of Women," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 10(1973) 695-699.

21. Ibid., 699. In his statement on behalf of the Administrative Committee of the NCCB, October 7, 1975, Archbishop Bernardin draws on this document. While noting the importance of the seventh argument, he maintains a cautious openness toward further development (Origins 5 (1975) 257-260).

22. J. E. Lynch, "The Ordination of Women: Protestant Experience in Ecumenical Perspective," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 12(1975) 194.

23. Ibid,, 194-195.

24. Ibid., 195.

25. Ibid., 186-191, 194.

26. For reports of discussion groups on the possibility of Ordination of women at the April 1975 meeting of the Conference of Anglican Theologians (Seabury-Western Seminary, Evanston, Ill.), cf. W. T. Stevenson, "A Case for the Ordination of Women," Nashotah Review 15 (1975)310-319; E.G. Wappler, "Theological Reasons Against the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood and Episcopate," Ibid., 320-324.

27. Origins, op. cit., 131.

28. Ibid.

29. This was a major concern of the commission on the ministry of women appointed by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. Its report, published in 1935, affirms that one branch of the church cannot rightfully ordain women to the priesthood without the consent of the other branches (Cf. Lynch, op. cit., 187).

30. For a discussion of the effect which such a change might have on the Anglican-Catholic Dialogue, cf. "Anglican-Roman Catholic Consultation: Statement on the Ordination of Women," Origins 5 (1975) 349-352. This document recognizes that some difficulties will be created and attempts to show why the move to ordain women in the Anglican Communion will not lead to ARC's "termination or the abandonment of its declared goal" (349).

31. There is no real evidence of a debate in Orthodox theological circles on this question. Cf. "Orthodox-Roman Catholic Consultation: Bishops and Presbyters," Origins 6 (1976) 142-143: The omission of any reference to an Orthodox discussion on the matter is due to the fact that the consultation knows of no published positions of Orthodox theologians which run contrary to the Orthodox tradition.

32. Archbishop Athenagorus, in a letter to his archdiocese, refers with approval to the statement of Paul VI made in his address to the Committee for the International Women's Year 1975 ("The Question of the Ordination of Women: A Letter to the Reverend Priests and People of the Archdiocese of Thyatiera and Great Britain, May 14, 1975," L'Osservatore Romano, July 3, 1975, 9-10.).

33. A. Schmemann, "Concerning Women's Ordination: A Letter to an Episcopal Friend," St. Vladimir's Theological Quarterly 17 (1973) 239-244; J. Meyendorff, "The Orthodox Churches," The Ordination of Women: Pro and Con, ed. M. P. Hamilton and N. S. Montgomery (New York: Morehaus-Barlow, 1975) 129-130.

34. "Joint Orthodox-Episcopal Statement: A Reaction to a Proposed Ordination of Women from the Orthodox-Anglican Consultation," issued June 25, 1973 (Text obtained from the Orthodox Secretary, V. Rev. P.W.S. Schnierla). In its separate statement the Orthodox approve the concept of the duality of human nature and the different roles which exclude women from ordination.

35. "Orthodox-Roman Catholic Consultation: Bishops and Presbyters," op. cit., 143.

36. Letter of Archbishop Athenagorus, op. cit.; Joint Orthodox-Episcopal Statement, op. cit.

37. Canon 108.

38. Sess. XXIII. Decr, de sacramento ordinis, canon 6 (DS 1776).

39. Lumen gentium 28 (A. Flannery, Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post-Conciliar Documents (Collegeville: Liturgical Press, 1975) 384.

40. P. Huizing, "Divine Law and Church Structures, Theology Digest 18(1970) 144-150.

41. The expression is used in Mediator Dei to affirm that ministerial authority "is not a delegation from the people" (Encyclical Letter of Pope Pius XII on the Sacred Liturgy "Mediator Dei" [St. Paul Editions: Boston, Mass., 1948] no. 40, p. 20). II Vatican's Lumen gentium (21, 37) applies "in persona ejus" to bishops who share in the triple office of Christ. The concept is used in recent encyclicals especially to distinguish the role of the priest from the laity in the eucharistic celebration (Mediator Dei [AAS 39 (1947) 556]; Pius XII, Mystici corporis [AAS 35 (1943) 232-233]; Paul VI, Mysterium fidei [AAS 57 (1965) 761-763]). II Vatican's Lumen gentium 10 paraphrases the text of Mediator Dei (Ibid.). For other references to this role of the priest in the eucharistic celebration, cf. Lumen gentium 28; Sacrosanctum concilium 7; Presbyterium ordinis 2, 13.

Some difficulties arise from II Vatican's presentation of the theology of ordained ministry: 1) the conceptual fluctuation between the view of the representation of Christ in the minister or in the exercise of the ministry (For example, Presbyterium ordinis 12 points in the former direction); 2) the stress on the relation of the ministerial priesthood to Christ which is not balanced with the pneumatological perspective of the ordination prayers of the Roman Rite; 3) the use of the concept priesthood to express the different "essence" of the role of the laity and pastoral office in the church (Lumen gentium 10) and the different degrees of hierarchy in the ordained ministry (Presbyterium ordinis 7) which results in a conceptual impasse.

In regard to no. 3, modern Catholic theology takes a different point of departure to explain the differences between laity and ordained ministry. It bases itself on an ecclesiology which situates the ministry in a twofold representative role (Christ and the Church) and which gives place to the Holy Spirit. In this perspective the church is a fraternity constituted by different charisms of which no one is superior or inferior to the other but necessary in their differences. The starting point for the theology of priesthood is not powers but the community and functions which build it up and order it. Presbyter is different from laity and bishop from presbyter because each has a different role in the ordering of the church (Cf. D. N. Power, Ministers of Christ and His Church: The Theology of Priesthood (London: Geoffrey Chapman, 1969) 141-162).

42. L. Scheffczyk, "Das kirchliche Amt im Verstandnis der katholis-chen Theologie," Amt im Widerstreit, ed. K. Schuh (Berlin: Morus, 1973) 17-25; Idem, "Die Christusreprasentation als Wesensmoment des Pries-teramtes," Catholica 27(1973) 293-311; H. Muhlin, "Das mogliche Zen-trum der Amtsfrage," Catholica 27 (1973) 329-358; W. H. Dodd, "Toward a Theology of Priesthood," Theological Studies 28 (1967) 683-705.

43. Despite the wealth of literature on this subject during the last twenty years this theme has only recently received the attention it deserves in Catholic theology. For a good brief discussion of the importance and use of the liturgy as source of theology, cf. G. Lukken, "La liturgie comme lieu theologique irremplacable," Questions Liturgiques 56 (1975) 97-112. Also: E.J. Kilmartin, "Liturgical Theology II," Worship 50 (1976)312-315.

44. E. J. Kilmartin, "Apostolic Office: Sacrament of Christ," Theological Studies 36 (1975) 243-264; Idem, "The Orthodox-Roman Catholic Dialogue on the Eucharist," Journal of Ecumenical Studies 13 (1976)218-219.

45. This theory is foreign to the East even now and to the West up to the tenth century. Cf. C. Vogel, "Titre d'ordination et lien du presbytre a la communaute locale dans l'eglise ancienne," La Maison Dieu 115 (1973) 70-85; Idem, "Chirotonie et chirothesie," Irenikon 45 (1972) 7-21; 207-238. In these articles the author points out the earlier understanding of the importance of the ecclesial context for the bestowal of pastoral office.

46. II Vatican's Presbyterium ordinis 1 relates the priest immediately to the universal church and secondarily to his bishop: "All priests share with the bishops the one identical priesthood and ministry of Christ. Consequently the very unity of their consecration and mission requires their hierarchical union with the order of bishops. Bishops, therefore ..... will regard them as their indispensable helpers. . . ." (Flannery, op. cit., 875).—This presentation conflicts with recent Catholic theological investigation of the relationship between the local and universal church which tends to favor the patristic and Eastern theological outlook. In this view the universal church exists in and from particular churches: primarily episcopal churches; secondarily communities dependent on them; thirdly gatherings of particular churches. While the unity belonging to the essence of the church is essentially transcendent: unity of faith and love, it is expressed sacramentally in local churches and among local churches through the Eucharist and hierarchically organized offices in which the local bishop is focal point in his church and the bishop of Rome serves the same function for all particular churches. The communion structure of the church must be described primarily in terms of love since it is grounded on the Spirit. The relationships within this communion can also be described juridically because love needs order. But a delicate balance must be achieved lest in the conception of the ecclesial community merely juridical or political categories prevail. Where the pneumatological dimension is not given first consideration excessive centralization or congregational federation inevitably results and a juridical concept of ministerial authority based on the power of delegation in the hands of the highest authorities or in the concrete community as a whole

47. D. Power, op. cit.; H.-J. Schulz, "Das liturgisch-sakramental ubertragene Hirtenamt in seiner eucharistischen Selbstverwirk-lung nach dem Zeugnis der liturgischen Uberlieferung, Amt und Eucharistie, ed. P. Blaser (Paderborn: Bonifacius, 1973) 208-255; Idem, "Die Grundstructur der kirchlichen Amtes im Spiegel der Eucharistiefeier und der Ordinationsliturgie des romischen und des byzantinischen Ritus," Catholica 29 (1975) 325-340; D. Eissing, "Ordination und Amt des Presbyters: zur Interpretation der romischen Priesterweihegebetes," Zeitschrift fur katholische Theologie 98 (1976) 35-51.

48. H.-J. Legrand, "The 'Indelible Character' and the Theology of Ministry," The Plurality of Ministries, ed. H. Kung and W. Kasper, Concilium 74 (1972) 54-62; J. Macquarrie, "Priestly Character," To Be a Priest: Perspectives on Vocation and Ordination, ed. R. E. Terwilliger and U. T. Holmes (New York: Seabury, 1976) 147-156; Idem, "The Church and the Ministry I: Ministerial Functions," Expository Times 87 (1976) 113-118; "II: Ministerial Character," Ibid., 147-151.

49. "Wort und Sakrament nicht spalten," Orientierung 40 (1976) 86. This article offers a development of the third part of a longer article: "Die Stellung der Frau in der Sicht der katholischen Kirche heute," Theologische Quartalschrift 156 (1976) 111-128. In a book soon to be published the author treats the same theme from the viewpoint of basic Christian right (Menschenrechte auch in der Kirche? [Benziger, 1976]).

50. Ibid., 87.

51. Unitatis reintegratio 15 (Flannery, op. cit., 465).


In January 1977 the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a document dealing with the current official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the subject of the ordination of women to the priesthood: A Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood. It was approved and ordered published by Pope Paul VI on October 15, 1976.

As the official position of the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, Catholics are expected to give it serious attention. However in accord with the nature of this document, it is not intended to put an end to the study of the question. Catholic theologians will recognize their duty to communicate their difficulties with this study to the Sacred Congregation.

This document reflects the position which Pope Paul has taken over the past two years. It affirms that the basis for the exclusion of women from the ordained priesthood is the constant practice of the churches of the East and West understood by the Magisterium to be grounded in the will of Christ. Scriptural evidence is introduced to show the reasonableness of the position of the Catholic Church. Some texts of the patristic period and of mediaeval theologians are adduced which show that at times the question of ordination of women was explicitly considered and rejected. Furthermore this teaching is clarified by the analogy of faith. An appeal is made to another teaching of the Catholic Church to show the "fittingness" of the practice of excluding women from the priesthood. A summary of this argument follows.

According to the teaching of the Catholic Church the priest acts in the person of Christ in the exercise of his ministry. To illustrate this teaching the traditional Catholic theology of the role of the priest in the eucharistic celebration is introduced. According to this view when the priest reads the words of institution he acts in the person of Christ "to the point of being his very image." Therefore since he is a sacramental sign, and all such signs represent what they signify by natural resemblance (according to St. Thomas), the priest must be a man: "For Christ himself was and remains a man." To explain how the priest can also represent the church, "act in the person of the church," this way is taken: "It is true that the priest represents the church. .... But if he does so, it is precisely because he first represents Christ himself, who is the Head and Shepherd of the church."

From the viewpoint of this writer the clarification by the analogy of faith labors under two disadvantages. First of all it has recourse to a scholastic theology of moment of consecration of the Eucharist which is almost unanimously recognized by Catholic scholars as inadequate. In its concern to underline the intervention of Christ present to his church in the person of the celebrant, this theology neglects to take into account the epicletic character of all liturgies: the function of the invocation (explicit or implicit) of the Spirit made by the community with a view to the accomplishment of the mysteries signified by the liturgical celebrations of the church. Secondly it presents a view of sacramental signification which bypasses the problem of levels of signification of liturgical celebrations of the church. It ignores the fact that all sacramental celebrations, by their very nature, signify first of all a human and social reality which, in turn, signifies for the eyes of faith a mystery dimension: the presence and activity of Christ and the Holy Spirit. From this perspective the priest directly represents the faith of the church and so Christ and the Holy Spirit who are sharing sources of the exercise of the faith in the celebration of the liturgy.

Edward J. Kilmartin University of Notre Dame Department of Theology Notre Dame, Ind. 46556

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