John Wijngaards’s Life – in his own words
My full name is Johannes Nicolaas Maria Wijngaards. I was born on 30 September 1935 at Surabaia in Indonesia from Dutch parents.
- 1959: ordained a priest as a Mill Hill Missionary.
- 1959 – 1963: studies in Rome. Licenciate of Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and Doctorate of Divinity at the Gregorian University.
- 1963 – 1976: missionary in India. Lecturer at St. John’s major Seminary, Hyderabad.
- 1976 – 1982: Vicar General of the Mill Hill Missionaries.
- 1983 – 1993: lecturer at the Missionary Institute London, which is affiliated both to the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium and Middlesex University in London.
- 1982 – 2014: director of Housetop International Centre for Faith Formation in London, which developed into the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.
- 2014 – now: chairman of the Wijngaards Instituter board of trustees.
My family went through difficult times during the war. My father, who was a highschool teacher, was drafted into the Dutch army and fought against the Japanese. During the war he worked on the railway lines in Thailand as a Japanese prisoner of war.
Together with my mother and three of my brothers, I too spent four years in Japanese prisoner of war camps in Java (Malang, Sukabumi, Ambarawa). All of us endured great hardships.
After the war we were repatriated to the Netherlands where we shared in the general poverty and deprivations of the time.
My original intention had been to become a medical doctor, a surgeon. I was also quite interested in the modern sciences and toyed with the idea of becoming a scientist. While in Asia I had seen missionaries at work. I felt called to a similar vocation. I decided to become a missionary priest.
After completing my university entrance exams at Haelen in the Netherlands, I studied at the major seminaries of Roosendaal in the Netherlands and Mill Hill in the UK. I joined Mill Hill missionary society in 1958 and was ordained a priest in 1959.
I was appointed to do higher studies in Rome. I obtained the Licentiate of Sacred Scripture at the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the Doctorate of Theology at the Gregorian University. My dissertation researched The Formulas of the Deuteronomic Creed(Brill, Leiden 1963). The findings were published in Dutch as Vazal van Jahweh (Bosch & Keunig, Baarn 1965). Further scientific research continued in India resulted in The Dramatisation of Salvific History in the Deuteronomic Schools (Brill, Leiden 1969) and a 360 page Commentary on the book of Deuteronomy in the well-known Dutch series of commentaries published by Romen and Zonen (1971).
MINISTRY IN INDIA
From 1964 to 1976 I was stationed in Hyderabad, India. I was involved in many tasks at once: lecturer at St. John’s Major Seminary, director of Amruthavani Communication Centre and general secretary of Jyotirmai, the pastoral planning body for the ten dioceses of Andhra Pradesh.
Much of my energy was concentrated on the apostolate in Andhra Pradesh. As Professor of St John’s Regional Seminary at Hyderabad, I spent most of my time teaching Scripture to future priests and training them in up-to-date, pastoral forms of apostolate. No other major Seminary in India had such an intensive training programme for its students as St John’s at Hyderabad. I directed the extensive research on vocations in Andhra conducted in 1968. I sat on the committee that translated the Sacred Scriptures in Telugu, and was moderator of the Conference of Religious for Andhra Pradesh. I founded Jeevan Jyothi, a new Formation Centre for Sisters in Hyderabad, Amruthavani, the Catholic Communication Centre for Andhra Pradesh, and Jyotirmai, the state-wide planning body for ten dioceses. These institutions are still flourishing today.
I was also actively involved on an All-India level.
- During the reforms following on Vatican II, I was a member of the Processing Committee that analysed the 91 Regional Diocesan and Group Seminars preparatory to the All-India Seminar of 1969. The work took two months and resulted in a 600-page assessment report.
- As a member of the Intellectual Sub-Committee of the Commissio Technicaof the Seminary Commission of the CBCI, I contributed directly to the guidelines for priestly formation in India which are now binding on major Seminaries in India.
- I was also, in various capacities, working with the CBCI Commissions for Mass Communications, Evangelisation, Biblical apostolage, Peace & Justice, Liturgy and Catechetics.
As one of the few church people in India specialised in Islam, I was for many years the only RC member on the Board of Management of the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies, Hyderabad.
In 1968 I represented India in Rome at a meeting during which the foundations were laid for the World Federation of Catholic Biblical Apostolate.
I was a regular lecturer at the Training Courses and Seminars of the National Biblical, Catechetical and Liturgical Centre at Bangalore.
I was one of the founder-members of the Catholic Biblical Association of India and was elected its first Secretary from 1967 until 1972.
I found that India needed substantial and readable introductions to Scripture for priests, religious and laymen. So I wrote God’s Word to Israel, a book on the historicity of the Old Testament (Ranchi Press 1971). My Background to the Gospels(counting 384 pages in the TPI edition of 1972) is still one of the most popular first introductions to the Gospels in India. The book has seen many editions, and was translated into a number of vernacular languages, such as Telugu, Canara, Tamil, Malayalam and (shortened) Hindi. I wrote a book for lectors entitled Yes, Read the Word to others but make them understand(Asian Trading, Bangalore 1973).
My dialogue with Hindus, Muslims, Jains and Sikhs helped me develop my understanding of God. It would lead to the publication of God Within Us(Fount Original, London 1988).
VICAR GENERAL IN LONDON
In 1976 I represented the members in India at the international chapter of the Mill Hill Missionaries at London, and was elected Vicar General for a term of six years.
I was mainly responsible, as some kind of ecclesiastical personnel manager, for the 451 members in our nine home countries (Austria, Belgium, Canada, England, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Scotland, the USA). I spent the best part of each year visiting each of the 27 Mill Hill communities in those countries (144 members at the time), communities which focused on fundraising, and recruitment & formation of missionary personnel. I also met as many of the other members as possible: fully retired missionaries (153) or those who, after work on the missions, functioned as chaplains, parish priests and parish assistants (143).
I saw it as one of my main tasks to organise renewal seminars for Mill Hill members. During my time in office 17 such seminars were held, benefiting 356 individuals.
During this time I wrote: Did Christ Rule Out Women Priests? (McCrimmons, London 1977) and Come and See (Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame 1981).
DIRECTOR OF HOUSETOP
Since 1982 I was the Director of Housetop, an international centre based in London, that produced video courses and films for adult faith formation.
We developed video courses, such as the WALKING OF WATERseries, that consisted of stories on video filmed in Kenya, Brasil, Colombia and Indonesia, with textbooks on Sacred Scripture.
Our film, Journey to the Centre of Love, which was filmed in England and Taiwan, of which I was the scriptwriter, received three international awards, including the Grand Prix of the Film Festival in Warsaw.
Although I had been involved in writing fiction before, I took special courses at this time which have enabled me to publish a novel, and write succesful screenplays for video and film. I continued to write spiritual and theological books (Inheriting the Master’s Cloak, Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame 1985; The Gospel of John, Michael Glazier, Wilmington 1986; The Spirit in John, Michael Glazier, Wilmington 1987; How to Make Sense of God, Sheed & Ward, Kansas City 1995), and began to address a wider audience through my fiction.
RESIGNING FROM THE PRIESTLY MINISTRY
In the course of the years I had begun to be more and more concerned about decisions by the Pope, both regards theology and the practical ministry.
This led, in 1998, to my resigning from exercising the priestly ministry, on account of a conflict of conscience, especially regarding the ordination of women.
The full background will be clear from these pages:
- my theological research on the priestly ordination of women;
- my press statement of 17 September 1998;
- the reasons for my clash with the Congregation for Doctrine more fully spelled out;
- my answers to frequently asked questions.
On the 21 February 2000 I received from Rome the indult that released me from the obligation of celibacy. Shortly afterwards my long-time friend and Housetop colleague Jacqueline Clackson and I married in a simple Church ceremony in the Netherlands, which was a great joy to us and our families. See the statement about my marriage.
THE WOMENPRIESTS’ WEBSITE
When I resigned from the priestly ministry in 1998, I knew that many Catholic groups and movements around the globe had begun to campaign for women’s ordination. However, I found that even many supporters did not fully appreciate the need of defending the cause on theological grounds. Generally speaking they – rightly – felt in their Catholic bones that it was not Christ who excludes women but prejudice. However, they were ill equipped to answer the traditional objections put forward by Church authorities.
To remedy this state of affairs I decided – with the help of local volunteers and a network of specialists – to found a website that would provide the academic material on which both campaigners and church leaders could base their views. It led to www.womencanbepriests.org which has grown out to be the largest professionally guided internet library on the ordination of women. The website offers thousands of documents in 26 languages (as of 2017). It provides the classic Church texts and traditional publications that reject the priesthood of women as well as the avalanche of theological publications supporting women’s ordination. Building up the enormous resources contained in the website has been a painstaking labour.
My research led to a number of further publications including: The Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church and No Women in Holy Orders?/Women Deacons in the Early Church. On the womencanbepriests.org website I published a course on Interpreting Scripture Correctly.
For a fuller account of my life story, click here.