Ordination and the priesthood


Sir, – The attempt by John O’Loughlin Kennedy (“Church’s flimsy arguments against women”, 9Opinion & Analysis, April 9th) to dismiss both the 1976 declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) and Pope John Paul’s solemn teaching “that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women” (Apostolic Letter, 1994) well illustrates the low regard with which theological scholarship is regarded in this country, where everyone sees fit to pontificate on matters theological – and have their opinion published in a national newspaper.

Mr O’Loughlin Kennedy claims that in its declaration the CDF was “relying” on Mark 3:14 to justify its position. To begin with, this is to accuse the CDF of a kind of fundamentalism or literal interpretation of Scripture, which, to put it mildly, does not do justice to a brief but closely argued CDF text. After sifting the evidence (against the background of the culture of the time), the document admits that Scripture does not provide black and white answers to this question as to why Jesus’s choice of men as Apostles, but only provides “... a number of convergent indications that make all the more remarkable that Jesus did not entrust the apostolic charge to women”.

More significant is the fact that the document never actually quotes Mark 3:14! Only once does it make a reference to it – and that in a footnote (10). Nonetheless, the opinion piece points out that “No quotation marks” were used. But how could there be, since the text was not quoted? And then he adds “but the unwary reader is (mis-)led to believe they are quoting scripture, when in fact they are altering it”. Now, that is simply outrageous. If that claim is not misleading, what is?

He even claims that Pope John Paul II “was badly served by those who drafter the apostolic letter for him”, since the anonymous authors “... faced the same dilemma with the second half of verse 14”. The trouble is that, yet again, verse 14 is never quoted by John Paul II. There is one reference (in brackets) to Mark 3:13-14 (along with John 6:70) and a second to the more important, full text of Mark 3:13-16 (along with parallel texts).

Mr O’Loughlin Kennedy finally makes the preposterous claim that the pope’s apostolic letter contradicts the CDF declaration “on one essential point”, namely with regard to the “matter and form” of the sacrament of ordination. A deficient grasp of pre-Vatican II sacramental theology could mislead one into identifying the matter and form of the sacrament of ordination with “the imposition of hands and recital of the prescribed prayers”, to quote Mr O’Loughlin Kennedy. What the CDF document pointed out was that the Church can modify the way the sacraments are celebrated (the liturgical form, as occurred after Vatican II) but not the substance of the sacraments, which are symbolic by nature. And here, it would seem, the male gender is part of the substance of the sacrament of ordination.

This is based, to the quote same document, not on any one text of Scripture, but the “practice of the Church, which has a normative character: in the fact of conferring priestly ordination only on men, it is a question of unbroken tradition throughout the history of the Church, universal in the East and in the West”.

In his apostolic letter, St John Paul II says the very same. – Yours, etc,



(Professor Emeritus

of Moral Theology,

Maynooth University),

Dublin 4.