Lisbon Patriarch's Clarification on Women's Ordination

«It Would Be Painful for Me If My Words Generated Confusion in Our Adherence to the Church»

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LISBON, Portugal, JULY 11, 2011 ( Here is a translation of a clarification from Cardinal José da Cruz Policarpo, patriarch of Lisbon, after an interview in which he mentioned women’s ordination was widely reported. The interview and reports regarding it implied that the cardinal was in favor of women’s ordination.

The Archdiocese of Lisbon published the following clarification July 6.

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1. In an interview granted to the magazine «Ordem dos Advogados,» the interviewer posed a question on women’s ordination. My answer sparked different reactions, including indignation. I must say that I never developed this matter systematically. I always [simply] mentioned it, either responding to questions of interviewers or questions of the public in conversations that have followed my conferences on various topics. Reactions to this interview have obliged me to look at the topic with greater care and I realized that, above all because I did not take into due account the latest declarations of the magisterium on the topic, I opened the way to such reactions. Hence, I feel obliged to explain my thinking clearly, in communion with the Holy Father and with the magisterium of the Church, which is my obligation as a bishop and pastor of the People of God (cf. Lumen Gentium, No. 25).

2. The inability to confer the apostolic priesthood on women through priestly ordination is a tradition that dates to the New Testament, to Jesus Christ himself and in the way he laid the foundations of his Church.

Our Lord Jesus Christ leads creation to fulfillment, and forming part of that fulfillment is the harmony of men and women, in their complementary difference and in their equal dignity, giving full completion to the narration of Creation: «So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them» (Genesis 1:27). This complementarity of man and woman in the history of salvation attains its fulfillment in the revelation of Christ and of Mary. Mary’s place and mission deeply inspire the Church, in the complementarity of the mission. Contemplation of Our Lady is important to understand the feminine face of the Church.

When Jesus chose his Apostles, he chose men, although he was always followed by women who accompanied him to the cross. It is true that the cultural and social consideration of women in Jewish society would not facilitate the choice of women for a mission as Apostles. In Volume II of «Jesus of Nazareth,» the Holy Father Benedict XVI acknowledges that, in the testimony of the Resurrection, in the confessional tradition, there is reference only to men, perhaps because in the Jewish tradition only men were accepted as witnesses in a court; the testimony of women was not considered credible.

This form of social discrimination does not impede stressing the decisive role of women: «women have a decisive role in the narrative tradition.» The difference of ministry does not diminish the dignity of the mission. I quote Benedict XVI: «The Church’s juridical structure is founded on Peter and the Eleven, but in the day-to-day life of the Church it is the women who are constantly opening the door to the Lord» [1].

3. After Pentecost, the time of the Church begins, which continues Jesus Christ’s ministry. The apostolic succession is a founding and fundamental dynamism of the nascent Church. The Apostles impose their hands on men who will continue their apostolic ministry. The fact that there were no women among these successors and cooperators does not mean a minimization of women, but the search for that complementarity between the masculine and the feminine, fully realized in Christ’s relationship with Mary. In the Pauline Churches, outstanding women appear with responsibility, both in the mission as well as in the invigorating of the Christian communities. However, the Apostle does not impose his hands on them. Recognized in the Church of Rome is the importance of the «virgin» martyrs.

Of note in the early times of the Church is the harmony between the fact of the apostolic priesthood conferred on men and the importance and dignity of the women in the Church. The fundamental dignity of all the faithful comes from their union with Jesus Christ, the only Priest. The whole Church participates in that dignity, as it is a Priestly People. The First Letter of St. Peter is clear: «and like living stones be yourselves built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ» (2:5); «But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light» (2:9).

All the members of the Church, men and women, participate in this royal and priestly dignity, which they express above all when they celebrate the Eucharist. This expression implies continually the presidency of Jesus Christ, head of the Church and her Lord, which he exercises through the apostolic priesthood that, «in persona Christi,» guarantees to the whole Church the experience of her priestly dignity. This harmony was experienced and built, indisputably, in the course of the centuries. The ministry of ordained priests finds its truth in the experience of the Church as Priestly People.

4. The question of the ordination of women for the ministry of the apostolic priesthood arose recently, especially in Western countries and is explained by a variety of factors:

— The movements for the promotion of women, which defend not only their dignity, but their equality of rights and functions in modern societies. The feminist movements made this struggle specific in claiming that women must be equal to men in all functions of society. The theological criteria of the great Tradition of the Church is substituted by cultural and sociological criteria.

— The loss of the awareness of the priestly dignity of all the members of the Church, reducing the priestly expression to the ordained priesthood.

— The understanding of the ministerial priesthood as a right and a power, failing to see that no one, man or woman, can claim this right, but must accept the call of the Church for this service, which includes the gift of one’s life.

This new social situation sparked theological reflection and clearer interventions from the magisterium on this matter. Serious theology, initially, valued this long tradition of the Church, but did not exclude that it was an open question, given the attention that must be given to the action of the Holy Spirit, in search of the expression of the mystery of the Church in new realities.

5. The most recent teaching of the popes interprets this uninterrupted tradition, which has its origin in Christ and in the apostolic body, not only as a practical way of proceeding, which can change according to the rhythm of the Holy Spirit’s action, but as an expression of the mystery itself of the Church, which we must accept in faith.

I quote the text of Pope John Paul II in the Apostolic Letter «Ordinatio Sacerdotalis»: «Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

«Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.»

Hence, we are invited to obey the teaching of the H
oly Father, in the humility of our faith, and continue to reflect on the relationship of the ministerial priesthood with the priestly nature of the whole People of God and to discover the feminine manner of building the Church, in the decisive role of the mission of our sisters, the women.

6. In this year in which I celebrate the 50 years of my priestly ordination, a great manifestation of God’s kindness to me, I wished to give this clarification to the faithful of my diocese. It would be painful for me if my words generated confusion in our adherence to the Church and to the Holy Father’s word. I think I have shown you well that communion with the Holy Father is an absolute attitude in the exercise of my ministry.

Lisbon, July 6, 2011

+JOSE, Cardinal-Patriarch

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[1] Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Vol. II, page 263.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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