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Answers to Questions regarding my Resignation by John Wijngaards

Answers to Questions regarding my Resignation

based on responses I gave to people in my correspondence

Please, be prepared for some repetition!

  1. By resigning from the ministry, are you not actually conceding defeat to Cardinal Ratzinger? You seem to agree by your action that you do not really belong to the Church any longer.
  2. Your protest will not make any impression on Rome.
  3. Are you fully aware that you are renouncing all your extraordinary impact on thousands of people for no other purpose than to nail a letter of protest on the iron door of the Congregation of the Faith in Rome ?
  4. Why do you not just ignore Rome and keep your head down?
  5. Do you have a hidden agenda with your resignation? What do you get out of it for yourself?
  6. Why do you not want to accept the teaching of the Holy Father?
  7. I am very worried about the future of the Church. What is going to happen?
  8. In what sense is Rome closing the debate on the ordination of women?
  9. Does this mean that I should leave the Church?
  10. Have we lost all academic freedom in the Church?
  11. Should we not at all costs preserve unity and orthodoxy in the Church? Liberal theologians destroy the Church because they refuse to give obedience to the Pope.
  12. And now you are leaving us. What have we done as your brothers in the same priesthood that you turn your back on us?
  13. How can you presume to be above the Magisterium of the Church? What has happened to obedience, humility?
  14. Did Christ not promise help to the Pope in his teaching role? Why do you not simply trust God’s guidance in all this?
  15. Will your conflict with Rome invalidate your present work in Housetop?
  16. What does your decision to resign from the priestly ministry mean regarding your own future work?

Question 1. By resigning from the ministry, are you not actually conceding defeat to Cardinal Ratzinger? You seem to agree by your action that you do not really belong to the Church any longer.

The question whether by my resignation I would actually be conceding defeat to Cardinal Ratzinger was in my mind during my process of discernment. I do not believe that Cardinal Ratzinger can legitimately push people out of the Church in the way he seems to want to do. However, my considerations were, and are, as follows:

The Pope and Ratzinger represent the official Church. The Motu Proprio and its official commentary by Cardinal Ratzinger express the position taken by the establishment, the hierarchical Church. I cannot any longer be part of it, precisely because I dispute not only the theological grounds for the decision, but also the basis for this exercise of authority. I feel I owe it to myself no longer to be part of the official structure. It is a question of my inner integrity.

Throughout my life as a priest and a theologian I have considered my personal integrity as one of my main assets. I know that my students (and the readers of my books) accept my teaching because they value my personal sincerity as well as my scriptural or theological arguments.

That is why I will remain a Catholic and will keep proclaiming the Good News, but no longer as a cog in the system.

Question 2. Your protest will not make any impression on Rome.

I agree with you that the element of public protest will have only a limited impact. Moreover, I do not want to harm “the little ones”: either less well informed Catholics or outsiders who will only be pushed further away from the Church by all forms of infighting. Already more than 10 years ago I decided that “Church bashing” is of limited use. For ten years I stopped writing articles that were critical of the Church. On the other hand, the question of the “complicity of silence” in the Church really upsets me. Whatever Rome says, however outrageous its pronouncements, the official Church, that is: the bishops and priests, close ranks — against the ordinary faithful.

I know it to be a fact that many theologians (if not most) agree that women can be ordained priests. They are now keeping silent, conducting an “underground theology” as one put it to me recently, until Rome will revoke its decision (as it has so frequently done in the past). I feel that I cannot, in conscience, follow that path as it is my duty to speak the truth.

I have been in touch with some Bishops now. They react in a similar way. They tell me: “Who bothers about these Roman decrees ....?  The Pope may die in six months.” “Will you say this publicly?” I ask them. “What about the ordinary people who are upset by all this? They can’t defend themselves against Rome  ....  Moreover, you may not bother, but other Bishops will.” ——  We know Third World Bishops, don’t we - how dependent they are on Rome.”

I feel I have an obligation in justice towards the ordinary faithful, who are the underdogs in this case. Some people who will hear about my decision (hopefully also about my staying in the Church!) may feel encouraged. But even if nobody knew, I can, in conscience, no longer be part of the deafening silence.

Another example. Yesterday I spoke on the telephone about this to a good friend of mine in one of the European capitals. He said I was overreacting. He offered this story. The Bishops in his country were upset on account of the decree on lay ministers — the local Cardinal called a meeting of canon lawyers. They told him: “Well, all this is now in the Canon, but we do not need to bother, etc. etc.”; and they offered legal excuses. So the Cardinal was happy. “We carry on as before, but don’t say anything to Rome”, he concluded. —- I told my friend: “If these new regulations are wrong, they should not be in Canon Law at all. The Cardinal and his lawyers should protest to Rome about it. And, since no public statement was made by the Cardinal, how will ordinary people know how to interpret Rome’s decree? And what about countries which do not have clever canon lawyers than can protect their practices against these new laws?”

In my view Rome is actually corrupting all levels of authority in the Church by making them act against their consciences.

Question 3. Are you fully aware that you are renouncing all your extraordinary impact on thousands of people for no other purpose than to nail a letter of protest on the iron door of the Congregation of the Faith in Rome ?

You are quite right in thinking that my protest will have little impact on the intransigent and narrow thinkers in the Congregation for Doctrine. I came to my decision not, in the first place, to voice a protest. It was forced on me by a conflict of conscience. Rome can make life difficult for me but it will never take away the values that I hold most dear in my life: my belief in love, my integrity and my loyalty to truth.

Moreover, I believe that you are somewhat mistaken in your assessment of the effectiveness of my decision. As a theologian and spiritual writer my highest asset has always been my integrity. People listen to me because they know that what I say or write I believe to be true. If that goes, everything I have done in my life will go too. I want to protect what I have done. That is why, paradoxically, by withdrawing from the active ministry, I am actually saving my own priesthood.

Our priesthood does not consist only in administering the Sacraments. It involves most of all the proclamation of the Good News. How can I proclaim the Good News if I were to abandon integrity and truth?

I am not a rebel by nature. I have been forced to become one because of Rome’s stupidity and intransigence. On the other hand, I know and trust that the Church will eventually come to its senses. In God’s mysterious providence I may be able to help many more people in my new situation than I would be if I did not listen to the dictates of my conscience. I am receiving an incredible number of letters from people who are at a loss because of the Church’s attitude and who see a sign of hope in my response. It may be God is opening an enormous new door there - - something I am now exploring.

Question 4. Why do you not just ignore Rome and keep your head down?

I know everyone has to respond to the situation as he or she considers best according to one’s own conscience. I have reached a kind of breaking point.

But it won’t stop me being a Catholic or a bringer of Good News, believe me!

Look on it like this: perhaps I’m mad; but God may need some mad people like me!

Question 5. Do you have a hidden agenda with your resignation? What do you get out of it for yourself?

If I scrutinise myself, I may well have a ‘hidden agenda’: who of us knows all our deepest motives and intentions? My resignation has given me a new freedom. I can now speak out, and write, without all the time looking over my shoulder and wondering how so-and-so in authority will react to it. I am also much freer in my life style. Such freedom is probably what I get out of it for myself.

While saying this, it makes me sad at the same time to reflect on why this should be so. Are we not God’s beloved children who should enjoy ‘the freedom of the children of God’ to quote Bernard Häring? What kind of Church have we become? Theologians may not express their honest opinions. Bishops have to toe the party line. Many priests have to carry a burden of celibacy to which they were not called. Married people are denied the joy of sex and of ‘being body’ in much of their union. I know that God’s Kingdom demands self discipline and sacrifices. But are we as Catholics at present allowed to enjoy the freedom of being ourselves? Of being true to the Christian values we believe in?

If having more of this freedom is a ‘pay-off’ for me, remember that my conflict of conscience was triggered by Rome. By pushing me over the brink of what I could take, it is they who have brought me into this situation of open conflict -- a situation which, paradoxically, is giving me more freedom. God’s ways are mysterious . . . .

Question 6. Why do you not want to accept the teaching of the Holy Father?

The situation is actually much more complex than you express in your letter. I firmly believe in the teaching authority of the Holy Father, and that is why I am upset when I see the Pope making mistakes, misled as he is by his theological Roman advisors.

In spite of the guidance of the Holy Spirit (which safeguards a Pope from teaching an infallible error), our Popes have actually made many mistakes in the past and supported doctrines and practices which have afterwards proved to be errors. Do not forget that even St.Peter made mistakes: he betrayed Jesus and had to be reprimanded by Paul when he took a wrong decision (Gal 2, 11-14). Many of these errors have been revoked by later popes, or by Church Councils, especially Vatican II.

Although the Holy Father is guided by the Holy Spirit, this does not refer just to some kind of inner voice in his conscience, he also has to listen to what the Holy spirit is saying to him through the Body of the Church. Unfortunately, the present Congregation for Doctrine is not really listening to the advice of Bishops, theologians and a vast majority of the faithful.

I feel that I am bound in conscience, for the good of the Church itself, to point out the mistakes which the Congregation for Doctrine is making at present. This is not a pleasant duty, I assure you. It would be much easier to bury my head in the sand. I am obviously very much saddened and devastated by having had to make this decision. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is now making so many mistakes that we have to break the silence.

Question 7. I am very worried about the future of the Church. What is going to happen?

I share your anxiety regarding the Church. We all realise that tensions and conflicts are unavoidable when the Church, being the large body it is, has to face up to the challenges of the new world we live in. We should remember this even when we are at the receiving end of its teenage, growing-up tantrums. I suppose this is the suffering many women have experienced and are experiencing until the full equality of women IN CHRIST will be recognised.

However, the Holy Spirit has not said the last word. I am confident that the present decrees of the Congregation for Doctrine will eventually be revoked.

Question 8.  In what sense is Rome closing the debate on the ordination of women?

In 1976, the international biblical experts of the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded, with a majority of 12 to 5, that there were no scriptural objections to the priestly ordination of women. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith rejected this advice and wrote its own negative statement (Inter Insigniores, 15 October 1976).

Since then, Rome has refused to listen to protests and challenges offered by bishops, theologians, scripture scholars and women’s organizations from all over the world. Rather, local bishops have been enjoined to suppress any further discussion. “The bishop should prove his pastoral ability and leadership qualities by resolutely refusing any support to people who, either as individuals or as groups, defend the priestly ordination of women, whether they do so in the name of progress, of human rights, compassion or for whatever reason it may be” (Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, 13 September 1983).

Recently, John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter which stated that the question of the priestly ordination of women is no longer open to debate (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 22 May 1994). Ad Tuendam Fidem and its official commentary now seems to excommunicate dissenters. Anyone who holds that women can be ordained priests is “no longer in full communion with the Catholic Church”, we are told (The Tablet, 11 July 1998, pp. 920-922; see no 6 & 11).

Question 9. Does this mean that I should leave the Church?

No. You should not leave the Church. In a large body such as the Church is, it is unavoidable that we have tensions and conflicts when new theological topics are being researched. It often has led to pain and suffering in previous centuries. We should not be surprised if the same happens today. I am sure that the true answer will eventually emerge from all our study and prayer. The Holy Spirit has not yet spoken the last word. Future generations, will hopefully, benefit from the struggles we are going through at present.

Question 10. Have we lost all academic freedom in the Church?

Academic freedom in the Church has often been a casualty when Church leaders began to fear that correct doctrine will not be safeguarded. Suspicion came to a peak under Pius X (at the beginning of this century) and lingered on, until Pius XII formally defended academic freedom mainly under the influence of Cardinal Bea, the German head of the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

The good news is that the principle of academic freedom has been enshrined in the documents of Vatican II - - and Council documents have much more weight than Canon Law will ever have. “All the faithful, both clerical and lay, should be accorded a lawful freedom of enquiry, freedom of thought and freedom of expression, tempered by humility and courage in whatever branch of study they have specialised” (Gaudium et Spes, no.62).

The bad news is the backlash against the Vatican II Document which we witness at present. The restrictions in Church law which you enumerate and which should ensure just a benign check on correct doctrine can so easily become a tool of suppression in the wrong hands. Traditionalist groups often pressurise their bishops to execute them to the letter.

There will always be some tension between academic freedom and our task, as pastors and theologians, to faithfully pass on what is believed to be revealed doctrine. This tension affects us even as individuals. I remember episodes in my life when I was momentarily shaken because I discovered that one thing or another was not part of revelation. The problem gets aggravated when a large body as the Church has to come to terms with such realisations. What tends to happen then is for Church authorities, who often lack the time to be thoroughly updated, to opt for a safer, traditionalist stance.

I realise that such philosophising does not resolve the practical dilemmas theologians have to face, such as are happening through the narrowminded leadership of the Congregation for Doctrine today. But understanding the root cause may help us to have a much more long term view.

I am convinced that Rome’s narrow views will be reversed sooner of later. I know from my international involvements that the vast majority of academics reject Rome’s views and this will prevail. Our own immediate strategy could be to keep our heads down (adopted by many and recommended by some bishops I know) or shout in anger as I am trying to do.

Also, from the above you will rightly conclude that being a theologian in the Catholic Church, if you want to be a good one, does not guarantee a safe job. Since theology deals with truth and such as actual life it will of necessity remain a risky undertaking. You will only survive it if you accept it as a vocation, with tremendous responsibility both for the precious doctrines we are handling and the pastoral needs of the people we serve. There are few theologians who have not, at one time or another, been put on the rack. I am sure that this will not discourage you. It makes the whole exercise, or rather “our whole life”, more worthwhile!

Question 11. Should we not at all costs preserve unity and orthodoxy in the Church? Liberal theologians destroy the Church because they refuse to give obedience to the Pope.

Although I have much empathy with your concern for unity and orthodoxy in the Church, I regret that I cannot agree with your analysis of what is happening in the Church in general.

On a number of very important issues, particularly in the area of sexual ethics, the Holy Father and his close advisers have not sufficently paid attention to what the Second Vatican Council calls “the signs of the times”.

I do not want in any way to impugn the Holy Father’s sincere intention, or that of his close advisers, but they are not only out of touch with what is happening in the real Church; they have also overlooked the need there is of closely scrutinising what Sacred Scripture and Tradition are really telling us in such sensitive issues. It is not possible for me, obviously, in such a short letter to go into detail. Remember however that the teaching authority cannot function legitimately in the Church, not even that of the Holy Father himself, if it is not exercised in close consultation with the rest of the Body of Christ. This is what has been neglected over the past decades and which has taken us now into such serious inattentions within the Church.

There is also a warped sense of “loyalty” in the Church. Our loyalty to those in authority should be informed by our own reason and sense of reponsibility. We do not have in the Church a situation as pertained in Germany during the war of “Befehl ist Befehl”. There should be much more clear and open opposition from top leaders in the Church to the often misdirected guidance that comes from Vatican offices. St. Paul gives us an example of this loyal opposition in his letter to the Galatians.

Question 12. And now you are leaving us. What have we done as your brothers in the same priesthood that you turn your back on us?

The answer is simple: It is not my brothers in the priesthood who have done anything to me. It simply is the central authority in Rome. Cardinal Ratzinger, like Cardinal Ottaviani did during the Second Vatican Council, is blocking the truth of the Gospel. Through Humanae Vitae millions of people have been pushed, and are being pushed, out of the Church in spite of the majority of Bishops and Priests knowing that its ban on contraception is theologically wrong and morally disastrous. Now Ratzinger has publicly declared that anyone who believes in the ordination of women is no longer a member of the Church.

Can I just disregard such statements? How can I continue to function as a priest when the highest teaching authority in Rome tells me that people like me are no longer Catholics? And even if I could ignore Ratzinger’s pronouncements, as most theologians do, what about the ordinary people who have no such defence ?

Your rhetorical question is therefore quite unfair. I am not against you or against any other of my brother priests. It is Ratzinger and his small clique in the Vatican who have caused this crisis.

Does truth mean nothing to you anymore? Do you have no feeling for integrity? How can I continue representing the Church when the Church itself so publicly disowns me ?

Question 13. How can you presume to be above the Magisterium of the Church? What has happened to obedience, humility?

Obedience to the Magisterium only makes sense when the Magisterium itself is not abused. During the Second Vatican Council the Church came close to accepting all kinds of truly erroneous doctrines. Remember that in the original draft submitted by the Congregation for Doctrine for the document on Revelation there were at least TEN tremendous mistakes, one of them even a definition of faith which was completely wrong. Did it not require some strong protests by Church leaders and theologians at the time, many of whom had to suffer too, before the damage was undone?

Look at what is happening in the Church now. Ratzinger just goes on proclaiming one absurdity after the other without the leaders in the Church having the guts to speak up for the truth and for what is good for people. The Magisterium only works if it does listen and consult. The present closed group running the Congregation for Doctrine in Rome is bringing out theological edicts which the majority of theologians have to reject and about which they, as the Church’s international body of theologians, are never consulted. Do you believe the Church, and Jesus Christ and Almighty God who is Truth and Love itself are served by not exposing what is going on?

We have lost the true virtues of leadership in the Church because the present regime in Rome has gradually corrupted a true sense of responsibility in Church leaders. There is a wrong idea of loyalty - as if it does not require also loyal opposition. There is a mistaken notion of obedience - as if it does not require the duty of prophetic challenge.

Theologians too are being corrupted. Most thoroughly disagree with Rome, but just keep their heads down so as not to be hurt.

I very much believe in the need of a central teaching authority. But remember what Christ said about salt getting corrupted. What is the value of Rome’s teaching authority now when it has lost almost all its credibility among most of the pastoral leaders and the faithful? Does respect for the Magisterium not in itself require that we stand up and shout, to make sure that its true authority does not get eroded by the irresponsible action of the small clique that is now in charge ?

Question 14.  Did Christ not promise help to the Pope in his teaching role? Why do you not simply trust God’s guidance in all this?

The situation is more complex than you suggest and I hope you will not mind me frankly setting out my position on this in this letter.

The Pope has Christ’s assurance of help in his teaching role, but the help consists not merely or even mainly of inner grace. Rather it consists of the advice and guidance offered him by the Spirit who speaks through the Body of the Church. This means that the Pope may not ignore what the Spirit is saying to him through the Bishops with whom he shares the magisterium, through theologians who received the charism of teaching and through the ordinary faithful who reveal what is right through their “sensus fidelium”. The present Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has consistently failed to truly consult and has turned down the theological advice it was offered.

The Congregation for Doctrine has published its reasons for thinking that women cannot be validly ordained priests. These reasons, whether from Scripture or Tradition, do not stand up to inspection. It is, therefore, my duty as a theologian who am specialised in these matters to point out these errors, just as Paul had to challenge Peter (read Galatians 2,11).

The official Church has made awful and costly mistakes in the past. The same Congregation for Doctrine for instance, declared in 1866 that slavery was not contrary to natural or divine law, that slaves could legitimately be held, bought and sold. This doctrine of Pius IX was revoked by Leo XIII and utterly condemned by Vatican II. The present Pope, misled by his Roman advisors is making similar mistakes.

I very much respect and value the ultimate teaching authority of the Pope. It is a precious gift Christ has left to the Church and we badly need it. But through the misguided counsel of the present papal advisors, the central teaching authority has suffered enormous damage. All theologians and sensible pastors in the Church know that Humanae Vitae is not correct, and they advise their flocks accordingly. If we want to safeguard the magisterium itself, we have to reinstall the process of true consultation intended by Christ and enshrined in Vatican II documents.

Question 15. Will your conflict with Rome invalidate what Housetop is doing?

No it will not. My personal clash with Rome should not affect the work of Housetop. I would like you to know:

1. My unfortunate clash with Rome will not affect Housetop’s standing. Both Cardinal Basil Hume, the Archbishop of Westminster (in whose diocese Housetop is situated) and Bishop David Konstant, Bishop of Leeds (who is our ecclesiastical patron), have assured me that they will keep supporting Housetop and its work.

2. The controversial issues about which I have a conflict of conscience with Rome, including the ordination of women, are not mentioned in Housetop’s faith formation courses. Since our courses aim at deepening people’s faith rather than present new theological information, I have carefully avoided introducing such controversial issues into the courses.

3.All the course books, both for the Walking on Water series and for How To Make Sense of God, have received the Imprimatur.

4. My own personal disagreement with Rome should not stand in the way of the important ministry of faith formation which Housetop is engaged in.

For the latest Housetop projects, visit our Housetop Web Site.

Question 16. What does your decision to resign from the priestly ministry actually mean?

My leaving the active priestly ministry in protest at what the Congregation for Doctrine is doing, does not mean my leaving the Church, or abandoning my Catholic Faith. I stand by everything I have taught and written. I owe it to my own sense of integrity and truth, as I honestly see it as a theologian, to express my opposition to what the Congregation for Doctrine is now proclaiming as if it is the true Catholic doctrine. I am in a conflict of conscience, and I hope and pray that the suffering this causes will eventually help to bring the Church authorities back to their senses, so that the Church may truly face up to the new realities in our present world.

I will continue my work as a theologian and writer.

John Wijngaards

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Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

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