Eamonn McCann - No women need apply at the Vatican

Benedict XVI insists that the ban on women priests cannot be lifted because it flows from the infallible teaching of the Church.
Benedict XVI insists that the ban on women priests cannot be lifted because it flows from the infallible teaching of the Church.

Doctrinal disputes within the Catholic Church are descending to new depths of bitterness and bile. But is there any need for guns?

Benedict XVI insists that the ban on women priests cannot be lifted because it flows from the infallible teaching of the Church and is therefore the Word of God. Nevertheless, dissenting clerics continue to pop up on television saying that Benedict is wide of the mark on this one and that it’s a matter of when and not whether the ordination of women will be allowed.

So is no-women-need-apply an infallible teaching or not? I am glad to be able to clear this up.

In 1994, Benedict’s predecessor, John Paul II, in his letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, declared the question closed: “Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance…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.”

The following year, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, aka The Inquisition, headed by John Paul’s chief lieutenant Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, now Pope, hammered the message home: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis “witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church.... This doctrine belongs to the deposit of the faith of the Church. The definitive and infallible nature of this teaching [is] founded on the written Word of God.”

End of story, then? Not quite. Never is with doctrine.

The mid-‘90s theological argy-bargy over Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was somewhat stilled when influential US Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles pointed out that, on close reading, John Paul, when he’d proclaimed the infallibility of the teaching, had not been speaking infallibly.

None of these subtleties is likely to matter to the mass of Irish Catholics who, as a survey last week revealed, have an al la carte attitude to doctrine these days. Cardinals storing guns in the Vatican cellars might take note.

Seventy seven percent of Catholics support the ordination of women; 72 percent believe that married men, too, should be allowed to become priests; 46 percent oppose the church’s line on homosexuality; and 75 percent believe that Church’s teaching on sexuality generally is irrelevant to their lives. Are these dissidents merely dissenting from the policies of a particular Vatican regime, or have they broken with the Church itself?

Nobody knows. But Cardinal Domenico Calvagno may have his mind already made up.

It is against this background, and keeping in mind the violence which accompanied resolution of the Arian issue back in the fourth century - the blood literally flowed down the aisles before the concept of the Trinity was clarified - that we must ponder the significance, if any, of revelations in Rome that Cardinal Calvagno, ultra-orthodox former Bishop of Savona and current Vatican Minster of Finance with responsibility for Church finances generally and for oversight of the Vatican Bank, was lately discovered bringing a pump-action shotgun of Turkish design into his Vatican apartment. Intrigued journalists then discovered that Cardinal Calcagnon also had a Remington, a Smith and Wesson magnum (Dirty Harry’s favourite piece) and a dozen other assorted carbines and hand-guns in the cellar beneath his living quarters.

Cardinal Calvagno has told police that the weapons are for hunting. Quite so. But hunting what? Elephants? Seal cubs? Heretics?

If I were that Redemptorist Fr Tony Flannery, I’d be a wee bit more circumspect about expressing my controversial opinions in public.

Read more from Eamonn McCann in the Journal every Tuesday