On August 2, 2016, Pope Francis instituted a commission to study the history of the female diaconate, for the purpose of its possible restoration. And some have seen this as a first step toward priesthood for women, in spite of the fact that Francis himself seems to have ruled it out absolutely, responding as follows to a question on the return flight from his journey to Sweden last November 1 (in the photo, his embrace with Swedish Lutheran archbishop Antje Jackelen):
“For the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the last clear word was given by Saint John Paul II, and this holds.”
But to read the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” the question of women priests appears to be anything but closed. On the contrary, wide open.
“La Civiltà Cattolica” is not just any magazine. By statute, every line of it is printed after inspection by the Holy See. But in addition there is the very close confidential relationship between Jorge Mario Bergoglio and the magazine’s editor, the Jesuit Antonio Spadaro.
Who in turn has his most trusted colleague in deputy editor Giancarlo Pani, he too a Jesuit like all the writers of the magazine.
So then, in the article with his byline that appears in the latest issue of “La Civiltà Cattolica,” Fr. Pani calmly rips to shreds the “last clear word” – meaning the flat no – that John Paul II spoke against women’s priesthood.
To see how, all it takes is to reread this passage of the article, properly speaking dedicated to the question of women deacons, but taking the cue from there to express hopes for women priests as well.
ONE CANNOT SIMPLY RESORT TO THE PAST
by Giancarlo Pani, S.J.
[…] On Pentecost of 1994, Pope John Paul II summarized, in the apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis,” the outcome of a series of previous magisterial statements (including “Inter Insigniores”), concluding that Jesus has chosen only men for the priestly ministry. Therefore “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women. This judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
The statement was a clear word for those who maintained that the refusal of priestly ordination for women could be discussed. Nonetheless, […] some time later, following the problems raised not so much by the doctrine as by the force with which it was presented, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith was presented with a question: can “ordinatio sacerdotalis” be “considered as belonging to the deposit of the faith?” The answer was “affirmative,” and the doctrine was described as “infallibiliter proposita,” meaning that “it must be held always, everywhere, and by all the faithful.”
Difficulties with the answer’s reception have created “tensions” in relations between magisterium and theology over the connected problems. These are pertinent to the fundamental theology on infallibility. It is the first time in history that the congregation explicitly appealed to the constitution “Lumen Gentium” no. 25, which proclaims the infallibility of a doctrine that is taught as definitively binding by the bishops dispersed throughout the world but in communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter.