'Woman and Man' document poses challenges

'Woman and Man' document poses challenges

Frank Mobbs

Dr Frank Mobbs points out that a close analysis of the document 'Woman and Man' on the participation of women in the Catholic Church in Australia (see October 'AD2000') reveals a wide gulf in thinking between the Church's intellectual élites and the Magisterium. The Australian bishops will consider this situation at their annual conference in late November (not yet held at the time this article was completed).

Dr Mobbs is an author and former university lecturer in philosophy and theology. He has been a regular contributor to numerous international journals, including 'AD2000.'

The Australian bishops have been singularly blessed. In the Report on the Participation of Women in the Catholic Church in Australia, they have incontrovertible evidence, based on thorough research, of the pathologies which afflict the Church.

Woman and Man: One in Christ Jesus has functioned like an electrocardiograph detecting causes of heart malfunction. The doctors - the bishops - have in their hands a printout telling them what is wrong with the patient. Now all they have to do is decide which remedy to apply.

The main pathology lies in a false view of the Church, a defective ecclesiology. A large majority of those who presented cases to the Research Group just do not believe in the magisterium (teaching authority) of the bishops. They do not believe that Christ the Lord gave his authority to the bishops so that "he who hears you hears me." That means they do not believe what the Second Vatican Council teaches in Lumen Gentium (Constitution on the Church). They reject that teaching.

This fact is evidenced by the repeated affirmations of heresy. By "heresy" I mean any belief which contradicts a dogma of the Church.

With very few exceptions, those who made submissions to the Research Group affirmed that women can be ordained priests and deacons. I counted 19 such affirmations. They include that of a Target Group of priests and male religious. This despite the fact that the bishops have, in every age, taught as a truth revealed by God that females lack the capacity to receive one of the sacraments, Holy Orders. This despite the fact that the Pope in 1994 taught "definitively" that the Church has no authority to ordain women. These teachings, though undoubtedly of the magisterium, are ignored. They do not count.

This raises the question: Who do the disbelievers think has authority to decide the question? In their view, does anyone have such authority? Were an ecumenical council to be held and teach with all its authority that the Church has no commission to confer Holy Orders on women, one wonders whether these people would take any notice of it.

Again and again, the submissions include the statement that the submitters do not believe in the hierarchical Church. Thus they reject Vatican II's teaching that the Church is "a society structured by hierarchical organs" (Lumen Gentium 8), a teaching which is hardly a novelty, seeing that it is to be found in the New Testament.

Remarkable demands

Nowhere in the Report is there to be found the attitude expressed in these words: "We would like to know what the Church teaches, so that we can know what God wants us to believe."

Even more remarkable are the seven demands that women and lay men be authorised to "anoint and absolve," that is, to confer the sacraments of Anointing the Sick and of Penance. A group of religious sisters (no less) and pastoral associates wants the Bishops' Conference to ask Rome "for trained and commissioned women and non-ordained males in pastoral roles to have some sacramental ministry open to them such as Sacrament of Baptism, Penance, Anointing the Sick" (p. 107).

A group of Sisters of St Joseph demands the same (p. 209). Thus the proposers exhibit their belief that being a priest is not necessary to the one conferring these sacraments. Anyone can do it. In so believing they flatly contradict the tradition of the Church and the dogmatic decrees of the Council of Trent (DS 1710, 1719).

At the time of writing this, the Anglican Diocese of Sydney is waiting for the Archbishop's decision as to whether lay men can celebrate the Eucharist. Anyone can do it. Much of the Anglican Communion is aghast. The 'Catholic' proposers cited in Woman and Man, however, are in the same theological boat.

Further expressions of heresy lie in requests that the Church declare abortion to be morally acceptable, and that adulterers (i.e., the invalidly married) be permitted to receive Communion. In the latter case, the heresy consists in denying that the Lord Jesus taught that one must not put away one's spouse and marry another.

The strongest demand in the Report is for women to be included in all levels of decision making in the Church. This constitutes a denial of the fundamental dogma of the Apostolic Succession. It denies what Lumen Gentium teaches about the successors of the apostles having an exclusive divine commission to both govern and also define Christian doctrine: "This Church ... is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (LG 8). Those who demand participation at the highest level have no time for the Apostolic Succession.

This pervasive feature of the Report has not escaped the notice of the Convenor of the Research Group, Bishop Kevin Manning of Parramatta. At a forum held at the Australian Catholic University in Sydney, on 12 November, he emphasised that a new catechesis is required so that Catholics will come to understand Vatican II's teachings about the Church.

When the Bishops' Conference considers its response to Woman and Man, it is to be hoped that the bishops will not waste their time on trifles, such as the alleged use of exclusive language, but will spend time on the question: What can we do to transmit the constant tradition of the Church, as enshrined in Vatican II documents, to a large part of the intellectual élite of Australian Catholics?

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