No Conscience Protections in Beloit

An e-mail correspondent asked me to comment on the situation of Ruth Kolpack and Bishop Robert Morlino.

I’m not sure I have anything constructive to say. One, I haven’t read her thesis. Two, I’m not privy to the accurate or inaccurate rendering of her private conversations to the bishop via tattletales. Three, clergy can pretty much do whatever they want and the laity, despite rumblings in Connecticut, pretty much have no recourse. Four, I’ve never met Ruth Kolpack or been taught by her, so I can’t say her teaching is orthodox, non-lame, wingnut, or whatever.

The bishop concedes he read hardly any of her thesis. That would seem to indicate his mind was made up to fire her and the thesis was merely an excuse. The difficulty for Bishop Morlino is that he really has to tread lightly because if his reason for firing the woman is unjust or illegal, he may be liable to a legal judgment. Therefore, he can’t tell us the real reason it’s been set in his mind to pink slip the Beloit pastoral associate.

In a healthy work environment, a supervisor and an employee have mutual rights and responsibilities. The supervisor is responsible for setting standards of work and conduct. Problem is, bosses can change and the standards may get altered in the switch. Sometimes new expectations are communicated, and sometimes not.

Fairness would seem to dictate that a professional person in danger of losing a job would have an opportunity first, to know the employment is in jeopardy, and second, to be given explicit goals, tasks, or achievements to accomplish in order to bring performance to an acceptable level.

Employers, however, are not always fair. Sometimes they permit themselves to be swayed by the testimony of others who have ulterior motives. What is interesting about this episode is that it seems that the complaints of a minority fueled this personnel decision. If so, it would seem that the minority accomplished the termination and that the bishop only served as the tool, the pink slip itself, if you will. Does that speak of strength, or of orthodoxy? Or does it indicate something different?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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51 Responses to No Conscience Protections in Beloit

  1. Mitchell says:

    Of course, all of this is simply speculation because any source of information regarding the termination is provided by Ms. Kolpack.

  2. Kevin in Texas says:

    A very salient point, Mitchell, and one that Todd fails to address, setting up a double standard even within his own paradigm for determining fairness in these types of matters.

    By her own admission, Ms. Kolpack was given a chance by the bishop himself to renounce the beliefs she holds that the Bishop (her boss) determined are not in line with the Magisterium. By her own admission, she refused to do so and continued to defend those beliefs. As an employee of the diocese, she acted with pride first, as opposed to obedience. Finally, it was her choice to directly involve the media, not the bishops or those who supported his actions after the fact.

    Context matters, Todd, and on this one you simply let your own biases get in the way, even if you haven’t directly stated your opinion (you implied it plainly). Not that we all don’t do that sometimes, but we need to keep each other accountable. ;-)

  3. Todd says:

    “(Y)ou haven’t directly stated your opinion.”

    No, I haven’t. But conscience protection has been very much in the news, and many Catholic conservatives have stated their opinion on that.

    Ms Kolpack reportedly identifies “religious evil” in the episcopacy, but she publicly states that language was perhaps too strong.

    Matters of inclusive language are not within the bounds of faith and morals, where the Magisterium of the Church *is* able to make definitive pronouncements.

    If somebody wants to read or scan Ms Kolpack’s offending document and provide evidence there’s something more than personal distaste, I’m willing to post the argument here.

  4. Fran says:

    With all due respect Kevin in Texas- I must point out that the etymology of obedience is to listen, not simply obey by following.

    What is considered obedience at one time may change, even though the truth itself never changes.

    It is very easy to dismiss Kolpack as her own problem. That is simply too easy to do in my eyes.

    That is how we once more get into our endless categorization of each other, something that stands in the way of the Kingdom.

    We do need to keep each other accountable, but we need to watch our own transgressions with the same vigor that we use for others.

  5. Kevin in Texas says:

    Hi Todd and Fran,

    I’m not certain where you’re getting your information on this, beyond the document itself that Todd mentions, but the case is far more complex than her simple distaste for language that is not inclusive enough. Ms. Kolpack, who holds an important leadership and teaching role in the parish, publicly disagrees with the Church’s teachings on the priesthood and the role of women therein. It is not only within the Bishop’s purvey to correct her or fire her in this matter, it is strictly speaking his responsibility as the pastor of his flock in the diocese.

    One thing that is most notable in her situation is her misrepresentation of her meeting with the Bishop, wherein, after listening to her side of the story, he asked her if she would be willing to make an oath of fidelity to Church teachings (I don’t know whether it was to be oral or in writing) since she has had a major teaching role, and she refused to do so. Had she done so, the Bishop would not have fired her. In that sense, Fran, she neither listened to the Church’s clear teaching, nor obeyed it when called to do so by her bishop and boss.

    Fran, I agree 100% that we must hold each other accountable without name-calling, which is petty and less than effective, but in what ways would you suggest that bishops discipline wayward Catholic teachers or priests who are not teaching faithfully what the Magisterium does, and who are potentially scandalizing their students and fellow Catholics?

    While I applaud and support our calls to be charitable and avoid name-calling, it’s ever so easy to continually criticize those in authority within the Church, as many people do regularly on this blog, but I am surprised to see so little here in the way of practical alternatives given. We can all “Monday morning quarterback” no matter which side we gravitate towards politically, but it’s much harder to actually govern in practice.

  6. Kevin in Texas says:

    And for what it’s worth, my point on criticism of bishops applies equally to those who criticize them from the more conservative or traditional end of the spectrum. This is clear to me in the case of those “more Catholic than the Pope” who criticize people like Abp. Chaput and Bishop Loverde for not being “strict” enough on Catholic pols who hold views at odds with Church teachings and who receive the Eucharist. Such matters are specifically left to individual bishops and their pastoral judgments.

    After all, I wouldn’t want you to think that I think I’m more Catholic than the Pope, now! ;-)

  7. Michael says:

    “he asked her if she would be willing to make an oath of fidelity to Church teachings (I don’t know whether it was to be oral or in writing) since she has had a major teaching role, and she refused to do so”.

    Kevin- She was asked to give a loyalty oath, an act of faith (Creed) and disown her thesis. She said she would do the first two, but not the third.

  8. Kevin in Texas says:

    Thanks, Michael. It’s been a week or so since I read the article they wrote in the local paper there.

    If this is the case (not doubting you, Muichael, but I don’t know if it is or not, as I tend to automatically question secular journalistic interpretations of anything having to do with the Catholic faith), then what reasons did she give for not disowning her thesis conclusions if they were at odds with the Creed and the teachings of the Magisterium?

    Again, the most salient point here is that this was not some random diocesan employee, but a woman who has played a central role in her parish/diocese in Catholic pastoral work and education. The bishops are responsible for insuring that such positions are filled by people who don’t openly dissent from clear Church teachings. If the bishop had not read much of her thesis, then I grant Todd’s point that he may have acted too hastily. But again, I tend to doubt secular media in their reporting on Church issues, as they have very little understanding and don’t seek to deepen that understanding.

  9. Todd says:

    I think many of us have our biases. Admitting them is a first step in discernment.

    Having known more people unjustly fired than employers taken advantage of (just my bias as a non-supervisor) it tends to fire me up when events like this ring a familiar bell. I delayed posting on it for about five days, knowing my own tendencies in this regard.

    The key issue would seem to be Ruth Kolpack’s current stance on women’s ordination. It was not as much of a hot button issue when she began her ministry. Is she teaching that women should be ordained? That would be a problem. Was she asked for her opinion in a private conversation and somebody didn’t like it and tattled on her? That’s a bit different.

    Either way, it’s a news item. It touches on the issue of conscience protection, perhaps in an inconvenient way for some. Who knows: it may strengthen the witness of those advocating for lay people to be protected if bishops followed due process in these matters.

  10. Fran says:

    Kevin – I would say that discussion and engagement is preferable. And that may take some time and needs to happen privately between the person and their bishop.

  11. Kevin in Texas says:

    Hi Todd, Fran, and Michael,

    FYI–just found this linked on the diocesan web site, from the horse’s mouth. Granted, some may see it as one-sided, but then again, so was Ms. Kolpack’s first move of going to the media. Fran, this would have stayed between her and the bishop if it were up to him, but she took it to the media, so hence she’s to blame for making it a public concern for all Catholics. Even granting your point, if she is teaching contrary to clear Church teaching, then I don’t see at all how she should not have expected to at least be put on administrative leave until further private meetings could take place.

    Here’s the diocese’s response to the question of whether she was fired for refusing in good conscience to reject her thesis:
    Q: I’ve heard that this firing has to do with Ruth’s master’s thesis, would someone really be fired for something they wrote in a college?
    A: Whether someone is 18 or 24 years old, or in their late 50’s, what they write in a college paper, or graduate thesis, should not be, by itself, the grounds for their termination. Statements that this is why Ms. Kolpack was fired are false. The collegiate and university settings are often the acceptable place for discussion of Church teaching and discipline. However, the parish and the work of a parish employee (especially a professional catechist) can never be the setting for such debate, especially when it involves established Church doctrine, which will not and cannot change.

  12. Malcolm Pickering says:

    I can’t think of a more useful and a more Christian paradigm through which to view this issue than the employer-employee relationship…

  13. Jim McK says:

    Am I following this correctly? Kevin thinks there is no right to disagree in conscience with the employer’s position? Tod et alii believe there should be a right to conscientious objection?

    How does this apply if the employer is a government hospital administrator? Should he be allowed to dismiss those who disagree with established government policy about how they should do their work?

    For the record, I think people should be allowed to disagree, particularly if it does not affect their work explicitly. People are capable of acting in conformity with policy while disagreeing.

  14. Kevin in Texas says:

    Hi Jim,

    Huh? I’m definitely lost as to your post…how does your example relate in any way whatsoever to a Bishop of the RC Church maintaining fidelity to the teachings of the Church among the employees responsible for disseminating that teaching as part of their official duties?

    As far as the right to disagree angle, sure, Ms. K has the right to disagree with the Bishop’s decision, as this is a free country. But the Bishop has the right to disagree with her interpretation of Church teaching and fire her for teaching it. Sounds simple to me.

    (No, this is not a sarcastic post–I genuinely miss the point of your post completely.)

  15. Jim McK says:


    I thought that was the point of Todd’s post, so I did not draw it out more fully.

    Health care is dedicated to caring for people’s health. The sticking point is in the details of what health is. The policy in this country, whether you like it or not, is health includes a woman’s right to abortion. My question is why can a bishop discipline those who disagree with him on doctrine, while a medical administrator cannot discipline those who disagree on health?

    What is not analogous? There may well be something, but I do not see what it is. I even hope there is something. I am just trying to find out what it is that you see as different.

    BTW, I have not seen anything that said Ms K was fired for TEACHING”, but only for holding an errant opinion. But I may have missed something.

  16. Jimmy Mac says:

    When I was a kid we used to buy bags of this stuff to make the garden grow. It had a slightly different label than the Diocese of Madison would want to give it, however:

  17. Michael says:

    If what she was teaching was dangerous, why not take the opportunity as a teachable moment for the church? Instead of vague pronouncements of her inability to provide inauthentic church teaching, why not openly state the issues?… Or are we just supposed to take the good bishop’s word for this?

  18. Kevin in Texas says:

    Jimmy Mac,

    How in God’s name can you call the diocese’s press release anything but pastoral and charitable? Do you really consider it cow manure? If so, why? Which specific points or attitudes do you disagree with, and why? Or is this just your way of striking out at the Bishop for his actions? I’m asking you this in all seriousness. At first I thought your post was a joke.

    It seems any fair reading of the press release is that the Bishop has used this issue as a pastoral teaching moment, and that he has charitably chosen not to go into details about specific areas in which Ms. Kolpack’s teaching doesn’t conform to Church teaching.

    It seems to me that many commenters here would damn the Bishop here if he does, and damn him if he doesn’t! As Fran pointed out in an earlier comment, the specifics of the case are a matter best left to private conversations between Ms. Kolpack and the Bishop, not to be spread via a diocesan press release, which could be potentially calumnous, and even legally actionable by Ms. Kolpack.

  19. Fran says:

    I was not going to do anything other than continue to read these comments on this post – it has all gone a bit over the top.

    That said, after reading this I have some questions for Kevin in Texas. I ask in prayerful sincerity and this not a joke.

    Kevin, do you ever disagree with anything that comes to us from a Bishop? What if, in an entirely unlikely scenario, the Bishop Morlino recanted and said that Ruth Kokpack could carry on? Would you so so forcefully defend that position as you do this one?

    I ask because I get the distinct impression from you that if the Bishops say it, you are in line with it with no questions asked.

    As I have said here and elsewhere at many times, the roots of obedience are in listening as I understand it. Ultimately it is Jesus that is the one who transforms and saves and not simply the Church itself. To fully understand that is to remain engaged and while following, it may mean challenging the instituion, come what may.

  20. Tony says:

    As I have said here and elsewhere at many times, the roots of obedience are in listening as I understand it. Ultimately it is Jesus that is the one who transforms and saves and not simply the Church itself. To fully understand that is to remain engaged and while following, it may mean challenging the instituion, come what may.

    You either believe that the Catholic church is the one, holy, catholic and Apostolic church, or you don’t. You either believe that the Church has teaching authority, or you don’t.

    It’s become the fashion to pick and choose what you believe as a Catholic, but if the Church can be wrong about the validity of a female for the sacrament of Holy Orders, could she not be also wrong about the divinity of Jesus?

    Ruth Kolpak offered to give a profession of faith, which includes “I believe in one, holy, catholic and Apostolic church” which acknowledged the teaching authority handed down by the Apostles. She then refused to recant her previous statement which ran contrary to that same profession. So she’s either lying about her profession, or lying about her beliefs. Which is it?

    Conscience is great, but it’s useless unless informed by the Mother Church. This is a distinction that most dissidents don’t get.

  21. Kevin in Texas says:

    Hi Fran,

    You’ve hit on the million dollar question affecting notions of “conservative vs. liberal Catholicism” in the Western world. I don’t have time to respond now, but this is a huge topic that could prove extremely fruitful in terms of dialogue between us. This weekend I will write Todd an e-mail with some of my thoughts on the issue (from my conservative perspective, of course), and I hoope he will find a way to blog about it to open up a respectful dialogue.

    But by way of short answer, yes, I assume that bishops’ decisions in matters regarding the teaching of the faith are to be respected and followed, unless they clearly defy or disregard long-standing magisterial teachings. I never start with the assumption that I need to question everything that a bishop says because I am concerned that I need to “stand up to authority”. This is, of course, not to say that bishops are always right, nor that obedience is absolute, but let’s leave this for a separate discussion.

    Thanks for your question, as I believe it is sincere and gets to the heart of some of our differences on blogs like this one!

  22. Jimmy Mac says:

    Kevin: I wasn’t thinking of cow manure. More like chicken s**t. That’s what this entire miscarriage of Christian justice is.

  23. Jimmy Mac says:

    Once again, I’ll let the Saint of the Theocons speak the truth to injustice:

    “The problem of clericalism is composed of several problems. It is the problem of a caste that arrogates to itself undue authority, that makes unwarranted claims to wisdom, even to having a monopoly on understanding the mind of God. The consequence is the great weakening of the Church by denigrating or excluding the many gifts of the Spirit present in the people who are the Church. The problem of clericalism arises when “the church” acts in indifference, or even contempt, toward the people who are the Church.”

    Richard J. Neuhaus, June 1989.

  24. Kevin in Texas says:

    Hi Jimmy Mac,

    You still haven’t given any reason why anything the bishop did was wrong. Just a reflex, perhaps, to criticize him?

    How would you personally handle a catechist who taught that women should be ordained by the Catholic Church?

    Lots of vitriol, no facts to speak of. Sounds a bit like what you so often accuse the conservatives of w/ regard to progressive bishops…

  25. Kevin in Texas says:

    Don’t know if many people will still be reading these comments at this point, but I wanted to give a reply to Fran and others who have mentioned questioning/doubting/being obedient to bishops and other ecclesial authorities. Won’t have time this weekend to send Todd my thoughts in an e-mail, but I did find a very relevant series of points on bishops’ roles in teaching and their authority, and I think we’d all be wise to heed them well, no matter where we stand politically on issues of secular interest:

    “Let ecclesiastical leaders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Never admit any charge against an ecclesiastical leader except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear…. Keep these rules without favor, doing nothing from partiality….
    Teach and urge these duties. If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with the will of God, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy, and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain….
    Shun all this; aim at righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called.” (1 Timothy 5:17-6:12)

    and this:

    “O Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you. Avoid the godless chatter and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge, for by professing it some have missed the mark as regards the faith” (1 Tim 6:20).

    Wise words from St. Paul, one of the first bishops!

  26. Jimmy Mac says:

    “How would you personally handle a catechist who taught that women should be ordained by the Catholic Church?”

    I would respect her ideas based on the supporting scholarship (which I would read before jumping into the fray), let her know that I and the male leadership of the church are, at this stage of the game, not in agreement, and encourage ongoing dialogue. To do otherwise is to give the impression that the official church expects the people of God to keep silent, and regards them as not qualified to be involved in institutional matters.

    “Respect and love ought to be extended also to those who think or act differently than we do in social, political and religious matters, too. In fact, the more deeply we come to understand their ways of thinking through such courtesy and love, the more easily will we be able to enter into dialogue with them.

    This love and good will, to be sure, must in no way render us indifferent to truth and goodness. Indeed love itself impels the disciples of Christ to speak the saving truth to all men. But it is necessary to distinguish between error, which always merits repudiation, and the person in error, who never loses the dignity of being a person, even when he is flawed by false or inadequate religious notions. God alone is the judge and searcher of hearts; for that reason he forbids us to make judgments about the internal guilt of anyone.”

    Gaudium et Spes, n. 28

  27. Kevin in Texas says:

    Jimmy Mac, thank you for that very pertinent quote from Gaudium et Spes. It’s especially important because it points out how we, as Catholic believers, are to interact with NON-CATHOLICS in social, political and religious matters. It goes on to point out that those who do not correct grave errors in Truth are not showing love to mankind. If we do not repudiate clear errors in matters of truth, we are not being disciples of Christ.

    In the case of Ms. Kolpack, a Catholic catechist (!), she continues to hold beliefs in violation of unchangeable Truth passed on to the Church by Christ Himself, namely that women are not eligible for the Sacrament of Holy Orders, as they cannot function as an “alter Christus” in confecting the Eucharist, offering pardon for sins in the sacrament of Reconciliation, etc. The Church can no more “accommodate” the ordination of women than it can claim that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are three different persons who confer on matters of faith. We as human beings cannot alter what Christ taught as the Truth, because it is inalterable.

    I would also opine that your proposed response to the hypothetical catechist in question confuses and gives false hope to that person–it puts human political notions like male chauvinism vs. feminism and democratic dialogue on a par with unchanging Truths taught by the faith and entrusted to the Church by Christ Himself. Contrary to what dissenters on the matter claim, the Church cannot ever confer Holy Orders upon women. That’s not simply a matter of Church practice, as is priestly celibacy, which is a practice that could theoretically be changed. It would be most uncharitable for a Bishop to give a dissenting catechist false hope that somehow the Church may “come around” to his or her opinion given time, and that dialogue should remain ongoing on matters like women’s ordination. I believe most of the Popes since the 1950s, save perhaps JP I, have definitively stated this as an unchangeable, thus closed, issue.

  28. Jimmy Mac says:

    I saw nothing in the quote from Gaudium et Spes that spelled out that it only applied to Catholic relations with non-Catholics.

    It addresses this Constitution to Catholics, to all Christians, and to the whole of humanity. Part 2 of the Preface quite specifically states this:

    “Hence this Second Vatican Council, having probed more profoundly into the mystery of the Church, now addresses itself without hesitation, not only to the sons of the Church and to all who invoke the name of Christ, but to the whole of humanity. For the council yearns to explain to everyone how it conceives of the presence and activity of the Church in the world of today.

    Therefore, the council focuses its attention on the world of men, the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theater of man’s history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs; that world which the Christian sees as created and sustained by its Maker’s love, fallen indeed into the bondage of sin, yet emancipated now by Christ, Who was crucified and rose again to break the strangle hold of personified evil, so that the world might be fashioned anew according to God’s design and reach its fulfillment.”

  29. Kevin in Texas says:

    Basic difference you are not acknowledging or missing completely on this whole issue, Jimmy–the Church has teachings that are not subject to democratic vote or dialogue to see if some kind of “compromise” can be reached, so it’s less than charitable and truthful for Catholics to encourage dissenters in those areas. The issue of women’s ordination is one of those. Not gonna change, because it can’t change. This isn’t a liturgical disagreement along the lines of reception of the Eucharist in the mouth or in the hand. Had he fired her for one of those types of minor issues, I would see what all the smoke is about here. As it stands, however, seems like all smoke and no fire from those who dissent from the Bishop’s actions in this case.

    A side point I would make is that your original Gaudium et Spes citation would seem to imply that the Bishop failed to respect Ms. Kolpack or indeed even rejected her as a human being. Not sure that’s even remotely possible as an interpretation in this case unless one’s only bias is that bishops haven’t got the right and duty to defend the teachings of the Faith and guard them from error in the hands of wayward catechists in their dioceses.

  30. Fran says:

    Wayward catechists. I have tried to stay out of this and I do believe you are sincere and trying to be charitable Kevin, but please.

    Words like “wayward catechists” and “right and duty to defend the teachings” are really incendiary. Words like this leave no room for grace.

    This brings me to this scenario of finality of truth that you present. You might as well stop all creation from flowing forth. Things actually DO change. Just ask Galileo.

    It just often takes time.

    The history of “wayward” has as much to do with clerics, Popes and the Magisterium. Please view this through the rich and bountiful lens of history.

    I might add here that a few comments back, or perhaps on another thread you referred to St. Paul as one of the first bishops.

    Have you studied any church history in a scholarly environment? I mean such as a Catholic theological institution?

    The original meaning of words such as presbyter, episkopoi and diakonoi were contextually far from what we know today. I might recommend Kenan Osborne’s book Lay Ministry as well as his book Orders and Ministry. Ordering the Baptismal Priesthood, editor Susan K. Wood is another.

    Kevin – I do respect that you are deeply committed and sincere and I appreciate that. However I will sum by saying this… as much as I love the Roman Catholic church, I find it is often in a position that lacks moral authority when it comes to reining in the wayward. I hate to even bring that up but to not do so is unconscionable.

  31. Fran says:

    I was just reading from the text of Pope Benedict’s Palm Sunday homily and had to add this…

    “”Before God we must not take refuge in pious phrases, in a world of make-believe. Praying also means struggling with God.”

    Praying means struggling with God. Amen.

  32. Todd says:

    Kevin, you are overstating the Church’s case for not ordaining women. Your presentation of the issue is not congruent with our understanding of God or the power of the Church. God could well approve the ordination of women: our understanding of the sacramental priesthood is not based on any particular aspect of female biology or psychology, but the choice of Jesus in selecting the Twelve. That women cannot now be ordained is neither a matter of faith or morals.

  33. Tony says:

    “Words like “wayward catechists” and “right and duty to defend the teachings” are really incendiary. Words like this leave no room for grace.

    This brings me to this scenario of finality of truth that you present. You might as well stop all creation from flowing forth. Things actually DO change. Just ask Galileo.

    It just often takes time.

    Fran, do you believe that in time we will learn that Jesus was not divine?

  34. Fran says:

    No. Jesus is the essential truth. That was never in question, was it?

  35. Kevin in Texas says:

    Todd and Fran,

    Todd, unless you misunderstand or are misusing the terms, you are 100% incorrect when you say:

    “That women cannot now be ordained is neither a matter of faith or morals.”

    John Paul the Great could not have been any clearer as to the infallibility of Church teaching on this matter in his apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994), the end of which I quote here:

    “4. 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.

    Invoking an abundance of divine assistance upon you, venerable Brothers, and upon all the faithful, I impart my Apostolic Blessing.

    From the Vatican, on 22 May, the Solemnity of Pentecost, in the year 1994, the sixteenth of my Pontificate.

    Joannes Paulus Pp. II”

    Yes, God is omnipotent and can of course do anything, but He has chosen to convey to the Church, through Christ’s message and time spent here on Earth, that the sacramental priesthood is reserved to men and only to men. As multiple popes have stated again and again, this is NOT an issue that is open to debate or change, unlike, say, the tradition (small ‘t’) of priestly celibacy in the Latin Church. Todd, with all due respect, I think it’s quite irresponsible of you to convey the impression that women’s ordination, and the Church’s teaching on it, is somehow subject to change in time.

  36. Jimmy Mac says:


    Catholicism, like all religions, contains the four “C’s”: Creed, Code, Cult, Community Structure.

    • Creed refers to the cognitive aspect of a religion; it is everything that goes into the explanation of the ultimate meaning of life.

    • Code of behavior or ethics includes the rules and customs of action that follow from one aspect or another of the Creed.

    • Cult means the ritual activities that relate the follower to one aspect or other of the Transcendent, either directly or indirectly; prayer is an example of the former, and certain formal behavior toward representatives is an example of the Transcendent, such as priests, of the latter.

    • Community Structure refers to the relationships among the followers; this can vary widely, from a very egalitarian relationship, as among Quakers, through a “republican” structure like Presbyterians have, to a monarchical one, as with some Catholics vis-a-vis their bishops and Pope.

    Obviously the essentials of the faith (creed) are not subject to democratic vote. As an aside however, the creeds as we know them, DID result from a form of vote. They weren’t handed down on tablets from Mt. Sinai.

    Otherwise, codes, cults and community structures HAVE changed over time and, in many cases, because of the pressure of dialogue and pushback. In the past, the magisterium:

    • justified the institution of slavery,
    • tolerated and endorsed a harsh misogyny and the oppression of women by men,
    • defended the use of torture,
    • blessed the crusades, the inquisition, and the burning at the stake of heretics,
    • cultivated a disdainful and punitive attitude toward the Jewish people,
    • insisted that sexual intercourse was morally tolerable only for the sake of procreation,
    • condemned democracy,
    • ridiculed the idea of religious liberty,
    • denied the legitimacy of the idea of human rights,
    • and condemned the separation of church and state.

    These last six teachings were not reversed until Vatican II.

    I invite you to read this article by Robert J. Egan, SJ (a frequent contributor to Commonweal) who teaches theology and spirituality at Gonzaga University in Spokane for a better explication of the history of the Church’s attitudes toward women’s ordination:

  37. Kevin in Texas says:


    Yes, I’m familiar (all too) with Father Egan and his unorthodox theological opinions. They don’t really matter one wit, however, when compared to what I just posted previously, an infallible teaching from John Paul II himself in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.

    I would note that not a single one of the areas you mentioned above was ever taught infallibly by either a council or any pope (by definition, for obvious reasons, as an infallible teaching cannot be rescinded), nor were any of those areas implemented by Christ Himself in sacramental form–we only have 7 of those.

    My point is not to argue that Church members and the Church hierarchy have never made any mistakes, committed sins, or been flat-out wrong on matters political and moral (as your list points out, and on which I don’t disagree, by the way), but rather that infallible Church teachings on faith and morals cannot change, no matter what people would like to happen. It’s really that simple. The Church and all of its members, including the Pope, are sinful human beings. However, we have faith that the Holy Spirit guides the Church in infallible matters of faith and morals. If you don;t believe that yourself personally (and I question whether you do or not, Jimmy), then take it up with God and the Church, not with me.

  38. Fran says:

    Well since the doctrine was part of Vatican I in 1870, your sweeping point is perhaps a bit overstated Kevin.

    And as to things not changing… well we do not know that. Perhaps, in support of your position, we would have to wait until such time that the Holy Spirit and the Vatican got to a moment in time in which further developments could be made.

    I have no need to have the last word on this. I do not have any aspirations of my own to the priesthood.

    What is infallible to me is that Jesus Christ is Lord. I am obedient to the church but that does not ever mean that I can’t ask questions, pray, ponder and hope.

    Or does it?

  39. Todd says:

    Kevin, the fact that you and many others overstate the case for women’s ordination is one sign of being a bit defensive about it.

    I’m not stating JPII didn’t teach as he taught. What I’m saying is the matter of women’s ordination doesn’t fall into the area of morality, or in the realm of what we believe about God.

    The Church certainly can exercise its teaching authority outside of the area of faith and morals, and I too believe the Church, as it is confected today, indeed doesn’t have the power to ordain women. But I would be cautious about assigning your own interpretation to what is actually being taught here.

  40. Kevin in Texas says:

    Todd, I’m not interpreting anything, as I don’t feel any need to dispute clear teachings of the Magisterium and the Holy Father.

    I have to confess that your point is utterly lost on me that in some hypothetical alternate reality, the Church could change its teachings. In some hypothetical alternate reality, I could retort, a lot of things could be different, but that has no bearing on the Church’s present teachings, does it?

    Hopping back to a previous point you made, Todd, on the Church’s understanding of the priesthood not being based on women’s biology or psychology, again I have to disagree to the extent that this is no longer the case since JP II began teaching on the Theology of the Body.

    He explicates very powerfully the role that the priest plays in being wedded spiritually to his bride, the Church, just as Christ is wedded to His Church. Christ’s masculine human form fits perfectly as He gives Himself completely to the Church, His bride, in His total sacrifice. A woman’s sexual nature, in turn, is to physically and spiritually receive her husband, much as the Church receives its Groom, Christ, through the sacrifice of the Mass and the intake of His Body and Blood through the Eucharist. Women cannot stand as any sort of “alter Christus” as can men, and those with a religious vocation thus marry Christ, taking Hi as their Bridegroom. An utterly beautiful theological and philosophical treatise on man’s sexual nature and powers, and I cannot recommend it highly enough to everyone!

    Church teaching develops over time as its understanding (in human terms) increases as a result of scientific and philosophical advances. It seems pretty clear to me that this is a prime example. JP II synthesized and more profoundly developed the Church’s understanding of human sexuality vis-a-vis God’s creation powers. The way the human body reflects God in terms of the dual, complementary natures of male and female is a beautiful, very spiriting, empowering view of human sexuality, moving beyond previous eras’ Puritanical refusal to acknowledge the beauty of the human body and the gift of our sexual powers as God’s creation.

  41. Jimmy Mac says:

    Kevin: “an infallible teaching from John Paul II himself in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis.”

    Nothing that JPII has taught is infallible! There are 2 infallibly defined matters: The doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. All else may be authoritative but NOT infallible teaching.

    “The Church may tease out what is only implicit in Scripture, such as the doctrine of the Trinity, but it may not add anything new to the deposit of faith. There are clearly things which the Catholic Church teaches, believes and professes – such as the content of Catholic social teaching – which the Church does not claim are “revealed truths.”

    The charism of infallibility was given to the Church in order to ensure the truthfulness of the witness the Church bore to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The first witnesses, the Apostles, appointed successor witnesses, those whom we now call bishops. The Holy Spirit is the guarantor that the witness of the Apostles’ successors can be as relied upon as the witness of the Apostles themselves. To treat the doctrine of infallibility as being mainly about secondary or marginal matters is to turn it into the exotic peculiarity of a sect rather than a straightforward mainstream Christian truth.

    All the Church can ask from its members is that we should believe the successors of the Apostles when they tell us that the Christian revelation is true. “

    Clifford Longley, The Tablet, 8/21/93.

    BTW, Longley is NOT a screaming liberal by any stretch of the imagination. He also is a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, a right of center London daily newspaper

  42. Kevin in Texas says:

    Sorry, Jimmy, but you have a significant misunderstanding about the different forms of infallibility, one that unfortunately many Catholics share and use to burnish their dissenting views. You’re referring to ex cathedra infallibility from the Holy Father, which has been used four times, I believe, not only two. From Cardinal Bertone, and note especially the final paragraph:

    c) Lastly, with particular reference to the teaching about reserving priestly ordination to men alone, it must be remembered that the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis confirmed that this doctrine has been maintained by the Church’s constant, universal tradition and has been firmly taught by the Magisterium in its most recent documents (n. 4). Now, everyone knows that Tradition is the hermeneutic locus where, in various ways—including that of calm conviction—the Church’s self-verifying consciousness operates and is expressed. In this specific case, the Church has unanimously and consistently maintained that women cannot validly receive priestly ordination, and this same unanimity and consistency reveals not the Church’s own decision, but her obedience and dependence on the will of Christ and the Apostles. Consequently, universal Tradition in this matter, marked by consistency and unanimity, contains an objective magisterial teaching that is definitive and unconditionally binding.3 The same criterion must also be applied to other doctrines regarding universal moral norms: the killing of an innocent human being is always gravely immoral; abortion is always gravely immoral; adultery or slander is always evil, etc. These doctrines, although not yet declared by a solemn judgement, nevertheless belong to the Church’s faith and are infallibly proposed by the ordinary, universal Magisterium.

    In conclusion, in order to speak of the infallible ordinary and universal Magisterium, it is necessary that the consent between the Bishops have for its object a teaching proposed as formally revealed or as certainly true and undoubted, such that it calls for the full and undeniable assent of the faithful. One can share theology’s insistence on conducting careful analyses in researching the reasons for this consent or agreement. Nevertheless, there is no basis for the interpretation that the verification of an infallible teaching of the ordinary, universal Magisterium would also require a particular formality in the act of declaring the doctrine in question. Otherwise we would be dealing with a solemn definition of the Pope or of an Ecumenical Council.4

    These clarifications seem necessary today, not for answering subtle and sophisticated academic questions, but for rejecting a simplistic, reductionist interpretation of the infallibility of the Magisterium, while offering at the same time correct theological principles for interpreting the value of magisterial teachings and the quality of the doctrines.”

    The full piece is quite a bit longer and goes into much more detail on the varied forms that infallibility takes. Here’s the link for those interested:

  43. Todd says:

    Kevin, you’re right that a thread pointing out a possible inconsistency in the Catholic approach to conscience protection is an insufficient thread to discuss the matter of women’s ordination.

    First, there are precedents for the Church changing an institution begun by the Lord on Earth. When it happens, the usual appeal is to the Holy Spirit, and the classic case in Scripture is the loosening of the tradition of Jesus calling Jews to baptism and to the Way.

    Second, the notion of comparing priest and people to man and woman, Christ and the Church is a metaphor. Metaphors are poetic and deep explanations of a reality that cannot be totally understood by human reason alone, or as well understood with just human reason. The fact of Christ’s institution of the sacraments governs the metaphor, not the other way around.

    Third, I would be cautious about the scattershot approach to arguing your point. When you bring in side issues (though not unimportant matters) like the alleged puritanical tendencies of earlier ages, it tends to cloud your arguments and bewilder your comrades.

    My point is this: ordaining women does not fall under unchanging moral teaching: the commission of grave wrong toward another human being. It is independent of human faith in God. It does not fall under any definition that would be encompassed by infallible teaching.

    That said, I have no wish to dissent from church teaching by going off and attending a woman’s ordination or advocating for it. The time is all wrong for it, and there are greater issues to settle before Christendom might accept women priests under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    The question at hand is: did Ruth Kolpack actively teach women could be ordained, or is this about some theoretical stance she took in a paper six years ago?

  44. Todd says:

    The last thing I should point out is that the Church has only taught women cannot be ordained for the past thirty to fifty years. Before that, it was never a consideration.

  45. Kevin in Texas says:

    Your last point is huge, really the crux of the matter, Todd, in terms of the Church vis-a-vis politically-motivated/oriented proposed changes to its practices.

    The Church, through the Magisterium, responds to those who seek to change the Church’s beliefs and practices to conform to whatever human political considerations are currently in vogue at the moment (leaving aside for the moment which political systems or “sides” those political considerations hail from–they come from modern conservatives as well as progressives). As part of its teaching role in guarding against error or even heresy, the Magisterium provides philosophical and theological explanations for its practices. We as Catholics can always benefit from reading, discussing, and praying about these explanations of long-standing teachings, e.g., JP II’s Theology of the Body, which was at least partially a response to growing confusion about the proper role of human sexuality as given to us by God to participate in His creative power. One locus of this confusion was/is in the role of the male priesthood and the calls for women’s ordination.

    While you may see my approach as scattershot and confusing, Todd, I would ask you to look at the discussion from my perspective (and I agree, this thread has grown a bit unwieldy!), namely that fellow commenters bring in quotes and commentary from progressive Catholic journalists, historians, etc. in order to support their views that don’t align with Church teachings on the matter. I hope to expand the dialogue, and perhaps let people know who don’t, that there are many treatises available that have been written by Popes, theologians, etc., which do further explain the Church’s teachings in more detailed and more human terms than simple Papal pronouncements and encyclicals, which tend to be philosophical, dry, and straightforward, thus not always easy reading.

    Scattershot may be my approach, but scattershot are the arguments disagreeing with or dissenting from particular Church teachings, too. :-)

  46. Tony says:

    The Church, through the Magisterium, responds to those who seek to change the Church’s beliefs and practices to conform to whatever human political considerations are currently in vogue at the moment (leaving aside for the moment which political systems or “sides” those political considerations hail from–they come from modern conservatives as well as progressives).

    Kevin, this was the point I was about to make.

    Church pronouncements are reactive. Before Arius, “everyone” believed in the divinity of Jesus (well, some may not have but they generally didn’t have influence or kept their mouths shut). When Arius challenged the current belief in the divinity of Jesus, the Church had to react. Before then, it was a given.

    Much like gay “marriage”. 50 or so years ago, gay “marriage” wasn’t an issue. Everyone understood that a marriage was between a man and a woman (or in the case of polygamists, multiple man-woman marriages including the same man).

    A man marrying a man was unheard of. Now that it’s being challenged, it has to be addressed. The same with the putting down of heresy and the clarification of dogma.

  47. Jim McK says:

    Kevin:”You’re referring to ex cathedra infallibility from the Holy Father, which has been used four times, I believe, not only two.”

    What occasions besides the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception?

    I slogged through the article by Bertone (probably when he was NOT a cardinal) looking for an answer, but found nothing.

  48. Jimmy Mac says:

    We can’t ordain women who obviously won’t emulate this approach to the culture of celibacy and the orthodoxy of the third world priesthood:

  49. Jimmy Mac says:

    To suggest that 50 years ago the then-accepted definition of marriage had been solidifed in time and eternity is to ignore the facts of history.

    Marriage and Divorce

    Marriages of all classes of people were arranged by the parents of the couple. Marriages were contracted to join two families together, and no family would leave such important matters to be decided on the emotions of the people involved. Peasant girls could marry as young as 12 and boys as young as 14. Most of the time though, girls married around 17 or 18 and boys in their late 20’s or 30’s. The groom was almost always much older than his bride. The prospective bride and groom would probably have already met and known each other for some time as peasants tended to live in or close to the same village their whole lives.

    The couple were married in a simple ceremony unlike the elaborate marriage ceremonies today. The actual ceremony differed from place to place. In the early part of the Middle Ages, the Church was not very involved in the marriage ceremony and it was usually conducted at home with several witnesses present. Over the course of the Middle Ages, the Church became more and more involved in the marriage ceremony and by the end of the period, a Christian marriage ceremony almost always accompanied a wedding.

    Once the wedding was over, married life began. It was undoubtedly awkward for both the husband and the wife for a time until they got to know each other better. Mutual friendship and respect eventually developed among most married people and sometimes the partners also grew to love each other.
    The man was the head of the household in the Middle Ages and the wife was legally his property. A man was allowed and even expected to beat his wife, as long as she lived through the experience. Husbands had complete control over all of their wife’s belongings and any other property that was owned by the family. The husband had the final say in all matters. However, many husbands asked for and heeded the advice of their wives.

    Husbands were allowed to divorce their wives for many reasons, the most popular being adultery. Wives, on the other hand, could not divorce their husbands. Towards the end of the Middle Ages, this changed slightly, and wives were allowed to divorce husbands convicted of certain crimes or away on a long campaign of warfare. In the peasant class, where everyone knew everyone else, adultery and divorce were less common then in the upper classes where the husband was often gone for long periods of time.

    • Reynolds, Laura. Marriage in the Middle Ages.

    • Reynolds, Laura. Marriage in the Middle Ages II.

    • Brooke, Christopher. The Structure of Medieval Society. McGraw-Hill Book Company. New York. 1971

  50. Tony says:

    To suggest that 50 years ago the then-accepted definition of marriage had been solidifed in time and eternity is to ignore the facts of history.

    Nothing you showed me contradicts the undisputed fact that it was always a male and a female who were married.

  51. Jimmy Mac says:


    I guess I wasn’t clear enough. The purpose of my last posting was to show that the definition of marriage has changed and change a lot over time. As I pointed out in a different post on this blog, sacramental marriage was not part of the Christian religion until 1545 at the Council of Trent. There was no sacrament of matrimony before that. In 1200 there first came the concept of marriage for love. Prior to that, women were given to men as part of a business arrangement between families. Nothing holy about that! If we do not want to redefine marriage, then we should go back to having your father arrange who you should marry.

    That said, definitions, understandings and acceptances change over time. This is one of those times in which change is happening yet again throughout the European world and in the U.S.

    Your marriage (assuming that you are married) will not be changed one iota if and when my partner of and I are able and willing to be married. At 36 years together we are ALREADY in the top few percent of couples’ longevity, Catholic or otherwise.

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