Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Tuesday, September 20, 2011

One (of potentially many!) thoughts on the Bourgeois-Doyle case

Amid the turmoil provoked by the Zurek-Pavone dispute over the last several days, a story appeared in the National Catholic Reporter concerning the canonical defense that Rev. Thomas Doyle, op, plans to offer on behalf of Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest facing excommunication and expulsion from religious life in consequence of his public support for, and participation in, the so-called “ordination” of some women. Bourgeois has, of course, the right to engage canonical counsel in his situation, and Doyle is qualified to give that counsel.

In defending Bourgeois’ conduct, Doyle must contend with (as in, try to explain away) John Paul II’s ap. lit. Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994), the CDF Reply concerning Ordinatio (1995), John Paul II’s m. p. Ad tuendam Fidem (1998), CDF’s Doctrinal Commentary on the Professio Fidei (1998), and Canons 750-752, and 1371, among other things. That’s quite a burden, indeed, an insurmountable one I think. But while the wheels of Roman justice turn, it might be useful to comment on just one of the many canonically problematic assertions I see in the NCRep article. Consider the following passage:

Doyle explains that Bourgeois’ defense is based on . . . his conviction that ordination of women is not an infallible teaching. Doyle said Bourgeois believes the teaching is not “so essential to the core beliefs of Catholic Christians that to question or reject it is tantamount to a rejection of the fundamental teachings of Jesus Christ which form the core of Catholicism as a people of God.”

Notice? Bourgeois-Doyle write as if the ineligibility of women for holy Orders had been proposed by Rome as “essential to the core beliefs of Catholic Christians”; in other words, they write as if Rome required Catholics to “believe with divine and Catholic faith” that the Church cannot ordain women. But, if that is their view (and it is certainly the impression of many out there), they are quite mistaken.

The ineligibility of women for holy Orders has not been proposed by the Church as an object of belief (credendum), but rather, as an object of adherence (tenendum). The denial of Church teaching against the ordination of women is, therefore, not "heresy", but rather (and we seem not to have a single word like “heresy” for it yet), a failure to show confidence in the Holy Spirit’s abiding guidance of the Church.

Now, although in popular parlance people associate the concept of "infallibility" with teachings to be believed by the faithful, in fact, infallibility also extends to teachings to be firmly embraced and retained” by the faithful. The difference between the two is not in the degree of certitude to be accorded these distinct kinds or levels of teachings, nor in the degree of irreformability with which each are set forth, but rather, in the virtue by which the faithful come to accept these two types of teachings: through belief in the forever-completed revelation of the Word of God in the former, and through confidence in the continuing guidance of the Holy Spirit in the latter.

In short, an assertion can be set out infallibly by the Church without its ever being proposed as “essential to the core beliefs of Catholic Christians” and the denial of such an assertion is a grave canonical crime--not that of a heretic, I grant, but nevertheless of one who is "opposed to the doctrine of the Catholic Church". + + +

Update, 17 Oct 2011: Bourgeois and friends were detained by police for apparently attempting, sans permit, to carry protest banners into St. Peter's Square.