I’ve been thinking further about the implications of the Dilemma to which I referred yesterday.
When His late Holiness John Paul II pronounced that there was no scope for debate about the ordination of women, he was not in fact debating the question as such : what he was doing was saying that there wasn’t any question open to debate.
Now : it may be that it would have been more helpful for him to have said that ex cathedra, as an infallible pronouncement, so that the Catholic Church was saved from any further discussions about what is clearly, at least in the minds of some, an important question despite his statement . . . and that is a separate question which is, I have to admit, a little unclear, simply because to say that there can be no scope for debate on a topic, whilst not making that statement in a way which is not open to debate, seems to be inviting controversy – which one might have thought was something the Church could always do without.
However : the more significant point, it seems to me, is the obverse of the same issue – which is that the Holy Fathers have, throughout the history of the Church, made it patently clear that certain aspects of the Church can – and arguably should – develop in order to allow the Church forward its mission in a changing world : and that to argue the contrary is, in effect, to argue that the Holy Father has no power at all, as if tradition must always be preferred to the current power of the papacy, then the same argument must apply in every other context – which means that, in effect, the papacy has no power as it can never overrule tradition.
(It also scouts the fact that, as ever since the second Council, tradition has been subject to development, and sometimes active modification, by the Councils : which must question how tradition can be considered to be perfect and irreformable in the context of Papal decision-making, and yet be open to development by Councils summoned by the Popes.)
Ultimately, it seems to me that if we are Catholics, we are obliged to accept that the Holy Father is head of the Church, and fully empowered by God to develop the way in which the Deposit of Faith is expressed and manifested in order to relate itself most effectively to the needs of humanity : and that whilst this may involve him consulting a Council, or theologians, as channels by which he may become more fully aware of the will of God, it certainly does not mean that this either should, or even properly can, be influenced by the opinions of others . . . particularly others who decline to accept that their personal tastes may not be seen as important.
I personally would hate the Holy Father to announce that he was satisfied that it was God’s Will that – for instance – all the worst liturgical excesses demonstrated by the proponents of ‘the Spirit of Vatican II’ should be not just tolerated, but actually be mandatory, and non-negotiable : but I would have to accept that, if I wanted to remain a member of the Catholic Church, then that was so, and I would have to adopt those excesses . . . accepting them, if you like, as a cross; but accepting them as the will of God, and praying that doing so would be attributed to me as righteousness.
What worries me is all those who find themselves facing things which they dislike maintain that they are Catholic, even whilst they disobey (or at least openly argue with) the Holy Father and the Church . . . I’m not saying that it’s easy to fall in with the Holy Father’s decisions, least of all unflinchingly; but it does seem to me that that is the price-tag for membership of the Catholic Church. It’s a price that I pray – and have prayed since my Reception – that I shall always be willing and able to meet : but at the least I recognize that unless I am, I am not entitled to call myself Catholic . . . and I do find it hard to understand why there appear to be so many Catholics who simply do not appear to recognize this.