"There's been dismay Pope Francis saying that there will never be women priests in the Catholic Church. But did he really say it?
Top Irish prelate Eamonn Martin certainly thinks that Pope Francis was unequivocal on the subject of women priests being a non-runner. Francis was merely reiterating one of the timeless truths of Catholic teaching, he has informed the rattled faithful.
Long-time readers of this column will know that I have had to put senior Irish Catholic clerics right on matters of doctrine more than once in recent years. Now I am called upon again.
The widespread dismay at Francis’s pronouncement reflects the common perception of the man from Argentina as a singularly undogmatic class of Pope, compassionate, humble, breath of fresh air, etc. Why, he has even expressed sympathy for gay marriage marchers in Mexico. A decent man with an understanding heart, then....Thus the sighs at his seeming reversion to the unfeeling ways of the past.
Francis’s declaration was made in conversation with journalists on the plane back to Rome after a visit to Sweden where he had been welcomed by the female head of the Lutheran church. Asked whether he could see the day when women enjoyed equality within the Catholic Church too, he replied that, “St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this, and it stands.”
The reporter pressed on: “Forever, forever? Never, never?” To which Francis responded: “If we read carefully the declaration by St. Pope John Paul, it is going in that direction.”
Not, well-read Hot Press readers will immediately have spotted, a ringing statement of personal conviction.
On the other hand, he was, indeed, endorsing the unambiguous view of the hardline misogynist John Paul II, who had not only said no, nay, never to women priests, but had had his spokesman emphasise afterwards that this was an infallible teaching to be held by the whole Church for all time. No room for wriggling there... Or so you’d think. But it’s the Catholic Church we are dealing with, which hasn’t held sway over the souls of billions for 2,000 years without developing a certain preternatural slipperiness.
Within a few weeks of John Paul’s stern 1994 insistence that no woman could ever consecrate a host hitting the world headlines, the distinguished American Jesuit theologian Avery Dulles was explaining in specialist journals that when the Pope said that the ban on women priests was an infallible teaching, he wasn’t speaking infallibly...
Nice one, Pope, I thought at the time, a sentiment which, in contrast to the easy-oozy manoeuvres of the Vatican, I continue to espouse.
I also continue to believe that when pressure for equality from women and the world can no longer be resisted, another immutable Law of God will be repealed without compunction..."