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To Anglicans on Episcopal Ordination of Women

"Where and on What Side Does the Anglican Communion Stand?"

VATICAN CITY, JUNE 17, 2006 (Zenit) - Here is the address Cardinal William Kasper, president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, gave to the Church of England bishops' meeting June 5, on the question of ordaining women as bishops.

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I wish to thank the archbishop of Canterbury for the invitation to speak to you as the Church of England House of Bishops on a question which concerns you and therefore also concerns the Catholic Church and me personally as president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

I have already had occasion to say to Archbishop Rowan Williams: Our friends' problems are our problems too. In this spirit of ecumenical solidarity I would like to offer you some reflections on the question of the ordination of women to episcopal office. Naturally these reflections are made from a Catholic perspective; I am of course convinced that the decision which you are facing involves us together with you, insofar as it will be of fundamental significance for relations between us in the future.


Today is not the first time we have discussed the subject of women's ordination. Therefore I would like to begin with a brief overview of our previous discussions. The introduction of the ordination of women to the priesthood by some provinces of the Anglican Communion, including the Church of England, was preceded by a lively correspondence between Rome and Canterbury.

Pope Paul VI addressed a letter on this issue to Archbishop Donald Coggan on Nov. 30, 1975, and again on March 23, 1976, and this was followed by a letter from Pope John Paul II to Archbishop Robert Runcie on Dec. 20, 1984. My predecessor in office, Cardinal Jan Willebrands, responded to Archbishop Runcie's reply on Dec. 18, 1985.

On the question of the ordination of women to episcopal office, Pope John Paul II wrote a very earnest letter to Archbishop Robert Runcie of Dec. 8, 1988. The Pope spoke openly of "new obstacles in the way of reconciliation between Catholics and Anglicans" and of the danger of "block[ing] the path to the mutual recognition of ministries."

He made reference to the ecumenical and ecclesiological dimensions of the question.[1] In the joint declarations with Archbishop Robert Runcie on Oct. 2, 1989, and with Archbishop George Carey on Dec. 5, 1996, he addressed this question once more.[2]

I should also mention the declarations by ARCIC[3], and the detailed response to the Rochester Report, "Women Bishops in the Church of England?" by the Department of Dialogue and Unity of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales on Oct. 3, 2005.

The official argumentation of the Catholic Church on the ordination of women is found in the Declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "On the Admission of Women to the Priesthood," "Inter Insigniores" (1977), and in the apostolic letter of Pope John Paul II "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis," "On reserving priestly ordination to men alone" (1994).

There the Pontiff stated that the Catholic Church was convinced that it had no authority for such ordinations. It therefore considers such ordinations invalid (CJC can 1024).[4]

This position has often been misconstrued as misogyny and denial of the equal dignity of women. But in the apostolic letter "Mulieris Dignitatem" on "The Dignity and Vocation of Women" (1988) and in his "Letter to Women" (1995) Pope John Paul made it clear that the position of the Catholic Church in no way arose from a denial of the equal dignity of men and women or a lack of esteem for women, but is based solely on fidelity to apostolic testimony as it has been handed down in the Church throughout the centuries.

The Catholic Church distinguishes between the equal value and equal dignity of men and women on the one hand and on the other hand the differentiation of the two sexes, which have a complementary relationship with one another.

Similar statements are found in the document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith "On the collaboration of men and women in the church and in the world" (2004). Benedict XVI reiterated and made concrete this view in his address to the clergy of Rome on March 2, 2006.[5]

I know that this question involves many complex hermeneutical, anthropological and theological problems which I cannot enter into in this context. The position of the Catholic Church can only be understood and evaluated if one recognizes that the argumentation has a biblical basis, but that the Church does not read the Bible as an isolated historical document.

Rather it understands the Bible in the light of the whole 2,000-year tradition of all the ancient churches, the Catholic Church as well as the ancient Eastern and Orthodox ...

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