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CATHOLIC PRIEST RESIGNS DUE TO CONFLICT OF CONSCIENCE

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Press Statement by John Wijngaards, 1998-SEP-17

I have resigned from the priestly ministry on account of a conflict of conscience with the supreme authority of the Catholic Church in Rome.

Background:

Over the past decades I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the official Church's decrees concerning sexual doctrine and ethics. Married couples are forbidden the use of contraceptives, even if applied with discretion. Obligatory celibacy remains arbitrarily imposed on clergy of the Latin Rite in spite of the spiritual anguish thus inflicted on many priests and their flocks. Homosexual partnerships are discriminated against. And - the last straw as far as I am concerned - , women are barred from ordination to the priesthood in spite of there being no proven objections from either Scripture or Tradition (see my theological note).

The official teaching emanating from Rome in these matters has done and is doing great damage to the Body of the Church. Millions of believers have stopped attending the Eucharist on account of it, turning for spiritual consolation elsewhere. The teaching authority has lost its credibility even among loyal pastors, who often struggle to limit the damage inflicted by offering their faithful a more sensitive pastoral guidance than Rome does. Most alarming of all is the inevitable corruption Rome causes in all levels of responsibility in the Church by forcing on all a complicity of silence.

Bishops and Bishops' Conferences fail by not challenging Rome publicly. Theologians and theological institutes fail by not standing up for what they believe to be the truth. Parish priests fail by not reassuring the faithful from the pulpit. Religious superiors and seminary professors fail their students by leading them into an establishment that will inhibit their autonomy and responsibility.

The question of the ordination of women is the breaking point for me because I have been personally involved in theological research and pastoral ministry concerning this issue for the last 20 years.

The Ordination of Women:

When the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith promulgated its reasons for rejecting women from the priesthood in 1976, I published counter arguments in "Did Christ Rule Out Women Priests?" The booklet, which carried the Imprimatur, was reprinted in a number of languages and countries, the last enlarged UK edition appearing in 1986. It has recently been made available on the Internet (http://shaw.iol.ie/~duacon/wompr.htm). I am a member of various organisations which promote Catholic Women's Ordination: CWO (Catholic Women's Ordination), St. Joan's International Alliance and the Canon 1024 Mailing List. I have continued writing on the question, in spite of Rome's attempt to suppress theological research or pastoral discussion (see my article "Therese and the Question of the Ordination of Women" in Mount Carmel (November 1997)
and The Catholic Citizen (March 1998).

Conflict of conscience:

I have always considered it my duty, as a theologian and a priest, to sincerely pursue the truth as I perceive it, after careful study and reflection. Vatican II states that "all the faithful, both clerical and lay, should be accorded a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and freedom of expression, tempered by humility and courage in whatever branch of study they have specialised" (Gaudium et Spes, no 62). Since I perceive Rome's ban on women's ordination as not legitimately founded on Scripture or Tradition, not arrived at after proper consultation in the Church, harmful to ecumenism and highly injurious to the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful, I feel bound in conscience to continue voicing my sincere opposition.

On the other hand, I see that the authorities in Rome, pursue a policy of rigorous enforcement of the ban, silencing all theological reflection and discussion (see historical note). Through the Motu Proprio of Pope John Paul II Ad Tuendam Fidem of 28 May 1998 and the accompanying commentary by Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, defence of the ordination of women is presented as tantamount to heresy. Anyone who holds that women can be ordained priests is "no longer in full communion with the Catholic Church", we are told (Statement by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, 29 June 1998).

In view of this stand of the official Church, whose ultimate pastoral leadership and teaching authority I respect in spite of the mistakes it has committed in the past and may still be committing in the present, I know myself in conscience bound to resign from the priestly ministry. I can no longer represent the official Church while disagreeing with it on such a fundamental matter.

Moreover, I want to stand on the side of those men and women who are so casually and unjustly dismissed by the Vatican. It is only by distancing myself now from the institutional Church that I can extract myself from the guilt of taking part in the conspiracy of silence.

Explaining my position:

By resigning from the priestly ministry I have in no way renounced my right and duty as a theologian to publicly express my opinion. Neither have I stopped being a member of the Church itself. All my life I have been a conscientious and orthodox Catholic and I intend to remain so until I die.

I do not want to betray the trust my family, friends and sponsors have always given me. I hope they will accept my conviction that only by following my conscience can I be truly faithful to my prophetic and missionary calling.

I appreciate the position of Catholic bishops, priests and religious who gallantly continue in their ministry in spite of their disagreement with Rome. I respect their sincerity in acting thus for pastoral reasons. I hope they in turn will respect mine.

I am deeply concerned about the various groups I have ministered to, such as my former students in India, readers of my books and articles, and those who follow my faith formation courses world wide. I reassure them that I have not renounced my Catholic faith, and that I stand by all spiritual and theological matters on which I have written and taught.

Finally, I want to express my appreciation and gratitude to Mill Hill Missionary Society. I salute my Mill Hill comrades and colleagues with whom I have shared so much labour and joy during my forty years of membership. I wish them God's speed, and I promise them a never ending friendship on my part.

John Wijngaards

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Theological Note

Neither of Rome's two principal arguments for banning women from ordination stand up to scrutiny.

Rome maintains that, when Jesus Christ selected only men to be his Apostles, he deliberately excluded women from the priestly ministry. If so, did he not exclude Gentiles by only selecting Jews? Rather, an analysis of Scripture shows that in choosing only men Jesus followed the prevailing custom of the time, without thereby, as in so many other matters, closing the door to future developments.

Rome also alleges that, throughout Tradition, the living teaching authority of the Church has consistently barred women from the priesthood. The fallacy of this argument lies in not distinguishing between common belief and practice on the one hand and considered Church teaching on the other. Historical studies show that the practice of not ordaining women was based on social and theological beliefs that no longer stand up to scrutiny. As in the case of belief in six-day creation, the argument from past and present Tradition only holds good for issues on which the Church could and can pass an informed judgment.

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Historical Note

In 1976, the international biblical experts of the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded, with a majority of 12 to 5, that there were no scriptural objections to the priestly ordination of women. The Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith rejected this advice and wrote its own negative statement (Inter Insigniores, 15 October 1976).

Since then, Rome has refused to listen to protests and challenges offered by bishops, theologians, scripture scholars and women's organizations from all over the world. Rather, local bishops have been enjoined to suppress any further discussion. "The bishop should prove his pastoral ability and leadership qualities by resolutely refusing any support to people who, either as individuals or as groups, defend the priestly ordination of women, whether they do so in the name of progress, of human rights, compassion or for whatever reason it may be" (Letter from the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, 13 September 1983).

Recently, John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter which stated that the question of the priestly ordination of women is no longer open to debate (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 22 May 1994). Ad Tuendam Fidem and its official commentary now seem to excommunicate dissenters.

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Short Biographical Information about John Wijngaards:

Nationality: Dutch Born: 30 September 1935
Ordained a priest: in 1959 as a member of St. Joseph's Missionary Society of Mill Hill.
Education: Gregorian University Rome, Doctor of Theology; Pontifical Biblical Institute Rome, Licentiate in S. Scripture.

1964 - 1976: Lecturer St. John's Regional Seminary & Director Amruthavani Communication Centre, Hyderabad, India.
1976 - 1982: Vicar General, Mill Hill Missionaries, London.
1982 - now: Director Housetop Communication Centre, London.

More information in WHO'S WHO IN THE WORLD and in WHO'S WHO IN CATHOLIC LIFE, Manchester 1997.

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