Gaillardetz and the meaning of “Definitive”

Further to Socon or Bust’s coverage and LSN’s coverage of Dr. Richard Gaillardetz’s dissenting opinions, the professor seems to be upset that LSN would suggest that he supports women’s ordination. He has insisted that he does not in fact support women’s ordination…

TOLEDO, Ohio, September 30, 2009 ( – The presenter at next month’s plenary assembly of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB), Dr. Richard Gaillardetz, argued during last year’s U.S. election cycle, to the dismay of his bishop, that notoriously pro-abortion President Barack Obama was the “pro-life candidate” in last year’s election, because of his social policy regarding poverty and healthcare.

In addition, in response to LSN’s first story on Gaillardetz, the professor of Catholic studies at the University of Toledo who is scheduled to speak to the Canadian bishops on the topic of the priesthood, has insisted that he does not in fact support women’s ordination, but merely questions the authoritative status of the teaching.

In his response, Gaillardetz objected in particular to the allegation that he had advocated women’s ordination.  “I have NEVER written that I support women’s ordination,” he said.

Nevertheless, rather than supporting women’s ordination, according to Gaillardetz, he, in fact, merely questions the infallibility of John Paul II’s ‘definitive’ teaching on the issue.  “Out of the seven books and 100 articles I have written,” he said, “I have published exactly one article on the topic, and in that article I addressed the very technical question of the appeal to the infallility [sic] of the ordinary universal magisterium to this particular teaching.”

Let me just say that the professor doth protest too, too much.

Before his interview with LSN,  has Dr. Gaillardetz ever expressed any public or consistent support for an all-male priesthood? 

Likely not.

In questioning whether Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was infallible, did Dr. Gaillardetz ever nuance his position to suggest that although, in his opinion, John Paul II’s teaching was not formally or technically infallible, that it was consistent with the Church’s tradition, “definitive”, authoratitive and could not be legitimately questioned by Catholics

Likely not.

It’s only when his back is up against the wall does Dr. Gaillardetz fall back to the nuance of the precise theological formula of formal infallibility.  Anything that Dr. Gaillardetz wants to reject or question will inevitably end up in the “but it’s not formally infallible” bucket.  Of course, something does not have to be formally defined as infallible for it to be binding on Catholics. That’s not how the Church’s Tradition or Magisterium work, as any authentic Church historian or theologian will tell you.

Moreover, in his critique of Gaillardetz’ book, Teaching with Authority: A Theology of the Magisterium of the Church (The Liturgical Press, 1997), Dr. Robert Fastiggi notes the following:

p. 263. Gaillardetz states that: “the obstinate denial of a definitive doctrine would not necessarily place one outside the Roman Catholic communion.” However, the 1998 CDF Commentary on the Professio Fidei notes that whoever denies such definitive teachings “would be in a position of rejecting Catholic doctrine and would therefore no longer be in full communion with the Catholic Church” (no. 6).

And what “definitive doctrine” does Gaillardetz deny is “infallible”?  The one held to be so by Pope John Paul II:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32). I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful. (Source: Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 4)

Dr. Gaillardetz wants to have his cake and eat it too.  Something can be “definitive” and yet not be “infallible”, and therefore Catholics may be (wink, wink) permitted to dissent because the teaching is (wink, wink) not irreformable.  Another little trick that he has is to accept that the inadmissability against women priests may indeed be “definitive teaching”, but that, in contradiction to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)’s position, dissenting from such a definitive teaching would not place one outside the Catholic communion.  I guess “definitive” is not clear enough for Dr. Gaillardetz.

Cutting through all of this garbage, however, let me offer you my humble opinion.  (Admittedly, I didn’t acknowledge notorious dissenter Richard McBrien in my writings like Dr. Gaillardetz did in his.  In the interests of full disclosure, therefore, I’m just an internet peasant, not a scholar at all.  This Joe Six Pack Catholic got his education mostly through Internet U in Catholic Studies.  However, in my defense, it must be said that these days, Catholic websites are the place to go for authentic Catholicism while the so-called Catholic Universities and Professors are places and people of dissent and rebellion.)

Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was indeed infallible. 

First of all, it has been the Church’s teaching for over 2000  years that the priesthood is reserved solely for men. This means that it has the weight of antiquity behind it. It’s not, therefore, some novel controversy or teaching.  Secondly, notice what John Paul II says above.  He says it concerns the “Church’s divine constitution itself”. In other words, it is a doctrinal and fundamental issue to how the Church lives its witness. In other words, it is not disciplinary in nature like the issue of a celibate priesthood which can theoretically be loosened and bound (although to loosen such an Apostolic disicipline would be a breach of the full witness of the priesthood).  Thirdly, John Paul II invokes the Supreme Apostolic Authority given to Peter and his Successors by invoking Jesus’ assistance in “confirming” or “strengthening” the brethren: But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (32)  John Paul invokes Luke 22:32 precisely because it 1) concerns a matter of divine faith and 2) witnesses to his authoratitive role to settle disputes in the Church. And last but not least, John Paul II solemnly declares his “judgement” is to be DEFINITIVELY held by all the Church’s faithful.  The “judgement” that John Paul gives is no less than the same definitive judgement that St. James gave at the Council of Jerusalem (Cf. Acts 15:19) when the Church dealt with thorny issue of circumcision. Morever, John Paul uses the word “definitive” to convey – if not a formal “definition” – at least one conveys the certainty of truth.

Moreover, Gaillardetz’s criticism of the argument that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was infallible because it expresses the universal and ordinary magisterium (UOM) is, according to him,  “problematic” since, in his view, the pope was not teaching in union with the bishops (Cf. Source).  As stated above, however, Gaillardetz is in opposition to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) which does indeed consider it an act of the UOM.  Yet even if that issue were debatable, his position still fails to recognize the definitive and irreformable nature of John Paul II’s pronouncement,

Incidentally, although not applicable here, the Pope does not need to teach with the other bishops to teach infallibly.  He can teach infallibly without the consent of anyone at all, even his brother bishops, as the First Vatican Council taught:

We teach and define as a divinely revealed dogma that

  • when the Roman pontiff speaks EX CATHEDRA,
    • that is, when,

      1. in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians,
      2. in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority,
      3. he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church,
      4. he possesses,

        by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, 

  • that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.  
  • Therefore, such definitions of the Roman pontiff are of themselves, and not by the consent of the church, irreformable.  (Decrees of the First Vatican Council, 4 (9)).
  • Let’s do a little exercise here in applying the Vatican I definition of the Pope’s infallibility when teaching EX CATHEDRA to the very words John Paul II used in his Apostolic Letter (note the underlined text between the two parts- in black Vatican I’s text; in red JPII’s text): 

    1. in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, =and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful”

    2. in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority = “in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren(cf. Lk 22:32).”

    3. a) he defines a doctrineand that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful”

    3. b) concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church =  a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself

    (See also my little paper on Why Women Can’t Be Priests.)

    In addition to the women priest issue, Dr. Gaillardetz falls on many, many points, too numerous to mention here, not the least of which is his rejection of the Church’s constant and irreformable condemnation of contraceptive acts. 

    He says, “I have done all the Church can ask of me and my inability to give an internal assent to this teaching does not in any way separate me from the Roman Catholic communion.” (A Primer on Scripture, the Magisterium and the Sense of the Faithful (The Liturgical Press, 2003), p.125). 

    Sadly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is the same kind of language used in the infamous Winnipeg Statement:

    It is a fact that a certain number of Catholics, although admittedly subject to the teaching of the encyclical, find it either extremely difficult or even impossible to make their own all elements of this doctrine..Since they are not denying any point of divine and Catholic faith nor rejecting the teaching authority of the Church, these Catholics should not be considered or consider themselves, shut off from the body of the faithful. (17)

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