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Further re female ordination to diaconate

October 1, 2012

I saw the recent comments here and here of Msgr John Alesandro—an accomplished canonist—in support of ordaining women to the diaconate. I disagree with him on the prospects of women’s ordination but, because some of Alesandro’s comments were directed against a claim that sounds similar to mine, I write to make sure that his defeat of that claim is not parlayed by others into a refutation of mine.

Alesandro responded to the following claim: “There is no possibility that women will ever be ordained to the diaconate because canon law forbids it” (emphasis added). Of course he responded negatively to that claim: the fact that canon law forbids women’s ordination is—I won’t say irrelevant, but—certainly one of the weakest arguments against women’s ordination available. Canonical history is replete with examples of actions illegal in one generation, but legal in another. Rejection of what amounts to a purely positivistic argument against women’s ordination is sound.

But, three things need noting:

  • canon law does not determine, but rather, upholds doctrine and theology; I base my rejection of the possibility of women’s ordination, even to the diaconate, on my understanding of the theology of Orders; Alesandro and I apparently disagree about that theology, but we agree that theology is ultimately where this issue must be settled;
  • many canonical institutes have changed dramatically over the centuries, but the more closely institutes are tied to doctrinal points touching, say, the nature of a sacrament, the less they change; the enduring, strongly negative, even penal, stance of canon law against women’s ordination tends far more against the radical possibility of women’s ordination than for it;
  • the current norms against women’s ordination (chiefly in c. 1024) mean that any current attempts at ordaining women—irrespective of women’s (alleged) ontological capacity for Orders—are utterly null, that is, they are of no sacramental effect in the Church.

Thus, Alesandro and I agree on the first point, I think that he would grant the plausibility of my second, and I am sure we agree on the third.

Update (2 October): As I thought, there is, literally, more to this story than meets than eye.

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