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Ordination of women and sense of faith 
among the faithful

HONG KONG (SE): Whether by intention or not, Pope Benedict XVI has been quick to respond to a December 3 editorial published in the respected National Catholic Reporter published in Kansas City in the United States of America, calling for the Vatican to look again at the ordination of women.

“Barring women from ordination to the priesthood is an injustice that cannot be allowed to stand,” the publication editorialises, adding that ordination is a gift from God that is rooted in baptism.

However, the point that Pope Benedict takes up in addressing the International Theological Commission on December 7 was the sensus fidelium (sense of faith among the faithful), which is often invoked to justify calls for change in controversial Church teachings.

The lay-run National Catholic Reporter highlights this point in addressing the controversy over whether the bar on women priests is a binding belief or not, arguing that since there is no sense of consensus on the issue among Catholics worldwide, it should at least be open for discussion.

The editor of the publication, Denis Cody, writes, “In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was increased talk in Church circles—even at the bishops’ conference level—to reexamine the ban on ordaining women. At the same time, there was increasing Vatican pressure to stop such talk.”

Cody continues, “The Vatican pressure to squelch even discussion on this issue culminated with Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (Ordination to the Priesthood—Pope John Paul II, 22 May 1994), which tried to put the stamp of infallibility on this teaching.”

Cody then notes, “Despite the Vatican’s best efforts to suppress discussion on this issue, Catholics have discussed it and studied it and they have found the Church’s rationale unsatisfactory.”

He adds that laypeople, theologians and perhaps even some bishops have studied and prayed over this issue and they have come to the conclusion that the ban on women priests must be lifted.

However, Pope Benedict told the International Theological Commission that the term, sensus fidelium, rather refers to a kind of supernatural instinct among the faithful, quoting Vatican II as saying, “The entire body of the faithful, anointed as they are by the Holy One, cannot err in matters of belief” (The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church).

He adds, “This gift, the sensus fidelium, constitutes in believers a sort of supernatural instinct which shares a vital connaturality with the very object of faith... It is a criterion for ascertaining whether or not a certain truth belongs to the living depository of the apostolic tradition,” the Vatican Information Service reported.

“It also has a proactive value, as the Holy Spirit never ceases to speak of the Church and to guide her towards the fullness of truth. Nowadays, however, it is particularly important to specify the criteria which permit the authentic sensus fidelium to be distinguished from its imitations,” the pope continued.

He added that the sense of faith is not a matter of public opinion, but something that presumes a deep attachment to the faith. He added that there is a type of contradiction in claiming a sense of faith that does not responsibly adhere to the magisterium of the Church.

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