A recent email from a commentator on this blog called this man an “idiot. Or worse.”
I don’t think he is an “idiot”. In saying that “there are no theological reasons against women priests” Cardinal Polycarpo is being very “inaccurate”, but he is correct in saying that the fundamental reason why women cannot be ordained to the Catholic priesthood is “a strong tradition that comes from Jesus”.
In her book “The Catholic priesthood and Women”, Sara Butler makes a useful distinction between the “reasons” and the “explanations” why women cannot be ordained. When you look closely at all the papal and curial statements of the matter, the Cardinal is correct: the fundamental reasons why women may not be ordained are indeed all “traditional”.
However, in seeking to understand the reason for the tradition, the Church has reflected on the theology of the tradition which makes the tradition comprehensible. These theological “explanations” are not in themselves the “fundamental reasons” why women cannot be ordained, but they explain theologically the very good reasons for the tradition. The Church has, over history, expounded varying theological reasons why women cannot be ordained. At one point, this theology WAS based on the idea of the inequality of men and women. That theological “explanation” has been abandoned, and thankfully so. But newer theological “explanations” – especially in the light of the rich nuptial theology of the Eucharist and John Paul II’s exposition of the “theology of the body” have given us new ways of understanding more deeply the ancient and unchanging tradition.
So he is wrong in saying that there are no theological obstacles to the ordination of women. But he is right in saying that the fundamental reason why the Church can never ordain women is “tradition”. In the Catholic faith, however, all dogma is fundamentally about “tradition” and being faithful to the tradition handed on by the Apostles from the Lord himself. It would simply be unfaithful to the Apostolic Tradition to adopt this practice. Whatever the theological explanations given for the tradition, the tradition itself cannot be changed.
UPDATE: CNA has a story on this giving the full context of the Cardinal’s comments. It is as I thought – he is inaccurate in saying that there are “no theological obstacles”, but at the same time, he certainly isn’t putting forward a positive argument for the ordination of women.