German cardinal: John Paul II already decided against female priests in ‘binding manner’

Cardinal Rainer Woelki

German Cardinal Rainer Woelki, the archbishop of Cologne, stated in a homily in honor of the nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary that the “priesthood has not been invented by man, but goes back to the mandate of Our Lord.” 

“If we take this seriously, it becomes clear that therefore the question about the priesthood of women is not a question which lies in our power of disposition,” he said in a September 8 homily. 

“Pope John Paul II has decided upon this question in a binding manner and for the entire Church already in 1994,” Cardinal Woelki continued, “and Pope Francis has repeatedly re-enforced this decision of his predecessor.” 

In his 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, John Paul II stated that the Church has “no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”

Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force.

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.

Cardinal Woelki said in his homily that “the look upon the Mother of God” shows us “what really matters in the life of the Church, and not that, which a secularized society presents to us, so that we, as Christians, receive their understanding and acceptance.” It’s more important, the prelates continued, to look at “what God already has made out of us: He has turned us into redeemed persons, into His daughters and sons.”

That is why, according to Cardinal Woelki, it is important that “we, like Mary, open ourselves up to God’s Grace and for the working of His Spirit.” The Holy Spirit, he continued, “wants to work in us just as He at the time worked in Mary.”

The working of the Holy Spirit is to first “draw us into Jesus Christ by making us members of His Body, which is the Church. He makes us partakers of God’s Life, thus binding us most intimately to God, so much so that the Father and the Son come to us and dwell in us.”

This, however, is only the start of the working of the Holy Spirit, explained Cardinal Woelki. Because in a second step, “He opens the doors and sends us out into the world,” as it is also written in Pope Francis’ letter to the German Catholics, in which the Pope “makes it clear that we should first and foremost work unto a new evangelization.”

While the Church may not be a “closed shop,” she may not “follow everything that the world would like her to do,” Cardinal Woelki added. “We have to become like Christ, His Will, and His Person, and we have to remain there.” “Otherwise,” said Woelki in his homily, “we lose our identity as Christians, and with it, as Church.”

“A Church,” he continued, “who adapts to the beliefs of the world is not the work of the Holy Spirit, but the work of our human mind.” 

In the midst of the current challenges, Cardinal Woelki called upon the faithful to turn to Our Lady “and to ask her as the help in dire times. She is the original image of our Church and, with it, a model.” She held her heart open to God when she gave her “I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

“Let us, therefore,” the German prelate concluded, “present to God our open heart so that He may fill us with His Spirit and so that Christ may take form in us. Then we will fulfill our mission in and for the world and give her that which she needs most: ‘Christ, who stands above everything as God, may be praised in all eternity.’” (Romans 9:5)

Cardinal Woelki spoke these words at a time when intense debates are taking place in Germany about the possibility of ordaining women to the priesthood.

On Monday, the German bishops’ news website Katholisch.de published a report according to which several Catholic children and youth organizations from Italy, Germany, Austria, and Switzerland have called for the female priesthood. According to the view of these young people, women are being set aside in the Catholic Church, and therefore they state that “the Church may not stand in the way of the vocation of women to the priesthood by denying them the Sacrament of Holy Orders.” 

Cardinal Woelki, who recently visited the United States, warned in an interview about the dangers of the Catholic Church in Germany turning into a “German national church” and entering into a schism. 

The comments by Woelki also come at a time where, in light of the upcoming Amazon Synod, different theologians connected with the organization REPAM (which is tasked by Pope Francis to prepare this synod) are proposing the idea of ordaining female deacons and even female priests.

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