Ordinatio sacerdotalis (English: Priestly Ordination) is an apostolic letter issued by Pope John Paul II on 22 May 1994 in which he discussed the Catholic Church's position requiring "the reservation of priestly ordination to men alone" and wrote that "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women". While the document states that it was written so "that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance", it has been contested by some Catholics, as to both the substance and in the authoritative nature of its teaching.
Citing an earlier Vatican document, Inter insigniores, "on the question of the Admission of women to the Ministerial Priesthood", issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in October 1976, Pope John Paul explains the official Roman Catholic understanding that the priesthood is a special role specially set out by Jesus when he chose twelve men out of his group of male and female followers. Pope John Paul notes that Jesus chose the Twelve after a night in prayer (cf. Lk 6:12) and that the Apostles themselves were careful in the choice of their successors. The priesthood is "specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself."
The letter concludes with the words:
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.[a]
The phrase "definitively held by all the Church's faithful" pertains to the full assent of faith that is given to the dogmas of the Catholic Church. Nevertheless, multiple theologians argue that Ordinatio sacerdotalis was not issued under the extraordinary papal magisterium as an ex cathedra statement, and so is not considered infallible in itself. The Catholic Theological Society of America issued a report in 1997, approved by 216 out of 248 of its voting members, stating that "There are serious doubts regarding the nature of the authority of this teaching and grounds in Tradition." Some consider its contents infallible under the ordinary magisterium, saying this doctrine has been held consistently by the Church.
In a responsum ad dubium (reply to a doubt) explicitly approved by Pope John Paul II and dated October 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith replied that the teaching of Ordinatio sacerdotalis had been "set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium" and accordingly was "to be held definitively, as belonging to the deposit of faith".
In 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued another opinion, a Doctrinal Commentary on Ad tuendam fidem, which said that the teaching of Ordinatio sacerdotalis was not taught as being divinely revealed explicitly, although it might someday be so taught in the future, that is to say, it has not been determined whether the doctrine is "to be considered an intrinsic part of revelation or only a logical consequence", yet in either case it is certainly definitive and to be believed infallibly.
- Ut igitur omne dubium auferatur circa rem magni momenti, quae ad ipsam Ecclesiae divinam constitutionem pertinet, virtute ministerii Nostri confirmandi fratres (Luc. 22, 32), declaramus Ecclesiam facultatem nullatenus habere ordinationem sacerdotalem mulieribus conferendi, hancque sententiam ab omnibus Ecclesiae fidelibus esse definitive tenendam.
- cf. Mk 3:13-14; Jn 6:70
- cf. Mt 10:1, 7-8; 28:16-20; Mk 3:13-16; 16:14-15
- "The weight to be given to recent Vatican documents regarding the ordination of women", in: Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1997
- http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/teach/ordisace2.htm CDF's Reply to a Doubt, approved by Pope John Paul II, in which the Congregation affirms that the doctrine of Ordinatio sacerdotalis has been set forth infallibly
- http://www.ourladyswarriors.org/teach/ordisace3.htm Letter of the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, on the CDF's Reply affirming the infallible character of the teaching contained in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis
- "DOCTRINAL COMMENTARY ON THE CONCLUDING FORMULA OF THE PROFESSIO FIDEI", Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Originally published in L'Osservatore Romano: Weekly Edition in English, 15 July 1998, 3-4. Accessed 28 January, 2014
- Ordinatio Sacerdotalis — complete English text from the Vatican
- Responsum ad dubium from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with a cover letter from Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger