I have resigned from the priestly ministry on account of a conflict of
conscience with the supreme authority of the Catholic Church in Rome.
past decades I have become increasingly uncomfortable with the official
Church's decrees concerning sexual doctrine and ethics. Married couples
are forbidden the use of contraceptives, even if applied with discretion.
Obligatory celibacy remains arbitrarily imposed on clergy of the Latin
Rite in spite of the spiritual anguish thus inflicted on many priests and
their flocks. Homosexual partnerships are discriminated against. And --the
last straw as far as I am concerned --, women are barred from ordination
to the priesthood in spite of there being no proven objections from either
Scripture or Tradition (see my theological note).
teaching emanating from Rome in these matters has done and is doing great
damage to the Body of the Church. Millions of believers have stopped attending
the Eucharist on account of it, turning for spiritual consolation elsewhere.
The teaching authority has lost its credibility even among loyal pastors,
who often struggle to limit the damage inflicted by offering their faithful
a more sensitive pastoral guidance than Rome does. Most alarming of all
is the inevitable corruption Rome causes in all levels of responsibility
in the Church by forcing on all a complicity of silence.
and Bishops' Conferences fail by not challenging Rome publicly. Theologians
and theological institutes fail by not standing up for what they believe
to be the truth. Parish priests fail by not reassuring the faithful from
the pulpit. Religious superiors and seminary professors fail their students
by leading them into an establishment that will inhibit their autonomy
of the ordination of women is the breaking point for me because I have
been personally involved in theological research and pastoral ministry
concerning this issue for the last 20 years.
The ordination of women
Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith promulgated its reasons for rejecting
women from the priesthood in 1976, I published counter arguments in "Did
Christ Rule Out Women Priests?" The booklet, which carried the Imprimatur,
was reprinted in a number of languages and countries, the last enlarged
UK edition appearing in 1986. It has recently been made available on the
Internet (http://shaw.iol.ie/~duacon/wompr.htm). I am a member of
various organisations which promote Catholic Women's Ordination: CWO (Catholic
Women's Ordination), St. Joan's International Alliance and the Canon 1024
Mailing List. I have continued writing on the question, in spite of Rome's
attempt to suppress theological research or pastoral discussion (see my
article "Therese and the Question of the Ordination of Women" in Mount
Carmel (November 1997) and The Catholic Citizen (March 1998).
Conflict of conscience
always considered it my duty, as a theologian and a priest, to sincerely
pursue the truth as I perceive it, after careful study and reflection.
Vatican II states that "all the faithful, both clerical and lay, should
be accorded a lawful freedom of inquiry, freedom of thought and freedom
of expression, tempered by humility and courage in whatever branch of study
they have specialised" (Gaudium et Spes, no 62). Since I perceive Rome's
ban on women's ordination as not legitimately founded on Scripture or Tradition,
not arrived at after proper consultation in the Church, harmful to ecumenism
and highly injurious to the spiritual wellbeing of the faithful, I feel
bound in conscience to continue voicing my sincere opposition.
other hand, I see that the authorities in Rome, pursue a policy of rigorous
enforcement of the ban, silencing all theological reflection and discussion
(see historical note). Through the Motu Proprio of Pope John Paul II Ad
Tuendam Fidem of 28 May 1998 and the accompanying commentary by Cardinal
Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, defence
of the ordination of women is presented as tantamount to heresy. Anyone
who holds that women can be ordained priests is "no longer in full communion
with the Catholic Church", we are told (Statement by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger,
29 June 1998).
of this stand of the official Church, whose ultimate pastoral leadership
and teaching authority I respect in spite of the mistakes it has committed
in the past and may still be committing in the present, I know myself in
conscience bound to resign from the priestly ministry. I can no longer
represent the official Church while disagreeing with it on such a fundamental
I want to stand on the side of those men and women who are so casually
and unjustly dismissed by the Vatican. It is only by distancing myself
now from the institutional Church that I can extract myself from the guilt
of taking part in the conspiracy of silence.
Explaining my position
from the priestly ministry I have in no way renounced my right and duty
as a theologian to publicly express my opinion. Neither have I stopped
being a member of the Church itself. All my life I have been a conscientious
and orthodox Catholic and I intend to remain so until I die.
I do not
want to betray the trust my family, friends and sponsors have always given
me. I hope they will accept my conviction that only by following my conscience
can I be truly faithful to my prophetic and missionary calling.
the position of Catholic bishops, priests and religious who gallantly continue
in their ministry in spite of their disagreement with Rome. I respect their
sincerity in acting thus for pastoral reasons. I hope they in turn will
I am deeply
concerned about the various groups I have ministered to, such as my former
students in India, readers of my books and articles, and those who follow
my faith formation courses world wide. I reassure them that I have not
renounced my Catholic faith, and that I stand by all spiritual and theological
matters on which I have written and taught.
Finally, I want to express my appreciation and gratitude to Mill Hill Missionary
Society. I salute my Mill Hill comrades and colleagues with whom I have
shared so much labour and joy during my forty years of membership. I wish
them God's speed, and I promise them a never ending friendship on my part.
Neither of Rome's two principal arguments for banning women from ordination
stand up to scrutiny.
Rome maintains that, when Jesus Christ selected only men to be his Apostles,
he deliberately excluded women from the priestly ministry. If so, did he
not exclude Gentiles by only selecting Jews? Rather, an analysis of
Sripture shows that in choosing only men Jesus followed the prevailing
custom of the time, without thereby, as in so many other matters, closing
the door to future developments.
Rome also alleges that, throughout Tradition, the living teaching authority
of the Church has consistently barred women from the priesthood. The fallacy
of this argument lies in not distinguishing between common belief and practice
on the one hand and considered Church teaching on the other.
Historical studies show
that the practice of not ordaining women was based on social and theological
beliefs that no longer stand up to scrutiny. As in the case of belief in
six-day creation, the argument from past and present Tradition only holds
good for issues on which the Church could and can pass an informed judgement.
In 1976, the international biblical experts of the Pontifical Biblical
Commission concluded, with a majority of 12 to 5, that there were no scriptural
objections to the priestly ordination of women. The Congregation for the
Doctrine of Faith rejected this advice and wrote its own negative statement
(Inter Insigniores, 15 October 1976).
Since then, Rome has refused to listen to protests and challenges offered
by bishops, theologians, scripture scholars and women's organizations from
all over the world. Rather, local bishops have been enjoined to suppress
any further discussion. "The bishop should prove his pastoral ability and
leadership qualities by resolutely refusing any support to people who,
either as individuals or as groups, defend the priestly ordination of women,
whether they do so in the name of progress, of human rights, compassion
or for whatever reason it may be" (Letter from the Congregation for the
Doctrine of Faith, 13 September 1983).
Recently, John Paul II wrote an apostolic letter which stated that the
question of the priestly ordination of women is no longer open to debate
(Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 22 May 1994). Ad Tuendam Fidem and its official
commentary now seem to excommunicate dissenters.
Short Biographical Information about John Wijngaards
More information in WHO'S WHO
IN THE WORLD and in WHO'S WHO IN CATHOLIC LIFE, Manchester 1997.
(No further comment will be given)
Born: 30 September
Ordained a priest: in 1959
as a member of St.Joseph's Missionary Society of Mill Hill.
Education: Gregorian University
Rome, Doctor of Theology; Pontifical Biblical Institute Rome, Licentiate
in S. Scripture.
1964 - 1976: Lecturer St.
John's Regional Seminary & Director Amruthavani Communication Centre,
1976 - 1982: Vicar General,
Mill Hill Missionaries, London.
1982 - now: Director Housetop
Communication Centre, London.