Reopening the discussion.

Author:MacKenzie, Hugh
Position:Correspondence - Letter to the editor

Richard John Neuhaus helpfully describes papal infallibility as a "charism that ensures that the Church will never invoke its full teaching authority to require assent to anything in faith and morals that is false" (The Public Square, February). But his affirmation that it is such "a narrowly prescribed charism" that "it has been exercised in a manner beyond dispute only once, namely in the 1950 definition of the bodily assumption of Mary," does not seem quite right.

He implicitly provides a good counterexample a few pages later. He praises Sr. Sara Butler for pointing out that the Church requires the "full and unconditional assent of the faithful" to its ban on women priests and that the "discussion ... is Closed." Sr. Butler shows that this was irrevocably made the case by the Servant of God Pope John Paul II in his 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, which confirmed the tradition "in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (Luke 22:32)." In formally requiring such assent, this papal letter is similar to the papal definition of the Assumption and is surely therefore, given Fr. Neuhaus' own definition, an exercise of the charism of infallibility.

The somewhat simpler formula of pronouncement in 1994 from that of 1950 does not imply a lesser degree of guaranteed doctrinal inerrancy. The...

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