Avery Cardinal Dulles on Dissent

With specific reference to the issue of women’s ordination, this is how Avery Cardinal Dulles ends his April 1996 Laurence J. McGinley Lecture at Fordham University:

In view of the force of the convergent argument [from scripture, tradition, theology, and magisterial pronouncements] and the authority of the papal office [John Paul II 1994 apostolic letter, Ordinatio sacerdotalis], Catholics can and should give the full assent that the pope has called for.

Because the official teaching runs against the prevailing climate of opinion and because plausible objections have been widely publicized, it is inevitable that a significant number of Catholics, in a country such as our own, will fail to assent.

Those who disagree with the approved teaching, while they are entitled to propose their difficulties, should refrain from treating the question as doctrinally undecided and should abstain from strident advocacy. Pressures for doctrinal change at this point would be futile and even detrimental, since they would provoke countermeasures on the part of Church authorities. The net result would be to divide the Church against herself.

The pastoral leadership of the Church, recognizing the complexity of the theological issues and the inevitability of dissenting views, should be patient with Catholics who feel unable to accept the approved position. While assuring the integrity of Catholic doctrine, the bishops should show understanding for dissenters who exhibit good will and avoid disruptive behavior. Such pastoral consideration, however, should not be taken as license to contest or call into doubt the tradition of the Church, confirmed as it is by recent pronouncements of exceptional weight.

Perfect. It’s worth a second, careful reading. Cardinal Dulles’ cogent analysis of ecclesiastical issues is always welcome. A reading of the entire lecture, entitled “Priesthood and Gender”, is highly recommended. Where can you find this lecture? The above is quoted from the recently released collection of Cardinal Dulles’ complete set of Laurence J. McGinley Lectures, called Church and Society (Fordham University Press, 2008).

Avery Cardinal DullesBiographical Note: After retiring from The Catholic University in America in 1998, Avery Cardinal Dulles was offered and accepted the newly formed Laurence J. McGinley Chair in Religion and Society at Fordham University. One of the duties of the Laurence J. McGinley Chair is to deliver a public lecture each semester (two per year). Cardinal Dulles still holds the Chair, although it is widely rumored he will be stepping down soon due to health concerns. The Cardinal is almost 90 years old and unable to speak, but as they say, his mind is as sharp as ever.

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