McBrien thinks the Pope is … wait for it… wrong about women’s ordination!

Richard McBrien in his column in the National catholic Fishwrap says that the Church’s infallible teaching about the impossibility of the ordination of women isn’t really infallible.  How dare the Pope say that it is?

His basic idea is that since the 1983 Code of Canon Law says in can. 749.3 that “if there is any doubt about the infallible nature of a teaching, it is not infallible. The canon reads: ‘No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such.’”

McBrien doubts that it is infallible.  Therefore it isn’t.   See?  See?

But wait!  Other theologians think it isn’t infallible!   And some other folks too!  They doubt it.

And therefoooooooore … it isn’t infallible.

It’s all a mass of twaddle, of course.  McBrien is just plain wrong.

But this twaddle points to two important facts you ultraconservative Catholics should keep in mind when daring to disagree with McBrien.  We are just puir slow-witted gowks.

First, you are stupid.   As McBrien writes: “ultraconservative Catholics — most or all of whom have had no formal education in theology, Scripture, liturgy, or canon law”.  Then he says that Archbp. Chaput is an “ultraconservative”.  He thinks Pope Benedict is an ultraconservative.  McBrien thinks anyone who sticks to the Church’s teachings are ultraconservatives.

Second, there are pecking orders within academe which leave the hierarchies of the Church waaaaay behind.  There are, for example, levels of professorships.  There are assistants and associates.  There are visiting and full professors.  But then there is the crème de la crème of professors.  There are the holders of endowed chairs, endowed chair professors.  McBrien is the Crowley-O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.  What was the little radio program on NPR?  Mister Science?  Remember him?  “He knows more… than you do!”

McBrien, who surely values his endowed chair even more than being a priest, given the way he dresses… after all, anyone can be a priest ….errrr… ummmm… any man can be a priest, we should probably refer to him as “Holder” McBrien.

Think of the College of Cardinals and, within the College, the Cardinal Bishops.  They’ve got nuthin‘ on the Endowed Chair Holder!

He’s an Endowed Chair Holder.  Think of the prestige!  The authority!

Who needs the Magisterium?

Holder McBrien is wrong about Ordinatio sacerdotalis, even though he… he, The Holder, and others beneath him, have a “doubt”.

We, the stupid, were capable of reading both Ordinatio sacerdotalis and the CDF response and, afterward, set aside doubts.  Imagine how many subtleties we must have missed, subtleties spotted only by Holders of Endowed Chairs and their like.

I suspect the thought of the Holders is so far above ours that they have a hard time understanding why we don’t doubt the Church on this point of women’s ordination.

Let me try to explain to them why we, the stupid, still have faith.

A good source for clarity on the infallibility of the Church’s teaching on the ordination of women, see Avery Dulles’s excellent book Magisterium

Put succinctly for you stupid ultraconservatives, the doctrine about women’s ordination is infallible as part of the ordinary and universal Magisterium.

The language used by John Paul in Ordinatio sacerdotalis makes it clear:

“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“.

If that wasn’t enough, and it isn’t for the ineducable… but remember, the ultraconservatives are the stupid ones, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith explained the Pope’s teaching for those who were still inexplicably having doubts.

This, from the CDF, removes the doubts:

“In response to this precise act of the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, explicitly addressed to the entire Catholic Church, all members of the faithful are required to give their assent to the teaching stated therein. To this end, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the approval of the Holy Father, has given an official Reply on the nature of this assent; it is a matter of full definitive assent, that is to say, irrevocable, to a doctrine taught infallibly by the Church. In fact, as the Reply explains, the definitive nature of this assent derives from the truth of the doctrine itself, since, founded on the written Word of God, and constantly held and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary universal Magisterium (cf. Lumen Gentium, 25). Thus, the Reply specifies that this doctrine belongs to the deposit of the faith of the Church. It should be emphasized that the definitive and infallible nature of this teaching of the Church did not arise with the publication of the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. In the Letter, as the Reply of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also explains, the Roman Pontiff, having taken account of present circumstances, has confirmed the same teaching by a formal declaration, giving expression once again to quod semper, quod ubique et quod ab omnibus tenendum est, utpote ad fidei depositum pertinens. In this case, an act of the ordinary Papal Magisterium, in itself not infallible, witnesses to the infallibility of the teaching of a doctrine already possessed by the Church”.

Hey!  Stooopid people!  There are actually criteria by which we can tell that some teaching is infallible.

First, the Pope must be intending to teach.  Pope John Paul was teaching in Ordinatio sacerdotalis.

Second, the Pope must intend to teach by virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, his role as Peter to strengthen the brethren.  He did that pretty clearly, even making reference to Luke 22.

Third, it must be about a point of faith or morals, not on the baseball season.  This is a matter of faith, for certain.

Fourth, it must be a teaching that is to be held by the all the faithful, the whole Church. John Paul II explicitly mentioned all the faithful in Ordinatio sacerdotalis.

Ordinatio sacerdotalis does all these things.  John Paul II taught, spoke of his role as Peter, said that this is a matter of faith and not just of some law or custom, and he said that all the faithful are to accept this.

With all these factors in play, he didn’t need the word “infallible”.

Then the CDF, with the approval of John Paul, made the situation clear.

There is no way to say that there is any doubt … unless you are stupid.

In any event, Holder McBrien ironically tries to support his dissent by citing Canon Law.

But the Rome Pontiff is the Legislator, the Lawgiver.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. priests wife says:

    arrrrrgh- as an ‘ultra-conservative’, non-PhD in Theology, I’m asking- can this MAN stop this silliness?

  2. Marc says:

    Why hasn’t Fr. McBrien’s Bishop (or religious superior) silenced him?

  3. Gregg the Obscure says:

    If Holy Church has made an error regarding who is eligible for ordination, that error may have been ordaining Dick McBrien and his ilk.

  4. pseudomodo says:

    Crème isn’t the only substance that floats…

  5. DavidJ says:

    I have a doubt about Fr. McBrien’s infallibility…

  6. MichaelJ says:

    Hindsight being what it is, I wish the Holy Father had chosen a phrase other than

    I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women

    In this era of political doublespeak and incessant parsing of statements to find the “nuanced” meaning, this is the phrase latched onto by dissenters.
    I do not know why he chose not to use the more traditional phraseology and chose not to attach an ‘anathema’ as previous Popes have done, but he did not. Had he done so, though, dissenters such as Fr. McBrian would have no forum among even remotely reasonable people.

  7. traditionalorganist says:


    I believe ‘anathema’ is no longer used because the penalty has been abrogated. I could be wrong.

  8. JohnE says:

    Let’s see if he still wants that precious chair when he sees where it is on judgement day.

  9. digdigby says:

    There are mobs of nuts, ninnies and consecrated carnival barkers out there but there’s something about this dude that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

  10. vox borealis says:

    It’s like what certain politicians in the US do to the Constitution: find some hapless phrase and rip it out of context to mean whatever you want it to mean. Thus the phrase: “No doctrine is understood to be infallibly defined unless it is clearly established as such.” Twist it so that the clear meaning in context (“established by the authority”–i.e., the Pope or Ecumenical Council) is transmogrified into “established by anyone/everyone”…and bingo! See, the text supports McBrien’s interpretation. It’s textbook postmodernism. Pretty boring, really…any b-grade assistant professor could come up with something so “novel” and “clever.”

  11. MichaelJ says:


    I was thinking more along the lines of a concluding statement as is found, for example, in Munificentissimus Deus:

    Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith.

    which I would not consider an anathema according to the strict definition

  12. Archicantor says:

    I have some questions, Father, and perhaps you could point me to some answers. As a non-Catholic trying to learn more about Catholicism (part of the reason I frequent your blog), I’m wondering whether there are historical examples of change in the teaching of the Church’s ordinary universal magisterium. I’m not thinking of “development” so much as “departures”.

    The word that strikes me here is assent: it implies (in my non-technical understanding of the word) that one may follow a teaching in the sense of obeying it oneself and not teaching others to disobey it, but without an implied or necessary intellectual agreement with it. So, on the question of valid recipients of Holy Orders, I might boggle at the arguments against ordaining women without actually dissenting from the Church’s teaching and practice. I remember reading of a Catholic theology professor who was very skeptical about the idea of defining the Assumption as an infallible dogma; when the dogma was in fact defined by Pius XII, his students mobbed him, asking, “What will you do now?” to which he replied, “Well, perhaps the Church knows better than I do.” Not quite so dramatically, the Christian Ethics professor at my (Catholic) university explained to us that it was incumbent on him always to make a clear distinction between what the Church teaches and what he has concluded from his own research (I’m not implying that they necessarily differed!).

    My question, then, is: What happens (if it ever happens) when the “whole Church” (say, in the form of an ecumenical council), without “dissenting” from a teaching of the ordinary universal magisterium, decides that it no longer agrees with it? Some opponents of women’s ordination within Anglicanism, for instance, have historically urged that no local church or province could decide that matter for itself, but that it could be considered by an ecumenical council. If I understand it correctly, an ex cathedra infallible utterance by the pope (of a kind that has happened only three or four times in history) has the same status as a definition promulgated by an ecumenical council. But does that mean that a pope’s affirmation of the ordinary magisterium is not on the same level? That is, is the ordinary universal magisterium “infallible” until it’s not?

  13. ipadre says:

    I have always wondered why the women who simulate ordination are excommunicated but heretics like Fr. McBrien who lead the faithful astray are not!

  14. Augustin57 says:

    ipadre, the same thought occurred to me…many times. Why are these clowns allowed to destroy the faith of folks from inside the Church? Why not just let him go “be all he can be” at McDonald’s or driving a taxi cab someplace? I heard of one poor old, faithful priest. He was a faithful priest for 33 years and they got tired of his orthodoxy and the bishops removed his faculties and kicked him to the curb. Father, now in his 70’s (if he’s still alive), drives a taxi cab. Sad.

    Is it possible that McBrien has already been laicized (he wears civilian clothes like the laity), and we just didn’t hear?

  15. Massachusetts Catholic says:

    McBrien is clearly wrong. However…
    It’s both “Mr. Science” and “Doctor Science.”
    From Wikipedia: “Ask Dr. Science is a daily humorous radio sketch produced by the comedy troupe Duck’s Breath Mystery Theatre. It is broadcast on many public radio stations, using a format that mixes elements of a commercial bumper and a public service announcement. A concerned citizen asks a question, which is answered by an expert, “Dr. Science.” Not surprisingly, the questions are never answered correctly, and often are little more than a launching point for a non sequitur monologue from Dr. Science. The show’s motto is “He knows more than you do.” The sketch always concludes with the disclaimer that he is “not a real doctor,” although Dr. Science insists he has “a Masters Degree… in science!”… In the segment’s earliest days, it was known as “Ask Mr. Science.”
    Should McBrien therefore become “Mr. Theologian?”

  16. APX says:

    Why not just let him go “be all he can be” at McDonald’s

    I doubt they’d hire him. They have standards.

    I had no idea he was a priest. I thought he was just some loonie professor. Now that I know he’s a priest, I can’t help but be scared of how many people he affected over the years.

  17. ArtND76 says:

    McBrien is another symptom of the non-catholic side of Notre Dame University that began with a declaration of independence from the Church’s teaching magisterium at the Land of Lakes Conference in 1968, led by Fr. Theodore Hesburgh (UND president at the time). In that declaration they put themselves outside of the protection of the promise of Christ to the church that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”. Notre Dame has not, to my knowledge, recanted that statement – and apparently neither has McBrien.

    As for me, I will put my faith in Christ’s promise to His church over those who think they require independence in order to be more “effective.” Effective at what task, pray tell?

  18. benedetta says:

    Crazy stuff. I could present millions upon millions of believers, young and old, rich and poor, some with the nth degree including his sort and those with grammar school education who will all, if given the choice between the Church according to McBrien versus the real deal, go with the real deal. Who wants bread and wine from ladies dressed up with no ability to confer sacramental grace? Especially in our times. When he begins to honestly, openly, publicly reflect upon the “Catholic” politicians who pushed abortion, at his behest, thereby allowing the slaughter of millions of little girls in their mothers’ wombs, then, I will be more interested in discussing whatever he may have to say concerning women and our dignity. It seems that his endowed chair amounts to a hill of beans when it comes to doing the decent thing in many respects at ND which is to err on the side of life.

    I am reminded of the encounter between the spittle flecked municipal lawyer and Bill Murray in Ghostbusters…the magic word is not infallible. The magic word for this guy is, just as it is for all: “please”.

    He appears to be requesting some sort of declaration of infallibility which fixatedly and scrupulously accord with exceptions and legalisms. The spirit of the law which he wants everyone to ignore is the priesthood in persona Christi. Which has never been anything other than what it is. Why does he think that his demand issued with spittle flecked fanaticism necessitates any reply at all? Because he questions it, it must now be re-affirmed as if it is not already infallible? It is to laugh.
    In the interest of time, self-editing, and other concerns I hereby sign off.

  19. Mundabor says:

    What is in my eyes most breathtakingly absurd is that this chap (is he a priest? Really??!!) ***goes against 2000 years of constant teaching of the Church***. What would he have said if Ordinatio Sacerdotalis had not been written at all, that the Church has been wrong 2000 years? I so wish all these people were excommunicated and thrown on the street without any compliment. The Church is being far too gentle with them. Mundabor

  20. benedetta says:

    Oh and one other thing. His endowed chair and his tie denote one thing reliably. He sure doesn’t want to minister to the faithful as a priest of Hartford.

    This notion that anyone who disagrees with him is therefore an “ultraconservative” (whatever that means?), one would not expect such a pedestrian tactic from someone as highly trained, degreed, a philosopher as himself. The reality is that those who disagree with him are Catholics, straight up, no big deal. Now is he an ultraliberal? Some will say, YES! And I say, he gives liberalism a very poor image. There are liberals and there are people who are open minded and some even are partial to the Latin Mass but he doesn’t want you to know that. Whatever he is, it is not, mainstream, grassroots, average Catholic. In fact he seems quite immoderate.

  21. teaguytom says:

    Isn’t it time we wheel Richard McBrian to Shady Pines retirement home?

  22. Ralph says:

    Ipadre, you hit the nail right on the head.

    We need some Bishops to stand up and be counted. How many of your sheep, dear shepherd bishop, has this wolf lead away?

  23. Clinton says:

    I’ve been assured by several people that Fr. McBrien is simply regarded as a kook who
    made it to a chair at UND, a man whose absurd ‘theology’ and dubious scholarship has
    marginalized him amongst the rest of an embarrassed faculty. I’m not so sure.

    It seems to me that he perfectly mirrors the sentiments of Fr. Jenkins, the UND president.
    Both seem to believe that to be a Catholic theologian or a Catholic university, one merely
    claims the name. There is no sense of responsibility to the Church as a whole, no obligation
    to accept oversight and correction from an authority in the Church.

    Rather than being an embarrassment to Notre Dame, I think that “Holder” McBrien perfectly
    mirrors the current ethos governing that once-Catholic institution. He is absolutely in his

  24. robtbrown says:

    I wonder what language Fr McBrien thinks is needed by Ordinatio Sacerdotalis to indicate its infallibility.

  25. Maltese says:

    Indeed Father, though not a Canon lawyer, I am a lawyer. Everything I have read on the issue, including your comments, above, indicate that the issue is settled Dogma. In denying it, McBrien is a heretic (well, technically, he would have to know it’s a Dogma, and then deny it, to be a heretic–but, McBrien, if you are reading this, you now know it is a Dogma; if you persist in your teaching you are indeed a heretic, and will go to a place not as balmy as Palm Beach in March when you keel over.)

  26. acroat says:

    Thanks be to God this man’s column has been booted from our Archdiocesan weekly newspaper by our new Metropolitan!

  27. pfreddys says:

    OK……so now where is the declaration of excommunication from some bishop, any bishop…anywhere?

  28. JeffTL says:

    We have this kind of “progressives” in the Protestant churches too. Thankfully they aren’t all like this, but many will consider you to be uninformed, naïve, or even bigoted if you disagree with their theological positions.

  29. Scott W. says:

    In this era of political doublespeak and incessant parsing of statements to find the “nuanced” meaning, this is the phrase latched onto by dissenters.
    I do not know why he chose not to use the more traditional phraseology and chose not to attach an ‘anathema’ as previous Popes have done, but he did not. Had he done so, though, dissenters such as Fr. McBrian would have no forum among even remotely reasonable people.

    It wouldn’t have mattered if he used the traditional phraseology or not. It’s a problem of the will, not the intellect. When you get down to it, for dissenters, the Church is always one infallible statement short of settling an issue.

  30. Scott W. says:


    Anyone else find this somewhat sleazy:

    “Morris revealed portions of the letter from Pope Benedict XVI informing him of his removal from office”

  31. PostCatholic says:

    I don’t have a dog in this hunt. I do have McBrien’s old “Catholicism” 2-volume catechism somewhere on my shelves but it’s never been particularly a useful resource to me. And I get that for most Catholics the idea of women’s ordination is definitively settled infallibly and that McBrien is making an argument from the far left fringe of your church.

    I am curious though what, if any elements, of Benedict XVI’s theology you find debatable, contestable or even wrong. Popes reverse each other from time to time and this current one, like the last before him, is a well-educated theologian who surely has some of his own ideas that are controversial between people of good will. It would be interesting to hear where (if at all) you respectfully dissent from the pope or if you’re as one mind with him in all theological areas. If no one does there’s no fire to test the metals, so to speak.

  32. MichaelJ says:

    I don’t know of any specific objections of Fr. McBrian, but others have cast doubt on the infallibility of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis because:
    1. Pope John Paul II used “I” instead of “We” (I declare, instead of We declare)
    2. What was being declared. Instead of saying “Women cannot be ordained as Priests”, the wording was “The Church has no authority to…” – leaving open the possibility that the Church may be granted this authority in the future or that some other entity has the authority , etc, etc.
    3. No explicit identification of the effect on individuals if they do not definitively assent to what is being declared.
    4. No explicit invocation of his authority as Supreme Pontiff. Instead what was cited was the Pope’s teaching responsibility

    Thes objections all seem weak and disingenuous to me, but when you live in a world (seemingly) only populated by lawyers, these are the kinds of things you can expect.

  33. St. Rafael says:

    Too many Catholics confuse the Extraordinary Magisterium with the Ordinary Magisterium. The Extraodinary Magisterium or Papal Infallibility is extraordinary for a reason, it has only been used twice with Pius IX and Pius XII.

    I agree that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was not part of Papal infallibility and Pope John Paul II never used the Extraordinary Magisterium and Papal Infallibility during his pontificate.

    One of the five conditions for using Papal Infallibility is that a Pope has to defined a doctrine. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis did not have to define the prohibition against women’s ordination. That only men can be ordained, is part of the orginal deposit of faith and a dogma always held by the Church. It had always been part of the infallible Ordinary Magisterium from the beginning. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis was a document that was part of and further contributes to the infallible Ordinary Magisterium.

  34. MichaelJ says:

    Scott W.

    I agree. It would not have mattered to the dissenters. It would have mattered to humble Catholics who, perhaps mistakenly, supperess their own thoughts when an “expert” speaks. It would also have mattered to Non-Catholics so that they would know immediately that Fr.McBrian was teaching something contrary to what the Church teaches

  35. jacobi says:

    Thank you for that clear explanation of the infallibility of the Church’s ruling that women can not be ordained. This is not ultraconservatism, but is mainstream orthodox Catholicism.

    We probably worry too much about what the McBriens of this world say. He represents the thinking of that Relativistic or Modernistic Reformation type movement which swept into the Church in the post Vatican II period like a “great flood of water pouring into a house with devastating effects”, as Fr Croan OP has put it.
    Thanks to our Pope and his concept of Continuity, this thinking has been recognised for what it is , and is now exposed – but still has many adherents, such as McBrien.

  36. benedetta says:

    I am not a canon lawyer nor a theologian however the words “The Church has no authority to…” actually reads, on the face of the wording, to be something greater and stronger than the word infallibility. I read that as already encompassing and beyond, the word, infallible. The way I see it is that infallibility and the magisterium, the ability to teach, all of these flow from the Church’s authority. If someone like me can readily see it I am certain many many others recognize it too. If infallibility is merely, or only, or mostly, a human construct (which McBrien and friends obviously also assert) then it really does not matter what term is used. If we are concerned with legalism then the term seems to be of obsessive import. But if it is the spirit of the law with which we are concerned then there is only one Spirit that has established the Church on earth and that authority is not limited in speaking to us only in certain terminology. Of course we need law, some law otherwise the situation is total chaos, for whatever the human endeavor so we do have to speak in this way as well. In all fairness I should think that as a general matter Blessed JPII seemed to be a man with a healthy dose of respect for others and the way in which grace works in each person’s life, so in employing the word “I” rather than the traditional “We”, he simply demonstrated that he was listening, always, was not out of touch, rude, refusing to even hear all sorts of things, from whomever, and was being responsive in the time in which he as Pope had been situated.

    Blessed JPII clearly loved and listened to women of faith. He is so maligned by this campaign to portray him as something he was not. It can be truly difficult especially for women of our times to listen to him and we are very conditioned to assign what he says as being about something else. He got that the something else was out there but that was not what he was all about and this is very present in much of his writings. That Blessed JPII said this did not mean that he felt that all women should be housewives, mothers, and nothing more. Small samplings of his writings reflect this. Taking everything as a whole it is completely obvious.

    I just don’t buy this lie that if I am not called to be a priest because I am a woman the Church hasn’t a place for me. Nor do I find that there is something uniquely “prophetic” or impressive about a woman chasing down a ceremony crafted by themselves to declare themselves as such, as if infinite scores of holy women, saints and martyrs, amount to zero, let alone the very intense witness of everyday women working in all areas of society, fortified for the journey from the sacraments received from male people ordained to stand in for the person of the Lord — I simply do not agree that they are nothing and that male priest’s opinion though he is degreed does not carry greater dignity in the Church than mine. Of course if that faction which supports abortion so much as possible would like to better the situation of mothers in our society there are other prophetic avenues one could take.

  37. ndmom says:

    For what it’s worth, McBrien is one of more than a dozen holders of endowed chairs in the theology department. He is not regarded as a serious academic by anyone who counts at Notre Dame, and has virtually no clout on campus, except, perhaps, in the eyes of credulous and poorly-formed students. He is a diocesan priest, not a member of the CSC, and evidently his bishop does not have urgent need of his priestly services back home. To the best of my knowledge, he does not celebrate Mass on campus. He has a lady friend, with whom he appears in public with no shame (but he never wears a collar either). Please pray for him, and for the students he scandalizes.

  38. Athelstan says:

    Fr. McBrien has misquoted – or rather misrepresented – Canon 749.

    Can. 749 §1. By virtue of his office, the Supreme Pontiff possesses infallibility in teaching when as the supreme pastor and teacher of all the Christian faithful, who strengthens his brothers and sisters in the faith, he proclaims by definitive act that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held.

    §2. The college of bishops also possesses infallibility in teaching when the bishops gathered together in an ecumenical council exercise the magisterium as teachers and judges of faith and morals who declare for the universal Church that a doctrine of faith or morals is to be held definitively; or when dispersed throughout the world but preserving the bond of communion among themselves and with the successor of Peter and teaching authentically together with the Roman Pontiff matters of faith or morals, they agree that a particular proposition is to be held definitively.

    §3. No doctrine is understood as defined infallibly unless this is manifestly evident.

    Well – if Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and the CDF dubium the following year – and the long, unbroken Church tradition which they simply affirm – are not “manifestly evident” as manifestations of the Church teaching definitively on this point, I don’t know what is. A democratic vote of the entire Church membership – or even just that residing in Notre Dame faculty lounges – is not necessary to make it manifestly evident. Nor has it ever been necessary.

    Fr. McBrien’s point amounts to this: He just thinks it’s wrong and unjust, and is reduced to citing vacuous authorities for this position: his experience, his education, and, possibly, the Holy Spirit “speaking” to him. If the latter, I hope he kept a transcript.

  39. SonofMonica says:

    Fr. McBrien’s comments are not surprising. Much of his generation misguidedly considers itself to be the only light–temporally speaking, in an otherwise dark timeline of the Church. Every churchman who came before Fr. McBrien’s Vatican II generation was hopelessly lost in medieval and superstitious darkness–so their yarn reads, and every churchman who came after is hopelessly reactionary and ultraconservative. It’s amazing that, for someone who considers himself such a prophet, he is so incapable of reading the signs of the times–unable to realize that his worldview is but a momentary aberrance in the Church’s thought… and an unfaithful one which is a half-century old, at that.

    I might add that Athelstan’s last paragraph hits the mark: those we now call “liberals” or “dissenters” are really just yesterday’s gnostics with tenure. Gone are the days of the oppressive hierachy: God has revealed his otherwise super-secret knowledge about the new way to salvation to Democrats in academia, so they are to be extolled as “prophets.” As a result, nothing is infallible unless sufficiently progressive professors and theologians in positions of power and voice deem it to be so. No Church teaching is sacrosanct without the peer-review process of these “open-minded” sort of academics, who teach us that the Pope is simply one voice among many of the Catholic faithful. So, it is up to certain circles of academia to decide when we must listen to the Holy Father and when we must deride him as reactionary or insufficiently “open to the Spirit.”

    Now keep in mind, just because we threw off the oppressive, male-dominated hierarchy in Rome ,doesn’t mean that the lay faithful get to decide for themselves what the faith is. No, we had better get used to bowing down to Fr. McBrien, Sr. Chittister,and Fr. Ruff, because the Holy Spirit only talks to them. Fr. Michael Ryan told me so.

    Or… you know… we could just wait.

  40. RichardT says:

    An endowed chair is only prestigious if it was endowed before 1800.

    There has been a huge explosion in endowed chairs recently; there are 14 just in the Theology department at Notre Dame! Yes, it’s a good post to have, but it doesn’t make you that important.

  41. RichardT says:

    I’ve just been looking at his publication list on the Notre Dame website:

    OK, it might be out of date, but for a full professor it’s feeble. It’s padded out with media interviews (including ABC News on the de Vinci Code – is that a joke?) and parish lectures.

    Even the books (and the most recent one listed is 10 years old) mostly look populist rather than academic. And the list has been padded out by showing hardback, paperback and translations of the same work separately.

    There’s nothing of the sort of thing that gets you taken seriously as an academic – no articles in peer-reviewed academic journals, no learned monographs, no invitations to give prestigious academic lectures.

    I don’t know if you Yankees use the phrase “media don”, but that’s what fits this publication list. It’s not the work of a serious, respected academic.

  42. chcrix says:

    “An endowed chair is only prestigious if it was endowed before 1800.”

    Indeed. Like the Lucasian professor of mathematics at Cambridge.


    Nobody seems to be addressing your question, and I don’t feel qualified to, but I think doing some reading of works by Cardinal Newman might help.

    As the blessed John Henry Newman said: 1000 difficulties do not make one doubt.

  43. Y2Y says:

    A washed-up shill for a discredited ideology and failed project.

    In McBrien’s case, I hope the biological solution is slow in coming. It will be some measure of divine justice for McBrien to witness the utter failure and disintegration of everything he has dedicated his energies to in the past 50 years.

  44. As to age of named chairs. If 1800 were the cutoff date for “real” chairs, there would be no real named chairs in any American university. Named chairs were originally created only in research universities, the the oldest research university (as opposed to teaching college, like Harvard) is Johns Hopkins, 1876. So, I don’t think that rule would have any meaning on this side of the Atlantic. You are going to have to find another rule.

  45. robtbrown says:

    MichaelJ says:

    I don’t know of any specific objections of Fr. McBrian, but others have cast doubt on the infallibility of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis because:
    1. Pope John Paul II used “I” instead of “We” (I declare, instead of We declare)

    No, OS uses declaramus (we declare)–the English uses the first person singular.

    2. What was being declared. Instead of saying “Women cannot be ordained as Priests”, the wording was “The Church has no authority to…” – leaving open the possibility that the Church may be granted this authority in the future or that some other entity has the authority , etc, etc.

    The Sacraments were instituted by Christ–therefore, the Church cannot be granted this authority in the future.

    3. No explicit identification of the effect on individuals if they do not definitively assent to what is being declared.

    Generally, a tripartite structure is used. 1) Apostolic authority is invoked; 2) the doctrine is stated, and 3) its binding nature is affirmed.

    1) virtute ministerii Nostri confirmandi fratres (Luc. 22, 32),

    2)declaramus Ecclesiam facultatem nullatenus habere ordinationem sacerdotalem mulieribus conferendi,

    3) hancque sententiam ab omnibus Ecclesiae fidelibus esse definitive tenendam.

    4. No explicit invocation of his authority as Supreme Pontiff. Instead what was cited was the Pope’s teaching responsibility

    See above 1). virtute Nostri ministerii confirmandi fratres

    His Petrine authority in matters of doctrine is his teaching authority.

  46. robtbrown says:

    IMHO, Fr Francis Sullivan probably makes the best objection (referring to LG), but he wants to ignore the fact that OS concerns a secondary object of Infallibility. As a secondary object it has been taught semper et ubique implicitly. He seems to insist on explicit agreement among bishops, as in a primary object.

  47. RichardT says:

    Fr Augustine, the 1800 was pure hyperbole, and (mea culpa) partly deliberate to attract that sort of transatlantic response.

    But the underlying point (that in recent years named chairs have proliferated to the point that they are no longer very prestigious), and my subsequent review of O’Brien’s publication list, were serious.

  48. Widukind says:

    I wonder if his “endowed chair” of theology, looks anything like the one Martin Luther used?
    I belief it had a large hole in the middle and was full of ………!

  49. robtbrown says:

    RichardT says:

    OK, it might be out of date, but for a full professor it’s feeble. It’s padded out with media interviews (including ABC News on the de Vinci Code – is that a joke?) and parish lectures. Even the books (and the most recent one listed is 10 years old) mostly look populist rather than academic

    You’re right that Fr McBrien has little influence among theologians. I always say that he is the Irish Pub version of Karl Rahner.

  50. amenamen says:

    “… if it were not for the constant drumbeat of criticism on the part of ultraconservative Catholics — most or all of whom have had no formal education in theology, Scripture, liturgy, or canon law — and the appointment of another ultraconservative as Apostolic Visitor — Charles Chaput, Archbishop of Denver — Morris would not have been removed from his diocese.”

    This is a fascinating thing for a professor of theology to say.
    But what exactly does he mean?
    Does he mean that most (or possibly “all”) of those who criticized Bishop Morris have no formal theological education?
    or that most (or possibly “all”) ultraconservatives have no formal theological education?
    What exactly is an “ultraconservative” in the first place?
    It must be something bad.
    But, evidently, they play the drums.

  51. Nova Eboracensis says:

    Another important element in the make-up of the professional “Catholic” dissenters since the 60’s was their feelings of inferiority vis a vis their WASP university colleagues. This was due to an unexamined premise that the Catholic Church had nothing to teach or contribute and that it was, in fact, a hopelessly out-moded and hidebound institution. They would be at the vanguard in the struggle to completely remake the church in their image.

    When I was attending graduate school at the University of Chicago in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I had the opportunity to observe this at close hand. A different cast of characters than Richard McBrien, to be sure, but followers of the same group-think.

    Heaven help you if you dared challenge their assertions with facts of your own. In a course about the canon of scripture, one such “Catholic” theologian made incorrect statements about the the reception of the Tome of Leo the Great during the proceeding of the Council of Chalcedon. When this was pointed out, his audible snarl silenced any further discussion.

    Remember, these were the children of the “Me-Generation”. What more needs to be said?

  52. Rich says:

    McBrien is a false prophet.

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