Cardinal Policarpo summoned to Vatican for his statements on the ordination of women priests

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The Lisbon patriarch, José da Cruz Policarpo, who during a recent interview stated that “no fundamental obstacle” exists, from a “theological stand point,” to the ordination of women priests had an exchange with the Papal Secretary of State Bertone, after he received a letter from the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith, cardinal William Levada, who invited him to clarify his position.

This is according an article by António Marujo published by the Portuguese newspaper Publico. The Vatican Insider has also written about it, reporting the clarification published by the Portuguese cardinal.

It has just been confirmed that the seventy-five year old patriarch of Lisbon, will be serving another two years as leader of the diocese in the Portuguese capital. During a long interview with the monthly publication “OA”, the Portuguese Law Society magazine, discussing the topic of women priests, states that “John Paul II at one point seemed to have settled the controversy.” Reference is made to the apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis (1994), one of the shortest documents written by Wojtyla, with which the Pope, after the Anglican Communion’s decision to open the ordination of women, confirmed that the Catholic Church would have never done it.

“I believe,” cardinal Policarpo said, “that the issue cannot be settled in these terms. From a theological stand point there is no fundamental obstacle (to women priests, Ed.); there is this tradition, let’s call it that way; it was never done any other way.”

In response to the interviewer’s question, intrigued by the cardinal’s statement that no theological reasons exist against the ordination of women, Policarpo answered, “I do not think there is any fundamental obstacle. It is the fundamental equality right of all members of the Church. The problem is rooted in a very strong tradition, which originates from Jesus and the ease with which the reformed Churches allowed women to become priests.”

A few days after, the cardinal disclosed a letter in which he clarified his thoughts, stating that he never “systematically analyzed the matter.” “Reactions to this interview forced me to ponder on the matter with more attention and I realized that, by not paying due attention to the statements of the teachings of the Church on the matter, I helped trigger these reactions.” Policarpo then added, “It would be painful for me if my words were to create confusion in our obedience to the Church and to the words of our Holy Father.”

Now, the Portuguese daily paper reveals a behind the scenes description of what happened over the past weeks, stating that the Lisbon patriarch was summoned by the Papal Secretary of State, Tarcisio Bertone. The conversation took place in Castel Gandolfo in the first half of July, while the Portuguese cardinal was in Rome to participate to a plenary session of the newly formed Papal Council for the new evangelization. Publico writes that Policarpo was treated with extreme kindness “because the Vatican was afraid he would react negatively to a strong reprimand.”

On July 2, a few days before the meeting with Bertone, Policarpo had received, through a papal nuncio in Lisbon, a letter by cardinal William Levada, prefect of the former Holy Office. According to a testimony obtained by Publico, the letter apparently had him very worried. For this reason, on 6 July, the patriarch wrote a clarification statement. The Portuguese daily paper, however, highlights that this was not the first time Policarpo had made statements of this kind about women priests: however, it was the first time that his words had been reported by the international press.

António Marujo’s article provides several of the cardinal’s statements as examples. In 1999, a year after his appointment as Lisbon patriarch of the diocesan center, Policarpo led people to believe that the matter of women priests had not been settled at all and that what was needed, was a period of maturing of the communities and the Church, since today the idea of “women carrying out duties that were unthinkable thirty years ago is now accepted within the Church.”

On May 2003, in Vienna, the cardinal responded in a similar fashion to a question during a press conference in which mention was made to a letter sent by Pope John Paul II in 1994 and the Congregation’s subsequent clarification of the Doctrine of the Faith. Policarpo explained that in his opinion the matter “is not settled that way; from a theological point of view, there is no fundamental obstacle; there is this tradition, let’s call it that way… it was never done any other way”. In that same interview, the Lisbon patriarch stated that at the present time it was not appropriate to raise the issue because it would have triggered “a series of reactions,” but he concluded saying that “If God wishes it to happen, and if it God’s plan, it will happen.”

The document of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to which reference is made, was the answer to a doubt published by the former Holy Office (at the time led by cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who had archbishop Tarcisio Bertone as his right hand). It asked if “the doctrine, according to which, the Church cannot ordain women priests, as proposed in the apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis” had to be “deemed definitive” and “part of the deposit of faith.” The answer, approved by Pope Wojtyla, was “affirmative.” The Congregation at the time explained that “this doctrine requires a permanent confirmation because, based God’s Word, written and constantly kept and applied in the Tradition of the Church since its origins, it was infallibly proposed by the ordinary and universal teachings of the Church” and thus, “it must be followed always, everywhere and by every faithful person, since it belongs to the deposit of faith.”

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