The decisions of the recent Synod of the Church of England to permit the ordination of women bishops and the refusal to authorize continued episcopal oversight have made the problem for this minority of Anglicans even more acute. For its part, the Catholic Church has clearly articulated its position on the ordination of women. In 1975, Pope Paul VI issued a formal appeal to the then-Archbishop of Canterbury, Fredrick Donald Coggan, to avoid taking a step which would have a serious negative impact on ecumenical relations. Just to say, parenthetically, that an appeal to the Archbishop of Canterbury, though, is probably frustrating for him, because unlike the Catholic Church, there is no central authority in the Anglican Communion and, thus, the various provinces””some 39, I believe””have made their own decisions about such questions of practice and even doctrine.
In 1976, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued its declaration Inter insigniores, stating that the Church does not consider herself authorized to ordain women, not on account of socio-cultural reasons, but rather because of the “unbroken tradition throughout the history of the Church, universal in the East and in the West”, which must be “considered to conform to God’s plan for his Church.” (I’m quoting there from the document.) This position was reiterated in 1992 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and again in 1994 with the Apostolic Letter of Pope John Paul II, Ordinatio sacerdotalis. In October of 1995, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a response affirming that the doctrine stating that the Church has no power to confer sacred orders on women is definitive tenenda””it must be held definitively and is to be considered part of the infallible, ordinary and universal Magisterium of the Church. For Catholics, the issue of the reservation of priestly ordination to men is not merely a matter of praxis, or discipline, but is, rather, doctrinal in nature and touches the heart of the doctrine of the Eucharist itself and the sacramental nature, or constitution, of the Church. It is therefore a question which cannot be relegated to the periphery of ecumenical conversations, but needs to be engaged directly in honesty and charity by dialogue partners who desire Christian unity, which, by its very nature, is Eucharistic.
Cardinal Walter Kasper, current President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, addressed this point in an intervention given in June 2006 to the House of Bishops of the Church of England during its discussions on the ordination of women to the episcopate. In his talk he said this: “Because the Episcopal office is a ministry of unity, the decision you face would immediately impact on the question of the unity of the Church and with it the goal of ecumenical dialogue. It would be a decision against the common goal we have until now pursued in our dialogue: full ecclesial communion, which cannot exist without full communion in the episcopal office.”
Read it all and read it carefully.