Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate,
1. Priestly ordination, which hands on the office entrusted by Christ to his
Apostles of teaching, sanctifying and governing the faithful, has in the
Catholic Church from the beginning always been reserved to men alone. This
tradition has also been faithfully maintained by the Oriental Churches.
When the question of the ordination of women arose in the Anglican
Communion, Pope Paul VI, out of fidelity to his office of safeguarding the
Apostolic Tradition, and also with a view to removing a new obstacle placed in
the way of Christian unity, reminded Anglicans of the position of the Catholic
Church: "She holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the
priesthood, for very fundamental reasons. These reasons include: the example
recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from
among men; the constant practice of the Church, which has imitated Christ in
choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held
that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan
for his Church."
But since the question had also become the subject of debate among
theologians and in certain Catholic circles, Paul VI directed the Congregation
for the Doctrine of the Faith to set forth and expound the teaching of the
Church on this matter. This was done through the Declaration Inter Insigniores,
which the Supreme Pontiff approved and ordered to be published.
2. The Declaration recalls and explains the fundamental reasons for this
teaching, reasons expounded by Paul VI, and concludes that the Church "does
not consider herself authorized to admit women to priestly ordination."(3)
To these fundamental reasons the document adds other theological reasons which
illustrate the appropriateness of the divine provision, and it also shows
clearly that Christ's way of acting did not proceed from sociological or
cultural motives peculiar to his time. As Paul VI later explained: "The
real reason is that, in giving the Church her fundamental constitution, her
theological anthropology-thereafter always followed by the Church's Tradition-
Christ established things in this way."
In the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, I myself wrote in this regard: "In
calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and
sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all
his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without
conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the
legislation of the time."
In fact the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles attest that this call was
made in accordance with God's eternal plan; Christ chose those whom he willed
(cf. Mk 3:13-14; Jn 6:70), and he did so in union with the Father, "through
the Holy Spirit" (Acts 1:2), after having spent the night in prayer (cf. Lk
6:12). Therefore, in granting admission to the ministerial priesthood, the
Church has always acknowledged as a perennial norm her Lord's way of acting in
choosing the twelve men whom he made the foundation of his Church (cf. Rv
21:14). These men did not in fact receive only a function which could thereafter
be exercised by any member of the Church; rather they were specifically and
intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. Mt 10:1,
7-8; 28:16-20; Mk 3:13-16; 16:14-15). The Apostles did the same when they chose
fellow workers(7) who would succeed them in their ministry. Also included in
this choice were those who, throughout the time of the Church, would carry on
the Apostles' mission of representing Christ the Lord and Redeemer.
3. Furthermore, the fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and
Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the Apostles nor
the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to
priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be
construed as discrimination against them. Rather, it is to be seen as the
faithful observance of a plan to be ascribed to the wisdom of the Lord of the
The presence and the role of women in the life and mission of the Church,
although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary
and irreplaceable. As the Declaration Inter Insigniores points out, "the
Church desires that Christian women should become fully aware of the greatness
of their mission: today their role is of capital importance both for the renewal
and humanization of society and for the rediscovery by believers of the true
face of the Church."
The New Testament and the whole history of the Church give ample evidence
of the presence in the Church of women, true disciples, witnesses to Christ in
the family and in society, as well as in total consecration to the service of
God and of the Gospel. "By defending the dignity of women and their
vocation, the Church has shown honor and gratitude for those women who-faithful
to the Gospel-have shared in every age in the apostolic mission of the whole
People of God. They are the holy martyrs, virgins and mothers of families, who
bravely bore witness to their faith and passed on the Church's faith and
tradition by bringing up their children in the spirit of the Gospel."
Moreover, it is to the holiness of the faithful that the hierarchical
structure of the Church is totally ordered. For this reason, the Declaration
Inter Insigniores recalls: "the only better gift, which can and must be
desired, is love (cf. 1 Cor 12 and 13). The greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven
are not the ministers but the saints."
4. Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men
alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church
and firmly taught by the Magisterium in its more recent documents, at the
present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate,
or the Church's judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is
considered to have a merely disciplinary force.
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
Invoking an abundance of divine assistance upon you, venerable brothers, and
upon all the faithful, I impart my apostolic blessing.
From the Vatican, on May 22, the Solemnity of Pentecost, in the year
1994, the sixteenth of my Pontificate.