Benedict, who for decades before his 2005 election was the Vatican’s chief doctrinal enforcer, delivered an unusually direct denunciation of disobedient priests in a sermon at a morning Mass on Holy Thursday, the day the Church commemorates the day Christ instituted the priesthood.
The pope responded specifically to a call to disobedience by a group of Austrian priests and laity, who last year boldly and openly challenged Church teaching on taboo topics such as priestly celibacy and women’s ordination.
“Is disobedience a path of renewal for the Church?,” he asked rhetorically in the sermon of a solemn Mass in St Peter’s Basilica on the day Catholic priests around the world renew their vows.
In his response to the Austrian group, his first in public, Benedict noted that, in its “call to disobedience”, it had challenged “definitive decisions of the Church’s magisterium (teaching authority) such as the question of women’s ordination.”
He then restated the position by citing a major 1994 document by his predecessor John Paul II that stated that the ban on women priests was part of the Church’s “divine constitution”.
A year later in 1995, the Vatican’s doctrinal department, which the current pope then headed when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, ruled that the teaching on an exclusively male priesthood had been “set forth infallibly”, meaning it could not be changed.
The Catholic Church teaches that it has no authority to allow women to become priests because Jesus Christ willingly chose only men as his apostles when he instituted the priesthood at the Last Supper. Proponents of a female priesthood say Jesus Christ was only acting according to the customs of his times.