Ordination of women should not be focal point of synod, Scandinavian cardinal says

Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm at a consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 28, 2017 Cardinal Anders Arborelius of Stockholm at a consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 28, 2017. | Credit: Daniel Ibáñez/CNA

Scandinavia’s top Church leader hopes the role of women in the Church’s mission is a focal point at the upcoming synodal assembly on synodality — and, therefore, that the conversation isn’t bogged down on the settled question of whether the Church can ordain women. 

“It would be very frustrating if the discussion was limited to this issue that cannot lead further, as priestly ministry is reserved to men in Catholic and Orthodox doctrine,” Cardinal Anders Arborelius, ordinary of the Archdiocese of Stockholm, told the National Catholic Reporter in an interview published Sept. 13.

Arborelius, who became the first cardinal ever from Scandinavia in 2017 and was made a member of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Bishops in 2022, will be one of the 360-plus voting participants at the October synod. The gathering, which will be held from Oct. 4–29 and followed by a second assembly in October 2024, is focused on how the Church can better incorporate its members into its life and mission.

Although synod organizers have insisted the event is not about changing doctrine, the event’s Instrumentum Laboris, or working document, explicitly asks whether “it is possible to envisage” “the question of women’s inclusion in the diaconate.” Some participants, such as San Diego Cardinal Robert McElroy, have actively pushed for women’s ordination to be a focal point of the proceedings, as have outside initiatives such as the Synodal Way in the Catholic Church in Germany. 

The Church’s inability to sacramentally ordain women — which is often falsely portrayed as a “ban” in some media accounts — was confirmed in 1994 by Pope John Paul II, who wrote in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 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.” 

Pope Francis has also repeatedly affirmed this truth, stating in November 2016 that John Paul’s teaching was the clear and “final word” on the issue. More recently, Pope Francis told America magazine in 2022 that the fact that women cannot enter ordained ministry “is not a deprivation” and that the Church should continue to develop a “theology of women” and expand women’s participation in ecclesial life.

Arborelius made similar comments in his interview with the National Catholic Reporter, which was conducted during his August visit to the United States to participate in an ecumenical dialogue on St. Thérèse of Lisieux.

“It is of the utmost importance to find more possibilities for women to take part in the work of evangelization on various levels,” Arborelius said. “At the same time, it is important to see that there are other ways than ordained ministry.”

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