The teachings of the Church are based on the message of the Gospel, which is love. Jesus said the greatest law was to love God above all, and to love our neighbor.
The New Testament is replete with instances in which Jesus speaks about the religious laws under which the Jews lived. This dichotomy — religious laws (and appearances) contrasted with the law of love (and substance) is a recurring theme in Jesus’ teachings. He castigates the scribes and Pharisees whose focus is the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law, a juridical approach serving to perpetuate their status and the status quo.
I find Pope Benedict XVI’s removal of Bishop William Morris of Australia for broaching the subject of women and married priests distressing. While the Vatican continues to state that this is not a topic for discussion, the prohibition against married priests is a “law” created in the Middle Ages as a means of keeping the Church’s wealth under the Church’s control. The lack of women priests is not surprising given the patriarchal societies of the last several thousand years.
Indeed, the prohibition against women and married priests has never been promulgated as an infallible teaching. The pope is able to teach infallibly on topics of faith and morals, and under specific conditions. The word infallible has a somewhat negative definition (“without error”). Thus, an infallible teaching may not be optimal or even appropriate.
We approach the 50th anniversary of the convocation of Vatican II and would do well to remember that the Council was convened to promote renewal, reform and the working of the Spirit. Is it possible that through the writing of Father Richard McBrien, the Holy Spirit is doing her best to nudge us toward a response to the clergy shortage?