Infallibility Complex
Have we heard the final word on women's ordination?

Many Catholics were confused upon hearing reports that the church had spoken infallibly on the issue of women's ordination. What makes a statement infallible? Here are two responses.

A Theological Response
Ann Graff

On November 18, 1995 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) sent a statement to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, just after their meeting in Washington, D.C. had adjourned. The bishops say it took them completely by surprise. The statement was on women's ordination. First, it repeated the teaching that "the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women." This was the teaching of Ordinatio sacredotalis in May 1994, and was first put in those terms in the now famous Declaration on the Question of the Admission of Women to the Ministerial Priesthood (Inter insigniores) in January 1977. What is new here is that the CDF has said that this teaching "has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal magisterium."

The issues around women's ordination have been very much in discussion, among scholars and Catholics in general, since Vatican II. Polls have indicated growing acceptance of this possibility, especially as other churches have begun to ordain women over the past 20 years. There has been research into the practice of Jesus, the record of the New Testament and early church, the development of ordination in the church, and similar matters. However, an infallible decision on women's ordination shifts the issue decisively. It becomes a matter of church authority.

The additional weight given to this teaching has taken not only the bishops but many Catholics by surprise, and has caused real confusion. I cannot hide the fact that the teaching troubles me deeply, because I, like many other Catholic theologians, love the church and its rich tradition. I am troubled not only because of my personal persuasions about the struggle for the practice of truth and justice in and through this church, but even more because, as a parent, I know that more people may choose to leave the church, together with their children, in response to this teaching.

It would he convenient for all of us if infallibility were a very simple notion that could readily be cited and explained, but it is not. It is more complex, and the use of it now puts us smack in the middle of its complexity.

The term infallible applied to a teaching minimally means "free from error." Understood more positively, it means that we trust in the truth of our teaching. If we turn our attention first to the issue of trust, we can see that our church, as well as other Christian churches, has a core of apparently infallible teachings that none of us would relinquish.

A Catholic example would be our assurance that God is love, that one God has created us and calls us all to Godself now and for eternity. Beliefs such as these--many of which are in the Creed--are the heart of our faith. None of these teachings has been proclaimed infallible, but their roots are deep in scripture and the tradition of the church.

It is fundamental to our faith that the church teaches as a faithful witness to the Good News of Jesus Christ, from ancient times through the present, guided by the Holy Spirit. This is the root of the notion of infallibility--that the church will remain faithful to Christ throughout the ages as Christ, through the Spirit, remains faithful to the church.

-Make no mistake

There is a consistent concern in the history of the church that we remain in the truth. However, there is no specific New Testament or early church language about infallibility. The term only makes an appearance in theology in the later Middle Ages. For example, Saint Thomas Aquinas asserted the wider medieval understanding that the universal church cannot err, because it is guided by the Holy Spirit. Moreover, when errors arise in matters of faith, Aquinas is clear that the pope has the authority to decide these in order to preserve the unity of the common faith, so that all Christians might speak with one voice.

It was later, however, when the church had to deal with the period of schism in the 15th century--when there were two and sometimes three popes--that the issue of the authority of church councils became important. Later, with the challenges of the reformers--notably Martin Luther in the 16th century--specific questions of the error of popes and councils were raised, setting the stage for the teaching of Vatican I.

Placing the ultimate authority to teach (the magisterium) in the office of the pope is consistent with medieval notions of hierarchy that recognize the head of the hierarchy as the summation of the members (clearly a different idea than participants in a democracy would hold).

Vatican 1, which occurred during a time of crisis for the papacy (1869-70)--namely the drive to unify Italy, which meant the loss of the papal states and temporal power--produced the constitution Pastor aeternus, which defines the pope as governor of the church (the primacy) and as teacher of the church (infallibility). According to this document, when the pope teaches from the chair of Peter--that is, in his official capacity as teacher of the universal church on matters of faith and morals, and given the divine assistance in which we trust--such teaching is infallible.

This has come to be called the "extraordinary magisterium" (teaching authority) of the church, as distinct from the "ordinary magisterium"--the ordinary teaching of pope and bishops. Only one doctrine has been defined this way since Vatican I, and that is the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary in 1950. However, due to the process by which it was formulated, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (1854) is also named infallible. It is noteworthy that both of these decisions were promulgated only after widespread consultation with the world's bishops.

In sum, we can see a movement from the trust in the church's witness to Christ through the Holy Spirit to a focus on the hierarchical role of the pope and an affirmation of his role as teacher of the faith of the whole church.

This last point is important. The pope is understood to speak the faith of the whole church and never to speak against the faith of the church. While the pope is not required to hire pollsters to find out what people believe (and this could be grace), a pope who tried to deny something major, like the incarnation of Jesus, could be called to account.

Whether or not one likes the proclamation of papal infallibility, it is not arbitrary, and it is consistent with a particular cultural understanding of hierarchy that was once the accepted norm. That this role was underscored at a time when hierarchy across Europe was finally collapsing is certainly one of the paradoxes of history.

Then came Vatican II. The Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution on the Church (Lumen gentium) reincorporates the teaching of infallibility, first in the context of the living witness of the whole body of the faithful to Christ.

The council goes on to repeat Vatican I on the distinct way that the infallibility of the whole church belongs to the pope when he teaches ex cathedra. The document says that infallibility extends to the bishops as a college teaching together with the pope, whether gathered in council or scattered in their dioceses, when on a "matter of faith or morals they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively." I cite this because here Vatican II refers to a use of the ordinary magisterium that is pertinent to the November 18 statement.

-Weighing the issue

How are we to understand the weight of the November 18 statement in these terms? Two noted Jesuit theologians who are experts in matters of magisterium have responded. In the Dec. 9, 1995 issue of America, Father Ladilaus Orsy, S.J. has indicated that this statement, as a response from a Roman Congregation to a papal question, does not carry the explicit canonical language that would indicate that it has any authority other than that of the congregation itself.

He goes on to note that this authority does not include infallibility and that papal infallibility cannot be delegated. Therefore, while the papal documents on the issue of women's ordination remain definitive papal teaching, Orsy finds the use of the notion of infallibility here an interpretation of the CDF and not a new weighting of the papal teaching itself.

Father Francis Sullivan, S.J., longtime professor at the Gregorian University in Rome and now at Boston College, says in the New York Times on Nov. 19, 1995 that he was "dumbfounded" by the CDF statement. His own research has indicated that the 1994 teaching on the inability of the church to ordain women did not appear to have the concurrence of bishops around the world, at least since the debate has arisen in the past 20 years. Moreover, in 1976 a Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded that there was nothing in scripture that prohibited the ordination of women.

In an essay alongside Orsy's in America, Sullivan returns to the matter of the use of the ordinary magisterium. He notes Vatican It's description of the ordinary magisterium and its infallibility and comments that this statement of the CDF is probably the first time Rome has named a doctrine infallible in this way.

Sullivan asks how we might recognize the infallibility of a doctrine taught by the ordinary magisterium. He names three criteria drawn from canon law and from recent papal teachings. These are: consultation with all the bishops,the universal and constant consensus of Catholic theologians,the common adherence of the faithful.

He writes that none of these has been invoked by the CDF, and therefore it is difficult to know how this teaching can be named infallible.

He also cites doctrines that were held authoritatively in the past, and are positively embarrassing today, but thankfully have changed--for example, the teachings that an pagans and Jews were bound for hell if they did not become Catholics or that it was morally justified to own slaves. Thus authoritative teaching that represented consensus at one time can change as history and culture reshape our consciences.

A number of further issues will probably be raised by similar experts around all this. One, there is debate about whether the ordinary magisterium is adequately understood as the college of the pope and bishops. Father Avery Dulles S.J., among other theologians, has raised the question of the status of the teaching authority of theologians, especially when, as Sullivan's research indicates, there is a consensus on an issue. Does the community of Catholic (or Christian) theologians have a magisterium in conversation with the bishops and pope? What account should be made of the research of theologians on this issue of women's ordination?

Another interesting voice on magisterium is that of Father Ignacio Ellacuria, one of the Jesuits murdered by a Salvadoran death squad in 1989. He said that the church's preferential option for the poor, which is the basis of Christian hope in Catholic grassroots communities of Latin America, calls us all to attend to the poor as a "third magisterium" in the church. Can we ask, with Ellacuria, how attention to the marginalized, including women who are marginalized in the church, might reshape our sense of magisterium?

Another issue related to this is the meaning of the "sense of the faithful." Since Vatican I indicated that the pope speaks for the faith of the church, and that such teaching is received by us, theologians have asked how we know this sense of the faithful. Cardinal John Henry Newman was among the first to write about that in response to Vatican I. The problem of understanding the sense of the faithful both as a source of teaching and as receivers of what is taught reappeared in the 1960s with the promulgation of Humanae vitae, with its prohibition of artificial forms of contraception.

New ways of communicating our sense of the faith (not merely our fads) are emerging, probably in response to Vatican II's urging us to conciliar forms of participation in the church, as well as to our democratic sympathies. Many people from base communities of Latin America have been able to speak directly to and with the bishops of those countries, and that has shaped teaching there. The processes of undertaking the pastoral letters on peace and on the economy in this country also involved manyfaithful other than our bishops. Groundswell movements of laypeople here and elsewhere are claiming attention from our bishops.

We do not have formal ways of really speaking together yet, but experiments are underway. The CDF suggests that its statement onwomen's ordination should end the discussion, but is this appropriate to either the expression or the reception of something that is said to be an element of our common faith?

Their claim is that "this teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium." "Founded on the written Word of God"--we need the scripture scholars; "constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition"--we need the historians and theologians.

We also need to look at common faith itself. Infallible teaching is pertinent to either faith or morals, and the CDF has said this is a matter of faith. One of the most prominent living theologians, Father Edward Schillebeeckx, O.P., has said in the National Catholic Reporter on Dec. 8, 1995 that the infallibility of this statement is dogmaticatly impossible because it is a matter of church order, not the core of our faith.

On the other side of this argument, if the gender of who can be ordained is a matter of faith, then we have to examine that matter in terms of the "hierarchy of truths." Matters of faith have to do with the great truths I indicated earlier--the doctrines of God,Trinity, Incarnation, redemption, and sacraments. In this scheme, teaching about church and sacraments would take a second position to teachings about Christ, since they stem from Christ. Further away from the center are Marian dogmas, and even further is the teaching about infallibility itself, since that is teaching about teaching.

Where does the question of who can be a priest fall in this? At most it is a rather peripheral matter. What may be more pertinent today is whether our ordination practices will enable us to continue to celebrate the Eucharist, and whether they adequately reflect the love of God in the church.

-Who did Jesus ordain?

In the minutiae of these arguments we are likely to lose sight of the central issue--ordination. We need to notice that the teaching that Rome is unable to ordain women is given no further support from scripture or tradition.

For Catholics, revelation is contained in scripture and in the tradition of the church, so this is where the debate needs to take place. The CDF has said that the church is unable to ordain women because revelation--as it is contained in scripture and especially the New Testament--indicates that no women were ordained as priests. This is true, but no men were ordained either. The best of New Testament scholarship indicates that Jesus did not ordain anyone, although he did call apostles and disciples.

At issue among scholars is whether Jesus had any intention of founding a church at all. The consensus is that he did not, nor did he design any institutional structures to create a church. The church is a response to Jesus, the Risen Christ, and the emerging institutional concerns we see in the gospels reflect the period in which they were written, after the Resurrection.

Scholars have studied the varieties of ministries in the early churches and the diverse forms of leadership they had. There is evidence in the New Testament of women who were named apostle (Junia), deacon (Phoebe), prophet (daughters of Philip), and founders and leaders of churches (Junia, Prisca, Lydia, Chloe).

As leadership roles became more formal in the first three centuries, however, there was a steady movement to conform to the norms of patriarchal culture, and so a loss of female leadership roles.

The same three centuries saw the slow movement from church as the assembly of believers to church as the cult of the Roman Empire; from emphasis on table fellowship in the eucharistic meal to the liturgy recalling the sacrifice of Christ; from presbyters whom the local community elected and prayed over (together with their neighbors) to priests representing the local bishop. Over that time, the laying on of hands and the prayer of the community for its leaders (chosen on the basis of their ability to speak the common faith) became the rite of ordination.

A remarkable and radical religious movement began with Jesus. It gradually became institutionalized, and the radical edge was modified as the church has adapted to various cultural forms. Yet the story of the tradition indicates that it has not been entirely possible to lose that critical edge. It is often in tension within itself and in society as the religious renewal movements within Christianity testify (think of Francis and Clare, Vincent de Paul and Louise de Marillac, or Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin).

Women's leadership was part of that radical early Christian movement; it has never been entirely lost. As the practice of other Christian churches indicates, the time for the full exercise of that leadership in the community has come again.

(Ann Graff is a professor of relgious studies and theology at Seattle University in Washington.)

A Pastoral Response
Father David Knight

Headlines around the country have said that it has been "infaillibly taught" by the Catholic Church that women cannot be ordained priests. At first glance, it would seem that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is saying just that. However, the use of the word infallibly is misleading here. Most Catholics immediately associate the word infallible with a special promise given by God to preserve the Bishop of Rome from error when, on extraordinary occasions, he chooses to speak ex cathedra--using his full authority as pope--to make a solemn declaration about faith or morals. This has only happened once, in 1950, and no one is claiming that it has happened again.

What has happened is that the CDF has, notified all the bishops that it is their official opinion (which is not infallible) that women can never be ordained. They have also given it as their opinion (again, not infallible) that this teaching has been believed in the church so universally, and for so long, that it must be accepted as belonging to the "deposit of faith." This means that, in the opinion of the CDF, anyone who wants to be a full, orthodox Catholic has to accept it on faith that God has decreed women may never be ordained.

There is no question here of the Catholic Church's authority to teach infallibly. That is very clear, and it is important to keep it clear. The CDF's statement however is an official opinion that this particular issue is a matter of faith.

In an effort to give the statement more credibility in the eyes of the church, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger showed it to John Paul II in a private audience and reported in his cover letter to the bishops that the pope "approved this Reply... and ordered it to be published."

Ratzinger knows perfectly well that the pope's non-infallible approval of an opinion does not make it any more infallible than it was before. But there is a tendency among Catholics to forget that papal infallibility is a power confined within very strict boundaries.

And when those boundaries are not clearly acknowledged by those whose job it is to speak for the pope, the aura of infallibility tends to seep out and spread a false light of certitude over everything that issues from a Vatican office. This is ultimately very harmful to the teaching authority of the church. When people are given the impression that everything is infallible, there comes a point when they conclude that nothing is infallible.

-As a matter of faith

For pastoral reasons, it is important to make sure everyone understands this. The issue I am addressing here is not the question of women's ordination; it is the question of faith in the teaching of the church. This is a pastoral question, and it has nothing to do with whether women can be ordained. The question is only whether Catholics are required to accept as a matter of faith that women cannot be ordained.

Suppose that on historical grounds some particular Catholic does not agree that the church has always accepted as a revelation of God that women could not be ordained? Suppose someone interprets the church's practice of not ordaining women as being simply a matter of culture, not of theology? What if a loyal Catholic thinks it more likely that throughout the world the church did not ordain women for the same reason that for generations bishops in the South did not ordain black men to serve as diocesan priests--because it was simply unthinkable in the cultural climate of the times? Would such a Catholic have to leave the church?

Therefore, what must I as a priest and pastor say to a catholic who comes to me in the sacrament of Reconciliation and says, "Father, I just cannot believe that Jesus Christ taught that women should never be ordained. Am I allowed to receive the Eucharist as a Catholic in full communion with the church?"

Do I answer by saying that this is indeed a matter of faith, and that all those who cannot accept it must accept as a consequence that they are no longer Catholics and should not receive the Body of Christ in Communion? Or do I say that, regardless of whether or not this always was or is now the universal belief of the Catholic Church, the fact is that the church has done nothing to require anyone as a Catholic to accept this teaching as a matter of faith. So any Catholic who does not agree with the opinion of the Vatican Congregation is free to disagree--respectfully, and with humble self-questioning, but in good conscience.

There are, however, a few confusing details of language in the statement issued by the CDF.

First, their declaration is put in the form of a response to a doubt (dubium). Normally this would mean that someone had a doubt about something and sent a question in to the CDF. But the cover letter simply says that there have been so many "problematic and negative statements by certain theologians, organizations of priests and religious, as well as some associations of laypeople" calling into question the "definitive character" of John Paul's teaching about the ordination of women that "this Congregation has judged it necessary to dispel the doubts ... that have arisen."

The CDF is apparently giving an answer to a question no one has asked them. That is legitimate, of course, but in the light of Vatican II's explicit recognition that the general consensus of church members about matters of faith is important in determining what must be believed, it makes a difference who has a problem with what.

It would seem that the widespread nonacceptance of the Vatican's position is not a problem for the church, but it is a problem for the CDF. Unfortunately, by putting their declaration in the form of a response to a question, the CDF has given the impression that their own concern about disagreement is a concern being voiced by the church.

A second, and more serious, confusion arises from the use of the word infallibly. As we said above, most people associate infallibility with something that belongs to the pope. When they think about it, of course, they know that the church as a whole teaches infallibly whenever bishops from all over the world get together in council with the bishop of Rome and declare something to be a doctrine of faith. But "teaching infallibly" normally suggests an extraordinary declaration made with a clear and explicit use of the hierarchy's God-given authority to decide between truth and error in matters of revealed doctrine.

For example, if I as a priest and pastor stand up in the pulpit and say that Jesus Christ is God made flesh to save the world, I amspeaking infallibly, because I am proclaiming truth revealed by God. However, no one would ever describe the ordinary preaching of an ordinary deacon or priest as "infallible teaching," even if every word of it comes straight out of scripture.

When the CDF states, then, that the teaching about women's ordination "requires definitive assent, since it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium," it gets people confused. Usually theologians make a distinction between what is the ordinary teaching of the church and what has been taught infallibly. The committee's declaration obscures this distinction.

The problem with the church's ordinary teaching is that it is frequently imprecise. For example, it used to be part of the ordinary and universal teaching in the church that no one could ever lend money at interest. Everyone assumed that this was an "infallible" teaching (to use the CDF's word) because it had always been taught that money was nothing but a nonproductive medium of exchange that could not morally be rented out like a farm or a mule could, because money did no work. So it was a common and universal belief that Christians must not be selfish in this way.

When, however, the teachers in the church finally caught on to what the bankers had already come to see but could not explain to them--namely, that money had become capital, and that it could be put to work very productively--then the teaching was not canceled out, but it was clarified. The principle about selfishly getting something for nothing still held, but its application to modern-day financing was modified. Now Catholics may legitimately lend money at interest because, as capital, the money they loan will be working for the borrower instead of for them.

-Christ, for example

It is conceivable that further reflection and research could bring the church to modify the age-old practice of not ordaining women. The principle will not be changed, of course. The basic argument or principle used to forbid the ordination of women was summed up by the United States bishops' Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices as "the example of Christ, and the constant witness of Church tradition to that example. The fundamental point upon which the Holy Father [John Paul II] insisted was that the Church has no authority to do in this area what Christ himself did not do, i.e. ordain women."

The church will certainly never deny that the example of Christ should be normative in all Christian decisions. John Paul himself has taught this with a radicalness so inspiring that it could actually revolutionize Catholic moral teaching if it were taken seriously. For instance, he specifically points to Christ's example of living in poverty as an example that should be normative for all Christian lifestyles. But there is certainly room for greater clarity about just how the church is to follow the example of Christ in particular instances.

In what areas does the church have the authority to do what Christ did not do? From the gospel account it would seem that Jesus did not call anyone who was wealthy, or who had not left all his possessions to follow him. In fact, Jesus specifically forbade his apostles, who are our models for bishops, to live in affluence or to be addressed by pretentious titles. But the church does not teach that she has "no authority whatsoever" to ordain as bishops anyone who is enamored of wealth and prestige.

And if the racial prejudice that kept African Americans from being ordained in the southern United States had been worldwide, and if this practice of the southern bishops had been universal throughout church history, would we be saying today that the church "has no authority whatsoever" to ordain black men because Jesus never did?

In light of the church's refusal to be rigid in following these examples of Jesus, further study of what John Paul calls the "constant witness of Church tradition" might lead to clarifications about the church's belief (and therefore about the teaching of the ordinary and universal magisterium) concerning the ordination of women.

Whatever has been taught by the ordinary magisterium from the beginning of the church's existence as a doctrine of faith certainly is one. But the difference between the ordinary teaching of the church and the extraordinary or infallible teaching is that the church uses her infallible teaching authority to be precise.

The fact that John Paul and the CDF felt it necessary to be more precise about what the ordinary teaching of the church has been concerning women's ordination indicates that the ordinary teaching is not precise in this area--about why women cannot be ordained, and about what the church's historical practice was actually based on (whether it was based on theology, for example, or cultural prejudice).

If the pope wanted to make his precise interpretations on this point truly definitive, he would have had to use his extraordinary teaching authority to make an infallible clarifying definition. Everyone agrees he did not do this.

Catholics also must agree that whatever the universal belief of the church has been, it is certainly infallible. But no one has to believe in John Paul's interpretation of that belief that it definitively excludes the ordination of women. The pope's interpretation has not been taught as an infallible clarification and, therefore, does not have to be accepted by Catholics as a doctrine of faith.

The CDF hopes, of course, that everyone in the church will agree with their opinion. In their cover letter to the bishops they expressed confidence that the bishops "will do everything possible to ensure its distribution and favorable reception, taking particular care that, above all on the part of theologians, pastors of souls, and religious, ambiguous and contrary positions will not again be proposed."

In compliance with this request, Bishop Anthony M. Pilla, president of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States, has published his response: "The Congregation's answer is unequivocal. This teaching belongs to the deposit of faith and is 'to be held always, everywhere, and by all.' I ask all in the Church in the United States, especially theologians and pastors who instruct and form our Catholic people in the faith, reverently to receive this teaching as definitive."

Pilla is apparently convinced that the Vatican position is true. But he knows that it isn't in fact definitive, so he "asks" everyone to "reverently receive this teaching as definitive." When something really is definitive, the church doesn't ask priests and theologians to receive it; she proclaims it as true and leaves them no choice.

-Advice to preachers

So what choice does a priest have today? Now that the CDF has taken such a strong position, what, if anything, should a priest say about this teaching from the pulpit?

The clergy have by ordination a special association with their bishops that makes them public spokesmen for the church. For this reason it is inappropriate for priests or deacons, when speaking from the pulpit at Mass, to contradict official church teaching or pronouncements.

So I would like to make it very clear that neither in this article nor from the pulpit would I say that the pope's teaching about women's ordination is not definitive. It may well be that the pope and the CDF have, in fact, hit upon a true doctrine of the deposit of faith. Who am I to say whether women can or cannot be ordained?

On the other hand, I cannot go as far as Pilla asks and positively say that this teaching is definitive. It has not been declared definitive infallibly, and no convincing reasons have been offered to prove that this ever has been, in fact, a doctrine taught in the church as a revealed truth of faith. So I cannot personally accept the teaching as definitive, but I would not discourage anyone who can.

What I do insist on--and believe every pastor, teacher, and preacher has a serious obligation to insist on publicly--is that no Catholic is obliged to accept this teaching as definitive, and no Catholic may be denied the sacram ents or accused of not being in full communion with the church because he or she does not accept the opinion of the pope and of his doctrinal committee about this issue.

Suppose we leave Catholics with the impression--which they are being given now, intentionally or not--that this doctrine has been declared true by an exercise of the church's infallible teaching authority. And suppose that the next pope decides to ordain women after all--which could very easily happen if in fact the opinion of the present pope and of his committee on doctrine is wrong.

If people then began to leave the church in droves, saying that the church had contradicted her own infallible teaching, we would be in a very weak position trying to explain, after the fact, that the teaching of John Paul and his doctrinal committee never was really infallible, and that we really knew it all the time but just never said anything.

There is error in excessive affirmation as well as in denial. It is as much an error to say there are four divine Persons in the Blessed Trinity as to say there are only two. And it is as wrong to make the pope more infallible as it is to make him less. On the practical plane, to give the impression, intentionally or not, that something is being taught infallibly when it is not is pastorally irresponsible and dangerous.

Children who cry "Wolf!" just to get attention make the ears of the village deaf to their cries. And teachers who cry "Infallible!" just to get acceptance for their opinions destroy the credibility of the church's teaching authority. That is precisely what we need to be concerned about.

(Father David Knight is an author and pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Memphis, Tennessee.)

These articles are reprinted with permission from U.S. Catholic published by Claretian Publications, 205 Monroe Street, Chicago, Illinois 60606, 800-328-6515