Women Cardinals? Head of USCCB, Fr. Groeschel say it’s possible

Well, this one threw me for a loop today: but apparently it is theoretically possible for the pope to appoint women as cardinals of the Catholic Church.

Who knew?

Maybe it’s the rebel in me, but I think that would be pretty cool. Cardinal Mother Teresa? Why not?

Anybody else know anything about this fascinating loophole in canon law? Of course, it’s very unlikely ever to happen, and probably there are people smarter than me who have good arguments for why it shouldn’t happen, but still, it’s an interesting thought-experiment.

Over at Patheos Mark Shea writes:

For 15ish years, ever since the publication of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, I have maintained that one implication of the document is that women can be created cardinals of the Church (since the office of cardinal does not require holy orders and it is *only* the sacerdotal office to which the Church lacks the authority to ordain women). When I say this, I invariably get chewed out as a subversive modernist.

However, the other day, Fr. Groeschel and Cdl Dolan noted exactly the same thing (go to the 3:50 mark):

Update: Shea’s post has started quite the heated exchange between him and Sean P. Dailey over at Shea’s blog. When I search my innermost soul, I think Dailey probably has some good points about the potential that appointing a female cardinal could have in terms of scandal: i.e. sending the unintentional message that female ordination is a-ok with the Church. The niceties of theology and canon law don’t typically get translated well in the world’s media, and a technical exception that theoretically allows a woman to be made a cardinal would probably very quickly become: “Pope bows to feminist demands: ordains woman cardinal,” etc. It probably wouldn’t be pretty.

About John Jalsevac

I am a PhD student in philosophy.
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9 Responses to Women Cardinals? Head of USCCB, Fr. Groeschel say it’s possible

  1. EmilyS says:

    I think that is incorrect. Every cardinal is a cardinal deacon, cardinal priest, or cardinal bishop. I believe that one cannot be a cardinal without being at least a cleric. Also, cardinals are usually the typical “papabile”. They are also given a titular cathedral. How would all that work with women? It would be horribly confusing and totally wrong.
    While cardinals do not technically have to be ordained, they are still instituted members of the Church hierarchy, which is male. Unless the cardinalate was changed so drastically so as to be a completely new concept, women could not be members.

    • Romulus says:

      I think the operative word is “technically” women could be made cardinals. I agree that it is probably very unlikely to happen. As you say, it would take a rethinking of the whole idea of what a cardinal is. But I can only presume that Groeschel, Dolan and Shea know what they’re talking about when they say “technically” a women could be named a cardinal according to current canon law. But I’m not expert in these things. I just found it a fascinating notion.

      • EmilyS says:

        And “technically”, a woman could be named a deaconess…if we completely eradicated the current concept of deacons needing sacred orders and started calling consecrated virgins or widows “deaconesses,” as was done occasionally in the early church.
        A cardinal is a clergyman, by definition. Considering Cardinal Dolan is a Cardinal, I’m sort of surprised he would say that. Women cannot be clerics.

  2. Sheila says:

    The titles cardinal priest, cardinal bishop, and cardinal deacon are ranks of cardinal — it doesn’t imply that they are priests, bishops, or deacons. Normally they are all bishops. But I think I heard of there being lay (male) cardinals in the past, and it could happen again.

    Right now, it’s true, it’s unlikely and might be unwise. But someday, it might actually be a good idea — in order to show that we don’t have a problem with women in positions of leadership (as history’s numerous powerful abbesses could show you), just in a certain sacramental role reserved to men. I don’t know, and the prudential issues would obviously be decided by wiser heads than mine. But yeah, there’s no *canonical* reason why not.

  3. James says:

    No, it’s not possible. Cardinals are the clergy of Rome and hence elect the Pope. Even “lay” cardinals were tonsured as clerics. Any canon lawyer can tell you this stuff.

  4. mbowman82 says:

    I had actually been wondering a few days ago whether canon law still allowed lay cardinals. This answers my question.

    Any Church position that does not require one to be a priest is open to women. Whether or not it would happen is a different matter, but it’s open to women. The fact that a cardinal is assigned a cathedral does not mean that he is expected to say Mass in that cathedral, or else every bishop who becomes a cardinal would have to bi-locate.

    • EmilyS says:

      It is not true that any Church position that does not require priesthood is open to women. Diaconate is not open to women. Minor orders are not open to women. It is not even permitted for a woman to be an instituted lector or acolyte, which is are the modern watered-down minor- orders-that-are-no-longer-orders. This is because these functions are clerical, just as being a cardinal is a clerical role. A woman cannot be a cleric, even if that cleric is not a priest.

  5. EmilyS says:

    More on this, from canon law:

    Can. 350 §1 The College of Cardinals is divided into three orders: the episcopal order, to which belong those Cardinals to whom the Roman Pontiff assigns the title of a suburbicarian Church, and eastern-rite Patriarchs who are made members of the College of Cardinals; the presbyteral order, and the diaconal order.

    That seems to me to rule out women.

    And more importantly, this:

    Can. 351 §1 Those to be promoted Cardinals are MEN freely selected by the Roman Pontiff, who are AT LEAST IN THE ORDER OF THE PRIESTHOOD and are truly outstanding in doctrine, virtue, piety and prudence in practical matters; those who are not already Bishops must receive episcopal consecration. [all-caps emphasis mine]

    This seems conclusive.

  6. seandailey says:

    Thanks for the mention, Romulus.

    “in order to show that we don’t have a problem with women in positions of leadership”

    The Church has never had a problem with women in positions of leadership, going back to when the Apostles gathered around Our Lady in the upper room after our Lord’s ascension. Also, research the history of abbesses of women’s religious houses. Many were quite powerful. In recent years, we have the example of such powerful women as Mother Teresa.

    Whether a pope should name a woman to the college of cardinals has nothing to do with whether we have a problem with women in leadership positions, but it certainly would be seen as a Pope caving in to feminist demands. And I can’t imagine a pope stupid enough to do it.

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