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Resigned priest creates www.womenpriests.org

NCR Staff

A well-known Dutch theologian who resigned his priesthood in protest of Ad Tuendam Fidem, last year’s papal document tightening church rules on dissent, launched a Web site May 28 intended to be the leading international collection of resources in support of women’s ordination.

John Wijngaards’ site may be found at www.womenpriests.org.

In 1977 Wijngaards (pronounced Wine guards) wrote the book Did Christ Rule Out Women Priests? in response to Inter Insigniores, a papal document that reasserted the ban on women priests. After Ad Tuendam Fidem, and especially a commentary by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger that asserted the teaching on women priests is infallible, Wijngaards said he felt compelled to resign.

“I saw Rome tightening its grip on theologians, I saw colleagues being forced to swear oath to things they don’t believe in and I decided enough is enough,” he said. “I couldn’t represent an institution that was telling people they couldn’t be part of the church if they believed in ordaining women.”

Wijngaards said, however, that he remains a committed Roman Catholic despite his resignation from the active priesthood.

Wijngaards, 63, was born in Indonesia to Dutch parents. His family spent time in a Japanese prison camp during World War II and was later repatriated to the Netherlands. Wijngaards became a priest with the Mill Hill Fathers in 1959 and obtained a doctorate in scripture.

From 1964 to 1976, he was in India teaching and publishing. In 1976 he was elected as the Mill Hill vicar general in London. Today he runs Housetop, a London center that produces catechetical material and conducts programs on adult faith formation for parishes and dioceses in England.

Wijngaards told NCR that in creating his Web site he is working with academics, feminist groups and Catholic activists from around the world.

“I aim at making this the fairest, most complete, most detailed, academically tested and interactive site on the ordination of women,” Wijngaards said.

“The chief scriptural argument for the ordination of women is the fact that in baptism both men and women are incorporated into Christ’s priesthood and both have the potency to be called to Holy Orders,” he said.

“From tradition, there is the historical fact that women have served as deacons in sacramentally valid ways. On the Web site are ordination rituals from the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries which make this abundantly clear,” he said.

“The church has already given women a share in Holy Orders, so the argument that it has no power to do so fails.”

Wijngaards said he is optimistic about the prospects for change. “From what I know of conversations among bishops, theologians and others -- even though they won’t talk openly -- I think there is a groundswell of knowledge that the church is wrong in this area,” he said. “I’m not sure that the present management in Rome even represents the views of everyone in the curia.”

He said that while he understands the frustration of those who leave the church in despair of change, he believes in fighting from the inside. “The long-term good of getting the Catholic church to accept the ordination of women is far more important than trying to safeguard one’s own individual vocation,” he said.

Wijngaards sees the Internet as a tool for pushing change. “It does justice to the sensus fidelium as a source for understanding the church’s tradition and its scripture,” he said. “It’s a way for the faithful to articulate and share their understanding, and there’s no doubt it will accelerate the pressure for reform.”

National Catholic Reporter, May 28, 1999