On Bishops and the Ordination of Women


I know this is a very hot topic, so let me be clear with my intent: I do not wish to debate whether or not female ordination is a good idea. I just want a traditional Catholic perspective on this point:

Along with matter, form, and minister, proper intent is also required for holy orders to be sacramental. As I understand it, if a bishop or priest has a false understanding of the meaning of a sacrament, he cannot validly celebrate it. For example, in order for a priest to celebrate the Eucharist he must truly believe Christ’s body, blood, soul, and divinity are present in the host. A priest who does not believe in the Real Presence cannot celebrate a valid Mass.

With this in mind: if a bishop believes women can be validly ordained as priests or deacons, would that bishop have the proper intent necessary to administer the sacrament of holy orders even to a man?


This would seem problematic since how can we ever know the mind of another person. I thought mass is valid even if the priest is in a state of mortal sin.


A priest in a state of mortal sin can celebrate Mass, but only if he has legitimate intent. If he does not intend for the bread and wine to become Christ’s body and blood, transubstantiation cannot occur.

In other words, it’s not so much about the bishop committing sin by believing women’s ordination can be valid, but that his understanding of the sacrament, and therefore his intent, are insufficient for the sacrament to be valid.

I’m not sure if this is truly the case - I’m hoping someone more knowledgeable than I can provide some clarification.


Your question reminds me of the famous Scipione Rebiba business (link below). Consider the following hypothesis. One day next week, a researcher hunting through the archives of a major Italian diocese unearths an unpublished manuscript dating from the pontificate of Pius V (1566-1572). The manuscript is explicitly the work of whoever was the local bishop at the time, and in it the bishop clearly expresses his conviction that women can and should be admitted to the priesthood. The existing diocesan records show that this bishop, in the course of his tenure, consecrated many other newly appointed bishops, each of whom in turn consecrated many others, and so on down through the centuries.

The question is this. When this newly discovered manuscript is submitted to the appropriate dicastery in the Holy See, will all these bishops, down through the whole lineage as far as the present day, have to be declared invalidly consecrated – and hence non-bishops or fake bishops – because the line of apostolic succession had been broken in the 1560s?


You are incorrect. While belief in the Real Presence is necessary to be a Catholic in good standing, it is not required for a priest to validly consecrate at Mass. The bare minimum is only for the priest to intend to do what the Church does and that is a very low bar.

The same applies for ordaining bishops. It does not matter what his thoughts on womens ordination are.


I don’t think this is true. From what I’ve been told, most Eucharistic miracles occur with priests who doubt the Real Presence.


BartholomewB: That’s kind of why this is an important question. All it takes is one invalid ordination to break the line of apostolic succession.

Porthos11: Do you have a source for that? I’m not saying you’re incorrect, I’m just trying to understand what the actual teaching is.


Absolutely, sort of. Leo XIII, in Apostolici Curae, discusses tthe intent of Anglicans ordaining priests without intending them to offer sacrifice. It rests on the removal of the sacrifice language from the ordinal, not the bishops’ intent iirc.


That is an example of not intending to do what the Church does. It is not mere unbelief.vthe language itself is only an indication of the defective intent.

Even if a priest peronally doubts or does not believe, for as long as at least a virtual intenton exists to do what the Church does, and others conditions remaining in place, the Sacrament is valid.


No “Eucharistic miracles” are in public revelation. The only verified miracle would be the one that happens at each Mass. God can, of course, directly intervene in nature by making flesh appear, as a sign, just as He can send Mary to Fatima. This is all private, less important than any valid Mass said.


Yes, I agree. It is a discussion of this issue, and it came down to the changing of the ordinal as a public statement of intent rather than to the individual bishops inter intent to do what the Church does. I just thought it might illuminate the OP on the issue.


I don’t really see what you’re getting at here. I was using this as an example to show that God doesn’t care if the priest believes in the Real Presence or not. He still changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.


Unfortunately, my prior post is being held for moderation (not sure why), but with this, the Anglican bishops who broke the line deliberately changed the ordinal for the very purpose of not doing what their Church does. Using the Church’s rites is always evidence of intending to do what the Church does.

It’s kind of like when a Catholic couple goes and gets “married” at the courthouse–they are specifically choosing to not do what the Church does by avoiding their Church’s rites.


We can’t use a private revelation, or a private sign, to confirm whether or not a Mass had been validly offered. Not saying you do that, but others do


Catholic Answers talked about this within the past month or so. I think it may have been a segment with Fr. Hugh Barbour. The gist, if I remember correctly, is that if a priest is validly ordained, he can confect the Eucharist regardless of belief at the time of confection. In order for a priest to be validly ordained, he has to belive all relevant beliefs AT THE TIME of ordination. Thus, a priest who stops believing AFTER ordination can still confect the Eucharist. NOTE: I am not a scholar on this subject, so I may be incorrect here. But this is my recollection of what I heard from Catholic Answers in conjunction with my understanding.


This is not quite correct. In order for the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist to be valid the priest’s intent must be to do what the Church intends, i.e. to confect the Eucharist.

When he confers Holy Orders a bishop’s intent must be to confer the order that is being conferred. If he believed women could receive the sacrament his ordination of men would not be invalid if he intends them to be ordained. However, he would erroneously believe he could do the same to women.


I might be wrong, but I believe that the “priest’s intent” applies in his saying the proper words of consecration in the context of the Mass, not necessarily whether he believes that it actually becomes the Body and Blood of Christ.

EDIT: In other words, as long as the intends to do what the Church is telling him to do (say Mass), his own personal beliefs on the nature of the Sacrament do not effect validity.


This is not even correct either; this standard is too high.

The minister does not to intend what the Church intends (i.e. “to confect the Eucharist”). It is of course preferable to intend what the Church intends, but he doesn’t need to. The minimum intent is only to do what the Church does (to this you can add an implicit “whatever that is”). In other words, to celebrate the rite as the Church celebrates it.

this is why atheists can validly baptize in an emergency. They may not believe the first bit about God and the Trinity, but if they only intend to do what the Church does (“baptize, as the Catholics do”, not “bring about the remission of original sin”), the baptism is valid.


The “proper words” is the form. The bread and wine are the matter, and the third requirement is the intent. Intent is primarily interior.

The intention should be at least virtual, and to do whatever it is the Church does. It does not need to be that of an explicit result (“e.g. bring about the Real Presence”) although that is great and preferred. He is required only to “do whatever it is the Church is doing when she does it.”


I am not sure that I see any difference. My understanding is, say, with baptism it is not enough to pour water on the head (matter) and say ‘I baptise you …’ (form) but you need the correct intent, too. If this was just the doing and the saying why would intent be necessary at all?

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