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Vatican Elaborates on Ban on Women Priests : Religion: Church official amplifies on a 1994 papal letter, saying the subject is not even open to debate.

<i> From Associated Press</i>

The ban against women priests is an “irrevocable” doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church and should not even enter into debate, a Vatican document asserted Saturday.

The head of the influential Office for the Doctrine of Faith took the unusual step of issuing the three-page statement to elaborate on a 1994 papal letter that had been considered the final word on the male-only clergy.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger chose to amplify the Vatican’s stand in response to continuing challenges to the tradition.

Some American clerics used Pope John Paul II’s October visit to appeal for the ordination of women.

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Earlier this month, a woman claimed that she and other women were secretly ordained during Communist rule in the former Czechoslovakia.

In Austria, a liberal bishop, Reinhold Stecher, said last week that he will ask the Vatican to rethink the ban.

Ratzinger wrote that the ban on women priests is “irrevocable, a doctrine . . . that has an infallible character.”

He noted that the Pope did not invoke the extremely rare declaration of infallibility in his May, 1994, letter, but pointed out that the rejection of women priests is in “full and definitive accord” with church dogma.

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“We must never forget that the church does not find the source of its faith and structure from the social principles during each moment in history. . . . The church has the duty to be a bearer of a superior faith,” said Ratzinger’s statement, which had papal approval.

The Pope’s letter, which itself was a response to the ordination of women by the Church of England, ruled out women priests on the grounds of church history and the fact that Jesus chose only men as apostles.

But the Pope--and now Ratzinger--were careful to insist that the church values women for their roles as nuns or in leading families.

“To understand that this is not violent or discriminatory toward women, you must consider that the priestly ministry is a service and not a position of power or privilege above others,” Ratzinger wrote.

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