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"All the faithful, both clerical and lay, should be accorded a lawful freedom of research, freedom of thought and freedom of expression."

Gaudium et Spes, no 62.

History of our Institute

We need to know the facts!Our Institute was established in 1983 as Housetop Centre for Adult Faith Formation. Founder was Dr John Wijngaards DD LSS (read his own life story or the biography on Wikipedia). The name Housetop derived from Jesus' injunction that we should proclaim his message from the housetops (Matthew 10,27). Adult faith formation for us meant that it should involve people's own discernment and reflection. Commitments should be based on personal decisions arrived at after open search and free discussion.

Spirituality

During our early years we focused on producing resources for spirituality in our own age. Nation-wide research in the UK produced material for the video course The Seven Circles of Prayer. It offers a simple but effective way of fostering prayer in the midst of busy life. It was followed by two other video courses: Peace in your Home on ways of fostering prayer in the family and Loaves of Thanksgiving on re-vitalising the celebration of the weekly Eucharist.

Our Walking on Water Series for training community leaders consisted of three video courses. They comprised three textbooks and nine stories on accompanying video. The stories were filmed in Brazil, Colombia, Indonesia, Kenya and the UK. In line with our special format of production worked out after many international consultations, the stories used voice-over narration so that they could easily be adapted to other cultures. After publication in the UK, the course was later adapted in local languages by national communication centres in 14 countries: Brazil, Finland, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland, French Canada, Taiwan, Japan, Indonesia, India, Korea, the Philippines, Colombia and the USA.

We need to know the facts!Our five-part video course How to Make Sense of God was accompanied by the 2 1/2 hour film Journey to the Centre of Love which had been filmed partly in Taiwan and partly in the UK. It formed the culmination of intensive research. The course starts from the wholehearted acceptance of the positive values of our own age: the freedom and autonomy of the individual, the raising of living standards through technology, respect for human rights and the discovery of truth with the help of the modern sciences. The book HOW TO MAKE SENSE OF GOD won an award for best adult reading from the Catholic Press Association of America in 1996.

Women's Ordination

We need to know the facts! During his 14-years' lecture tour in India John Wijngaards was invited to research new ministries for women. He submitted his findings to a national theological workshop at Bangalore, and later to the Indian Bishops' Conference. He recommended that the question of women's ordination to the priesthood should be re-examined. When Rome published the decree Inter Insigniores in 1976, Wijngaards now Vicar General of the Mill Hill Missionaries in London, published a response: Did Christ Rule out Women Priests?

Pope John-Paul II's intransigent Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in 1994 forced the question of women to the front. It was decided that the Centre would focus its research on the ordination of women, and publish a website - www.womenpriests.org - to present the academic evidence for and against. The website has now grown out to be the largest internet resource on women and holy orders, with documentation in 25 languages.

Our research programme on women's ordination has been intense. From the beginning we have published excerpts from fathers of the church, synods, councils, medieval theologians etc. from reliable sources and, wherever possible, also in the original language. The website offers an impressive collection of classic online books and articles dealing with women's ordination. For each of these publications we had to acquire the author's permission. The texts had to be scanned and edited for publication online.

Sexual Morality

We need to know the facts! We soon discovered that the status of women in the Church is closely related to women's presumed inferiority and the many sexual prejudices against women in Christian 'tradition'. We opened a section for this on our website on women's ordination, but then realised that sexual ethics merited its own special attention and a website of its own.

Our research has focused largely on establishing the origin of the Church's long-standing distrust of sex. We uncovered the far-reaching influence of Hellenistic dualism and Gnostic doctrines such as found in the Poimandres and the writings of Mani, and the devastating impact of St Augustine's fear of sex. The negative effect on Christian sexual morals was enhanced by the medieval fixation on a physical understanding of Natural Law.

Because we received many letters from concerned men and women, we also started publishing pastoral advice on the most pressing sexual questions facing Catholics today.

The ancient Women Deacons

We need to know the facts! During our research on women's ordination we became more and more intrigued by the phenomenon of the women's diaconate during the Church's first millennium. We realised that these women had been truly sacramentally ordained. This has consequences both for a re-introduction of a similar diaconate in our day, but also for the wider question of women's openness to holy orders.

Keen as always to base our conclusions on the best available academic evidence, we traveled far and wide to obtain original copies of the ordination manuscripts. Visits to Rome procured photocopies of Barberini gr. 336 of 780 AD from the Vatican Library and of the Bessarion gr Gb1 of 1020 AD from the Greek monastery of Grotta Ferrata. Research in the French National Library in Paris gave us the 11th-century Coislin gr. 213. These and other original sources clearly prove that the ordination for women was substantially the same as that for male deacons and that it was as sacramental as any other ordination.

At the same time we launched an intensive search for the identity of the ancient women deacons. Contemporary books proved helpful, but we discovered many new names by an intensive study of such sources as the 8 volumes of the Monumenta Asiae Minoris Antiqua which were only accessible in the British Library. Progress can be judged from the fact that John Wijngaards in his book of 2002 reported 32 tomb inscriptions of women deacons. The later edition mentions more than 100 such inscriptions. We take care to publish available photographic evidence of all such material on our website.

Other research concerns areas such as the response to women deacons in the West, the involvement of Popes in the diaconate of women, their mention in church councils, church legislation and historical records.

Authority Structures in the Church

We need to know the facts! Growing conflict between the teaching authority and Catholic scholars has made our work ever more difficult. With other theologians we deplored the lack of true openness and collegiality as laid down by Vatican II. As a result we identified seven key areas in which church governance needs reform. We published our assessment on www.churchauthority.org. The assessment has subsequently been signed by 200+ theologians and many other concerned Catholics.

THE SEVEN CIRCLES OF PRAYER won international recognition:
* an award for 'creative excellence' at the 1987 Video Festival in Elmhurst, USA;
* the award for 'best catechetical video' at the Catholic International Film Festival of Warsaw in 1995.

PEACE IN YOUR HOME won the Pater's Award for Professional Excellence at the World Bicentennial Boardcasting Festival of 1988 in Brisbane, Australia.

JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF LOVE won the Grand Prix at the Catholic International Film Festival at Warsaw in 1995. It also won the prestigious Columbus Award (the main award) at the International Film Fair of Columbus, Ohio,in 1996.

Our video course RESPECTING GOD'S IMAGE dealt with gender equality from a Gospel point of view. It won a 'Recognition of Merit' at the International Christian Video Market at Driebergen in the Netherlands in 1993.

The adult novel by John Wijngaards AMRUTHA explores the concept of Natural Law in an imaginary, somewhat hilarious yet highly instructive narrative.

Fragment of BARBERINI GR 336 uncial Greek script 780 AD.

Excerpt of COISLIN GR 213 cursive Greek 1050 AD.

From the LEOFRIC MISSAL OF EXETER Latin text 1050 AD.