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By Sandro Magister

8/6/2008 (7 years ago)

Chiesa (

According to Catholic Teaching, ordinations of women are invalid and those who attempt them are excommunicated. Yet, over fifty women claim to have been "ordained".

As the Lambeth Conference of the Church of England comes to a close, one of the divisive issues facing the Anglican communion is the decision of some Bishops to break with the ancient tradition and ordain women to the priesthood and, recently to the episcopacy. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have reaffirmed that there is no authority to change this teaching.

As the Lambeth Conference of the Church of England comes to a close, one of the divisive issues facing the Anglican communion is the decision of some Bishops to break with the ancient tradition and ordain women to the priesthood and, recently to the episcopacy. The Catholic and Orthodox Churches have reaffirmed that there is no authority to change this teaching.


By Sandro Magister

Chiesa (

8/6/2008 (7 years ago)

Published in Europe

ROMA (Chiesa) - The ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate is a question that divides the Anglican Communion down the middle, as shown by the Lambeth Conference that concluded yesterday.

But the question is also present in the Church of Rome, although to a decidedly lesser extent.

The proof is in two recent countermeasures adopted by the Catholic hierarchy.

The first is a decree issued by the congregation for the doctrine of the faith "regarding the delict of attempted sacred ordination of a woman."

The second is the interdiction ordered by the archbishop of Saint Louis, Raymond Leo Burke, against a sister of his diocese, Louise Lears, found guilty of assisting and supporting the ordination of two women to the priesthood.

The decree from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith bears the date of December 19, 2007, but it went into effect last May 30, when it was published in "L'Osservatore Romano."

The order from Saint Louis is from June 26. The following day, the archbishop of this American diocese was called to Rome as the new prefect of the supreme tribunal of the apostolic signatura.

The decree from the congregation for the doctrine of the faith states that excommunication is the penalty for "both the one who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order." The excommunication is "latae sententiae," meaning that it is applied automatically. Its removal is reserved to the Apostolic See.

In commenting on the decree in "L'Osservatore Romano" of June 1, the secretary of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith at the time, Archbishop Angelo Amato - now prefect of the congregation for the causes of saints - explained the decision to issue it as follows:

"There have been individual episodes of so-called ordinations of women in various areas of the world. Moreover, the general decree is an instrument of assistance for the bishops, to ensure a uniform response from the whole Church in the face of these situations."

In effect, the instance in Saint Louis is only the latest in a series of ordinations of women to the priesthood and the episcopate that have taken place in recent years within the Catholic Church.

These ordinations are held to be invalid, and therefore null and void, by Church authorities. Canon 1024 of the Code of Canon Law establishes, in fact, that "a baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly."

And this isn't all. The ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate was defined as inadmissible, always and forever, by John Paul II in an apostolic letter dated May 22, 1994, "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis."

There is complete agreement on this between the Church of Rome and the Orthodox and Eastern Churches. But the Anglicans and various Protestant denominations are moving in the opposite direction.

In the Catholic Church, pressure for the admission of women to holy orders was manifested above all after the publication of "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis." Serious impact was made by a document signed by forty bishops of the United States, and published in July of 1995 in "Origins," the magazine of the bishops' conference.

It presented the complaint that "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" was issued "without any previous discussion and consultation," even though it concerned a matter "that many Catholics believe requires further study." The forty expressed their hope that the episcopal conferences would respond blow for blow "to the documents of various kinds that come from Rome," beginning with the one on the admission of women to the priesthood.

The main promoter and drafter of the document of the forty bishops was the archbishop of Milwaukee at the time, Rembert Weakland, former head of the worldwide Benedictine confederation and a star of the American "liberals." In 2002, Weakland was disgraced by accusations from a man with whom he had had a relationship, and whom he had paid to keep quiet.

When "Ordinatio Sacerdotalis" was published, news began to trickle out of the ordinations of women to the priesthood that had taken place secretly in communist Czechoslovakia, by Catholic bishops who were convinced they were operating legitimately in a situation of extreme emergency. One of those ordained, Ludmila Javorova, from Brno, appealed to John Paul II to be recognized as a priest and allowed to exercise her ministry. But naturally, the response was in the negative. The pope appointed then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to study and close the case of the Czechoslovakian women priests.

The first real act of defiance, in a matter of women priests, took place in 2002 on the Danube River, not far from Passau, on the border between Austria and Germany. There, on a boat, schismatic Argentinian bishop Romulo Braschi ordained seven women to the priesthood. They were the first ordinations of the movement called Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which today numbers about fifty women ordained mainly in the United States and Canada, including four women bishops.

On July 10, 2002, the Vatican reacted to the ordinations on the Danube with a decree of excommunication. After this, it left it up to the individual bishops to intervene in similar cases in their respective dioceses.

But the theater of the latest ordination of Roman Catholic Womenpriests was Saint Louis. On November 11, 2007, in the Central Reform Synagogue headed by Rabbi Susan Talve, the female bishop Patricia Fresen, a former Dominican sister who had studied at the Angelicum in Rome, ordained two women to the priesthood, Rose Marie Dunn Hudson and Elsie Hainz McGrath (see photo). The ceremony was attended by about six hundred people, including an active supporter of the ordination, Sister Louise Lears, a member of the pastoral council of the parish of Saint Cronan, and the coordinator of religious education in the archdiocese.

During the ritual, a dozen Protestant pastors also laid their hands on the two women being ordained, concelebrated the Mass, and received communion.

Archbishop Burke reacted by informing the people responsible for the ordination that they had incurred excommunication, and opening a canonical process against Sister Lears, which resulted in the interdiction, meaning the exclusion of the sister from the sacraments and from positions of responsibility in the diocese.

The issuing of the sentence against Sister Lears, on June 26, followed shortly after the publication of the decree of the congregation for the doctrine of the faith, which provided all of the bishops with guidelines for responding to such actions in a more coordinated and decisive manner.

In Rome, in fact, the fear is that the number of ordained women will continue to increase. Roman Catholic Womenpriests is thought to have another 150 women waiting to become priests. Moreover, in some countries, agreement with the ordination of women seems to be on the rise. For example, after her sentencing, the signs of support for Sister Lears multiplied.

There is, finally, the suspicion that some of the bishops are assisting the operation. Patricia Fresen, the former sister who is one of the four bishops of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, affirms that she was ordained to the episcopate in 2005 by three Catholic bishops whose names she is keeping secret. The same is thought to be the case for the other three women bishops of the movement.


Chiesa is a wonderful source on all things Catholic in Europe. It is skillfully edited by Sandro Magister. SANDRO MAGISTER was born on the feast of the Guardian Angels in 1943, in the town of Busto Arsizio in the archdiocese of Milan. The following day he was baptized into the Catholic Church. His wife’s name is Anna, and he has two daughters, Sara and Marta. He lives in Rome.


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