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Catholic World News News Feature

Excommunication decree for attempted ordination of women May 30, 2008

The Vatican has announced that any Catholic bishop who attempts the ordination of a woman to the priesthood, or any woman who participates in such a ceremony, is subject to automatic excommunication.

The decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, published in the May 30 issue of L'Osservatore Romano, takes effect immediately and applies throughout the universal Church. The document was signed by Cardinal William Levada and Archbishop Angelo Amato, the prefect and secretary, respectively, of the Congregation.

"Both the one who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order, incurs excommunication latae sententiae."

The Vatican document declares that "he who attempts to confer Holy Orders on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive Holy Orders, incurs excommunication latae sententiae." A latae sententiae penalty is incurred automatically, and no public decree is necessary. Only the Holy See will have the authority to lift that penalty.

The decree cites #1378 of the Code of Canon Law, which prescribes the penalty of excommunication for anyone who simulates a sacrament. That canon specifically mentions only the simulation of Mass and Confession; the May 30 decree extends the scope of the canon to apply to a simulated ordination ceremony as well.

The Vatican document eliminates any possible ambiguity about the status of women who claim to be Catholic priests, and bishops who may participate in their supposed ordination. Pope John Paul II declared in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that the Church "has no authority" to ordain women. The Pope added that making an authoritative statement, "to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."