By Hilary White

ROME, May 30, 2008 ( – After years of well-publicised media stunts in which radical feminist organisations staged mock “ordinations” of women, the Vatican has ruled that these events have no religious reality and that those who participate in them, both lay and clerics, including bishops, are automatically excommunicated.

In recent years, feminists, who interpret the priesthood in political rather than religious terms, have staged a number of mock “ordination” rites as media events to attempt to force what they call the Church’s “oppressive” intractability. According to the Church’s own understanding of the meaning of the priesthood, all attempts to “ordain” women, even if they include a validly ordained Catholic bishop, are invalid, a technical term meaning lacking all objective sacramental reality.

But the new decree, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican’s highest doctrinal authority under the Pope, makes clear that the act also means that those who attempt it have removed themselves “by the act” from communion with the Church. The decree says, “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.”

Latae sententiae is a term meaning that the penalty flows automatically by the force of the law itself. This means that no other act is required for excommunication other than the attempted “ordination” itself. According to the Church’s Canon Law, it also means that the excommunication can only be lifted or “absolved” by the Pope.

According to the Catholic Church, the priesthood is an extension of the priesthood of Christ, and it and the sacrament of Holy Orders have been conferred directly to the Apostles by Christ himself. As such, the late Pope John Paul II wrote that the Church “has no authority” to change the sacrament to include women, whom Christ did not ordain.

Despite media hysteria, with headlines like, “Vatican ‘slamming the door’ on women priests”, the decree is merely an explication of paragraph number 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, which prescribes the penalty of automatic excommunication for anyone who simulates a sacrament. According to the Catholic theology of the priesthood, a “woman priest” is an oxymoron.

In most cases, the women who undertake to simulate priestly ordination are on the extreme end of the feminist objectors to Catholic doctrine on life and family issues as well as most sexual matters. The main website of the Womenpriest movement, based in the US, says the movement rejects the traditional notions of God as a father, instead adopting the pantheistic concept of “the Divine” that is represented as a mother goddess.

The website quotes a feminist theologian saying, “Traditional [Catholic] teaching on sex, far from being infallible, is sad, sick and suspect, a travesty of truth which has damaged the welfare of married people all through the ages.”

In March, the archbishop of St. Louis excommunicated three women who followed the Womenpriest movement – two Americans and a South African – for participating in a mock “ordination”.

Followers of the Womenpriest movement in July 2005 hosted the “ordinations” of nine women on the St. Lawrence River near Gananoque, Ontario. They had staged a similar event in June 2004 on the Danube River in “neutral territory” between Germany and Austria. The 2004 ceremony was led by two female “bishops” whom the Vatican excommunicated after they refused to renounce their “ordinations” in 2002.

Read related coverage:

‘Ordained’ Woman is Pro-Abortion Religion Professor at Catholic University of San Diego

Women’s Ordination Groups All About Power, Free Sex, Abortion, New Age Religion