Christ among the Doctors of the Law



Friday, May 30, 2008

Excommunication for female 'ordination'

As I pointed out some time ago (scroll to 6 July 2005), the 1983 Code does not levy excommunication on those who simulate the conferral and reception of holy orders on women. Canon 1378 excommunicates non-priests who simulate Eucharist and confession, and Canon 1379 imposes "a just penalty" on those who simulate the other sacraments (such as holy Orders), but neither canon directly excommunicates those who simulate holy Orders. The excommunications that have been applied in some cases of female 'ordination' have been imposed in virtue of a combination of other canons (e.g., Abp. Burke's model action in March 2008), which works fine of course, but it seems somewhat cumbersome to those who do not know canon law well.

As of today, though,
all of that has changed: The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has just decreed that those who attempt to confer holy Orders on women are excommunicated, as are the women who attempt to receive holy Orders. Latin-Italian text here, Latin-English text here. The decree goes into effect immediately.

Let's look more closely.

1. CDF looked at Canon 1378, which already contained an automatic excommunication penalty, and decided to add a crime, simulating of holy Orders, to it. CDF could have just as easily decided to specify an excommunication penalty for simulating of holy Orders within Canon 1379, which already punishes such actions with "a just penalty". Either way works, however, and CDF choose the former. Note that simulation of holy Orders on a male is not penalized according to CDF's decree, so such actions, while gravely sinful, remain punishable basically only under Canon 1379.

2. CDF's action increases by two the number of actions punishable by "latae sententiae", or automatic, penalties. The trend over the last 150 years in ecclesiastical penal law has been away from automatic penalties (
1983 CIC 1314). For legal theory reasons, I would have preferred to see that trend reinforced: make simulation of holy orders on women an excommunicable offense, yes, but make the process for incurring the penalty ferendae sententiae, not latae sententiae. That said, the factors that so often complicate the operation of latae sententiae penalties in the Roman Church (see, e.g., cc. 1323-1325) are, as it happens, virtually non-existent in female 'ordination' scenarios, so it's not a big deal here.

3. Interestingly, when CDF turned to the consequences of female 'ordination' among Eastern Catholics (I have heard of no such cases yet), the dicastery respected the Eastern Code's elimination of latae sententiae penalties (
CCEO 1402.1) and stated that excommunication should be imposed (puniatur) for such offenses, and then reserved absolution from the censure to the Holy See.

4. It does not appear that the excommunication for the female 'ordination' is a reserved offense under the 1983 Code, but it is reserved by the CDF decree among Roman Catholics.

5. Nothing in the decree suggests that it is retroactive, so given 1983 CIC 9, 18, and 1313, those who participated in past simulated 'ordinations' of women, but were not excommunciated under another operation of law (and they would know if they have), are not excommunicated by this CDF action.

My guess is that we will see personal precepts (cc. 1319, but perhaps also 1326) being issued over time to those involved in past female 'ordinations' to repent of their actions or fall under the same sanction as those already excommunicated under under other canons or as those subject to punishment for any future simulated ordinations.

6. The automatic excommunication already in Canon 1378.2.1 against those who simulate the Eucharist, which some of these women have done since their 'ordinations', remains in place. Yes, you can be excommunicated twice, just as you can be sent to prison for two felonies, or be sent to Hell for two mortal sins.

Summation: Presbyteral 'ordination' of women is invalid (Ordinatio sacerdotalis, n. 4); it has always been a canonical crime punishable under Canon 1379 and/or certain combinations of other canons; as of today it is directly punished with automatic excommunication under Canon 1378.

Sounds like three strikes to me.

Later notes: The attempted ordination of a man by a female 'bishop' is not sanctioned in the CDF decree (until last week, it had apparently not been tried) so that act remains punishable basically under Canon 1379, as before.

Some good posts by others on this: Fr. John Zuhlsdorf,