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St. Louis Archbishop, Raymond Burke, issued a declaration of excommunication against two Roman Catholic women who reside in his diocese, and one other woman who lives in Germany. These three women were “ordained” as priests in November by an organization calling itself Roman Catholic Womenpriests.
Excommunication from the Catholic Church is the most serious penalty that the Church can inflict. In Latin, ex communicatio is literally translated as exclusion from the communion. It is intended not as a vindictive penalty to punish the culprit, but rather a chastisement with the objective being to correct the individual and lead them back to the life of grace.
A decree issued by the Congregation for Religious Doctrine on December 19, 2007, and published in L’Osservatore Romano on May 29, 2008 confirms the Church’s position pertaining to excommunication. The decree proclaimed,
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in virtue of the special faculty granted to it by the Supreme Authority of the Church (cf. Can. 30, Code of Canon Law), in order to safeguard the nature and validity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, decreed, on the Ordinary Session of December 19, 2007:
In accordance with what is disposed by Can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, he who shall have attempted to confer Holy Orders on a woman, as well as the woman who may have attempted to receive Holy Orders, incurs in the latae sententiae excommunication, reserved to the Holy See.
If he who shall have attempted to confer Holy Orders on a woman or if the woman who shall have attempted to receive Holy Orders is a faithful bound to the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches, he is to be punished with the major excommunication, whose remission remains reserved to the Apostolic See, in accordance with Can. 1443 of the same code (cf. Can. 1423, Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches).
The present decree enters in force immediately from the moment of its publication in L’Osservatore Romano.
This decree is of considerable weight as it is based on the perennial doctrine and practice of the Church.
On May 22, 1994, Pope John Paul II issued an Apostolic Letter to all of the bishops entitled Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, discussing the Church’s position requiring “the reservation of priestly ordination to men alone.” Pope John Paul explains that the priesthood is a special role specifically set forth by Jesus. The Pope notes that the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles attest that this call was made in accordance to God’s eternal plan.
“And going up into a mountain, He called unto Him whom He would Himself: and they came to Him. And He made that twelve should be with Him, and that He might send them to preach. And He gave them power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.” (Mk. 3:13-15)
The Apostolic letter ends with the words,
“Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk. 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
This letter written by John Paul II affirms the position of the Church regarding the ordination of women and thus brings to an end any controversy with regards to the matter.