Decree of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith On the Attempted Priestly Ordination of Some Catholic Women
December 21, 2002
On June 29, 2002, Romulo Antonio Braschi, founder of a schismatic community, attempted to ordain the following Catholic women to the priesthood: Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, Adelinde Roitinger, Gisela Forster, Iris Müller, Ida Raming, Pia Brunner and Dagmar Braun Celeste, who on that occasion identified herself as Angela White.
Citing the previous interventions of the Bishop of Linz and of the Austrian Episcopal Conference, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a statement on July 10, 2002, warning the above-mentioned persons that they would be punished with excommunication if by July 22, 2002, they had not acknowledged the nullity of their "ordination" and asked forgiveness for the scandal caused to the faithful.
As they gave no indication of amendment, this Congregation punished the aforementioned persons with excommunication, reserved to the Apostolic See, in the Decree dated August 5, 2002, expressing the hope that they might be moved to conversion. The Decree also confirmed that the "ordaining" bishop was already excommunicated insofar as he is a schismatic.
They subsequently published letters and granted interviews, in which they expressed their conviction regarding the validity of the "ordination" they received, calling for a change of the definitive doctrine according to which ordination to the priesthood is reserved to males, and reaffirming that they celebrate "Mass" and other "sacraments" for small groups.
In a letter dated August 14, 2002, they asked that the Decree of Excommunication be revoked, and then, on September 27, 2002, with reference to canons 1732-1739 CIC, they made recourse against the Decree. On October 21, 2002, they were informed that their request would be submitted to the competent authority.
The request for revocation and the recourse were examined by the Sessione Ordinaria of the Congregation on the 4th and 18th of December 2002. The Members of the Congregation who participated -- those resident in Rome -- were Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger, Alfonso López Trujillo, Ignace Moussa I. Daoud, Giovanni Battista Re, Francis Arinze, Jozef Tomko, Achille Silvestrini, Jorge Medina Estévez, James Francis Stafford, Zenon Grocholewski, Walter Kasper, Crescenzio Sepe, Mario Francesco Pompedda, and Bishops Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B., and Rino Fisichella.
In the course of these meetings the Members arrived at the collegial decision to confirm the Decree of Excommunication. In the case under consideration, in fact, hierarchical recourse is not possible, as it concerns a Decree of Excommunication issued by a Dicastery of the Holy See acting in the name of the Supreme Pontiff (cf. can. 360 CIC).
So as to remove any doubt in the matter, the Members thought it necessary to underline certain fundamental points.
- It is necessary above all to state precisely that the case under consideration does not involve a latae sententiaepenalty, which is incurred ipso facto when a delict expressly established by the law is committed. It concerns instead a ferendae sententiae penalty, imposed after the guilty party has been duly warned (cf. cann. 1314; 1347 §1 CIC). As provided by can. 1319 §1 CIC, this Congregation has the power to threaten determinate penalties by precept.
- The particular gravity of the offenses committed is evident, which can be seen from various aspects. a) There is first of all the issue of schism: the above-mentioned women were "ordained" by a schismatic bishop and -- even though not formally adhering to his schism -- thereby made themselves accomplices in schism. b) In addition there is the doctrinal aspect, namely, that they formally and obstinately reject a doctrine which the Church has always taught and lived, and which was definitively proposed by Pope John Paul II, namely, "that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women" (Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, n. 4). The denial of this doctrine is rightly considered the denial of a truth that pertains to the Catholic faith and therefore deserves a just penalty (cf. cann. 750 §2; 1372, n. 1 CIC; John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Motu ProprioAd tuendam fidem, n. 4A). Moreover, by denying this doctrine, the persons in question maintain that the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff would be binding only if it were based on a decision of the College of Bishops, supported by the sensus fidelium and received by the major theologians. In such a way they are at odds with the doctrine on the Magisterium of the Successor of Peter, put forward by both the First and Second Vatican Councils, and they thereby fail to recognize that the teachings of the Supreme Pontiff on doctrines to be held definitively by all the faithful are irreformable.
- The refusal to comply with the penal precept established by this Congregation is further aggravated by the fact that some of the above-mentioned women have been gathering round them members of the faithful, in open and divisive disobedience to the Roman Pontiff and diocesan bishops. In view of the gravity of this contumacy (cf. can. 1347 CIC), the penalty imposed is not only just, but also necessary, in order to protect true doctrine, to safeguard the communion and unity of the Church and to guide the consciences of the faithful.
- 4. The above-mentioned Members of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith therefore confirm the Decree of Excommunication issued on August 5, 2002, specifying once again that the attempted priestly ordination of the aforementioned women is null and invalid (cf. can. 1024 CIC) and therefore all those actions proper to the Order of Priesthood performed by them are also null and invalid (cf. cann. 124; 841 CIC). In consequence of the excommunication, they are forbidden to celebrate sacraments or sacramentals, to receive the sacraments and to exercise any function in an ecclesiastical office, ministry or assignment (cf. can. 1331 §1 CIC).
- At the same time, it is hoped that, sustained by the grace of the Holy Spirit, they might discover the path to conversion and so return to the unity of faith and to communion with the Church, a communion broken by their action.
The Sovereign Pontiff John Paul II, at the Audience granted to the undersigned Cardinal Prefect on December 20, 2002, approved this Decree, adopted in the Sessione Ordinaria of this Congregation, approving at the same time in forma specifica n. 4, and ordered its publication.
Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, December 21, 2002.
+ Joseph Card. Ratzinger Prefect
+ Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B. Archbishop-elect of Genoa