Women's Ordination Conference Statement on Vatican Decree of Immediate Excommunication of Ordained Women
Aisha Taylor, executive director of the Women's Ordination Conference, issued the following statement about the Vatican's decree that ordained Roman Catholic women and the bishops who ordained them incur latae sententiae excommunication, which means excommunication that is immediate and self-imposed.
The Women's Ordination Conference is outraged by yesterday’s Vatican decree, which reminds Catholic women once again of the animosity they face from the hierarchy, despite being the backbone of most Catholic parishes throughout the world.
Out of fear of the growing numbers of ordained women and the overwhelming support they are receiving, the Vatican is trying to preserve what little power they have left by attempting to extinguish the widespread call for women’s equality in the church. It will not work. In the face of one closed door after another, Catholic women will continue to make a way when there is none.
We reject the notion of excommunication. In our efforts to ordain women into an inclusive and accountable Roman Catholic Church, we see it as contrary to the gospel itself to excommunicate people who are doing good works and responding to injustice and the needs of their communities. While the hierarchy prattles on about excommunication, Catholic women are working for justice and making a positive difference in the world.
This inappropriate use of excommunication and the Vatican’s stance on ordination are based on arguments that have been refuted time and again. In 1976, the Vatican’s own Pontifical Biblical Commission determined that there is no scriptural reason to prohibit women’s ordination. Jesus included women as full and equal partners in his ministry, and so should the hierarchy.
The call for women’s equality in the Catholic Church is reverberating loudly in the public consciousness. Around the world, over sixty women have been ordained as priests, deacons or bishops by the group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP), and there are nearly 100 women in the RCWP preparation program. There are 16 national organizations from 11 different countries that advocate women’s ordination, and the vast majority of US Catholics support the ordination of women.
The refusal to ordain women is nothing more than an egregious manifestation of sexism in the church. It is time for the Vatican to listen to its own research, its own theologians and its own people who say that women are equally created in the image of God and are called to serve as priests in a renewed and inclusive Catholic Church.
Roman Catholic Womenpriests’ Response to Vatican Decree of Excommunication
Roman Catholic Womenpriests reject the penalty of excommunication issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith stating that the “women priests and the bishops who ordain them would be excommunicated latae sententiae.” Roman Catholic Womenpriests are loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy disobedience to an unjust law that discriminates against women.
We hold up heroic women in the church’s tradition like Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc and St. Theodore Guerin who obeyed God, followed their consciences and withstood hierarchical oppression including interdict, excommunication and death.
In obedience to Jesus, we are disobeying an unjust law. The Catholic Church teaches that a teaching or law of the church is authoritative only if it is “received” by the sensus fidelium, the community of faith. If the community of faith does not accept the law, it has no effect on us. All people have a moral obligation to disobey an unjust law. St. Augustine taught that an unjust law is no law at all. Since 70% of U.S. Catholics favor women’s ordination and a growing majority of Catholics worldwide also favors women’s ordination, we do not “receive” or accept the Church's prohibition against the ordination of women and the church’s continued reliance on sexist metaphors, beliefs and assumptions for denying ordination to women.
Pope Benedict XVI, written when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, in the commentary section of the Doctrine of Vatican II, volume V, page 134, stated: "Over the Pope as the expression of the binding claim of ecclesiastical authority, there still stands one's own conscience, which must be obeyed before all else, if necessary even against the requirement of ecclesiastical authority.”
Roman Catholic Church laws are often contradictory. In this instance, canon 1024 limits sacred orders to men, while canon 849 states that baptism is the gateway to the sacraments. Scholar Bishop Ida Raming, doctor of theology, points out a prior church understanding: “some medieval canonists hold that not maleness but baptism is the pre-requisite for valid ordinations: “After being baptized, anyone may be validly ordained.” (The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood: Causes and Background)
Recent scholarship affirms that women were ordained in the first thousand years of the church’s history. The first half of the church’s history provides us with images and accounts of the inclusion of women in Holy Orders that contradict the later prohibition. We are reclaiming this important tradition in order to bring equality and balance, and reconciliation and renewal to the church we love, and to all the holy people of God who have been hurt, marginalized, and ostracized in the name of Jesus Christ, who always and everywhere said, as we do, that ALL ARE WELCOME.
“Roman Catholic Womenpriests are leading the way to a renewed Roman Catholic Church in which the full equality of women will be a reality,” commented Bridget Mary Meehan, U.S. media spokeswoman. “Like Mary Magdalene, apostle to the apostles, and the women deacons, priests and bishops who served in the early centuries of our church, we are offering a model of a renewed priesthood in a community of equals.”