Vatican Excommunicates Seven Women 'Priests'
By Mike Wendling, CNS London Bureau Chief

The Vatican has excommunicated seven women who claimed to have been ordained, renewing the Catholic Church's debate over female priests. The seven women, including Germans, Austrians and one U.S. citizen, participated in a ceremony on June 29 and have since claimed to be priests.

The Vatican disagreed and warned them that they would be punished if they didn't repent. The women refused, and were excommunicated on Monday. The women say church officials have refused to meet with them and they have vowed to appeal their excommunications, according to Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, one of the seven who acts as spokeswoman for the group.

"We are willing to meet with the Vatican," Mayr-Lumetzberger told Wednesday via phone from Austria. "We had discussed excommunication and although we didn't expect it, we were ready for it." Mayr-Lumetzberger said the seven would continue to campaign for female ordination whether or not they were allowed back into the church.

The ordination was announced by Vatican Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who said in a statement that the women didn't "give any indication of amendment or repentance for the most serious offense they had committed."

On Tuesday, Vatican Radio broadcast an interview with Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone of the Vatican office that oversees doctrine. Bertone said the ordination ceremony, held on a boat on the Danube River in Austria, was a "public act." The ceremony, Bertone said, "attacks the fundamental structure of the Church as it was wanted by its founder."

~ Debate continues ~

The controversy surrounding the ordination ceremony and the excommunication of the women has added to debate within the Catholic Church. Officially, church officials and believers are forbidden to even discuss the idea of female ordination, but several liberal groups backed the seven women.

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), compared the case to sex abuse scandals that have rocked the Catholic Church in recent months. "Hundreds of priests have been credibly proven to have sexually abused thousands of children," he said. "None has been excommunicated."

Kissling said the Vatican's values were "profoundly disordered."

"CFFC suggests that the Vatican turn its attention to cleaning its own house," he said. "Since the church through Ratzinger has accepted that women have a specific role in the church that is distinct and irreplaceable and since that role has frequently been that of housekeeper, perhaps the Vatican should look on the ordination of women as a way of cleaning the church's house which has been soiled by abusive priests, bishops and cardinals," Kissling said.

Erin Hanley, spokeswoman for the Virginia-based Women's Ordination Conference, said advocates of female ordination would now try to "keep the issue on the table" in the face of staunch Vatican opposition.

"People are going to continue to voice their concerns and talk about this," she said. "As a result of the ordination of these women, we're going to continue to see more changes throughout the world."

Hanley admitted that it was unlikely that church officials would modify their position anytime soon. "The question then becomes, are people going to be empowered to make decisions of their own on their spiritual life, or is the top-down hierarchical structure going to continue?" she said.

Traditionalists, on the other hand, defended the church's decision and said it was based on Catholic doctrine. "The church has spoken quite clearly about the ordination of women," said Michael Ackerman of Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, a British group that works to promote orthodoxy in the church. "The matter is closed."

As for excommunication, Ackerman said that was "an automatic consequence of their actions. "They had full knowledge and foresight," he said. "If they hold to their actions, they cannot be regarded as being in communion with the Catholic Church."

Austin Ruse, president of the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute in New York, applauded the Vatican's decision. "These women flatly contradicted the teachings of the Church," he said. "The church has spoken out on female ordination ... the matter is a closed question."

Ruse said that while the women claim they are priests and many may support them in the claim, they would not be considered to be ordained even if the Vatican did nothing. He said that two elements are required for Catholic sacraments - "proper matter" and "proper form."

"In this case, the proper matter - a man - was not receiving the sacrament," he said. "The women were warned and then action was taken ... this is a wonderful lesson for the faithful," he said.


Religion Today - August 10, 2002

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