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Archbishop defends tough penalty for women’s ordination

By on Friday, 16 July 2010

Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl speaks at a press conference at the US bishops' headquarters (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl speaks at a press conference at the US bishops' headquarters (CNS photo/Bob Roller)

The Vatican’s decision to declare the attempted ordination of women a major Church crime reflects “the seriousness with which it holds offences against the sacrament of holy orders” and is not a sign of disrespect towards women, Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington has said.

The archbishop, who chairs the US bishops’ Committee on Doctrine, spoke at a news briefing in the headquarters of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops hours after the Vatican issued new norms for handling priestly sex abuse cases and updated its list of the “more grave crimes” against Church law, including for the first time the “attempted sacred ordination of a woman”.

In such an act, the Vatican said, the cleric and the woman involved are automatically excommunicated, and the cleric can also be dismissed from the priesthood.

Noting that women hold a variety of Church leadership positions in parishes and dioceses, Archbishop Wuerl said: “The Church’s gratitude toward women cannot be stated strongly enough.”

“Women offer unique insight, creative abilities and unstinting generosity at the very heart of the Catholic Church,” he said.

But, the archbishop said, “the Catholic Church through its long and constant teaching holds that ordination has been, from the beginning, reserved to men, a fact which cannot be changed despite changing times”.

The Vatican action drew a sharp response from Erin Saiz Hanna, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, founded in 1975 to promote the ordination of women as Catholic priests, deacons and bishops.

Ms Hanna called the decision “appalling, offensive and a wake-up call for all Catholics around the world”.

“The idea that a woman seeking to spread the message of God somehow ‘defiles’ the Eucharist reveals an antiquated, backwards Church that still views women as ‘unclean’ and unholy,” she said.

Archbishop Wuerl said at the briefing that the norms should be seen as “a list of those areas that the Church considers of great significance”, adding that “it is not surprising that most are sacramental”.

In addition to declaring women’s ordination a more grave crime against Church law, the norms also condemn the attempted or simulated celebration of the Eucharist, any attempt to hear confession when one is unable to give valid sacramental absolution, and the recording of a confession or its “malicious diffusion” through any means of social communications.

Archbishop Wuerl said the latter prohibition did not necessarily mean the Vatican had seen a sharp rise in violations of the confessional seal related to social media, but indicated an awareness that the seal of confession “can now be violated in ways we never envisioned before”.

“It’s a recognition that we live in new circumstances,” he added.

Asked whether it might have been a public relations mistake for the Vatican to include women’s ordination and clergy sex abuse of children in the same document, the archbishop said the revised norms were “intended to contain a variety of different elements”.

He said one way to distinguish between the different elements was to hold separate news conferences on the women’s ordination aspect and the clerical sex abuse aspect of the norms, as the US bishops’ conference had done.

Bishop Blase Cupich, who is to be installed in September as head of the Diocese of Spokane, Washington, spoke about the norms as they related to sex abuse in a news briefing before Archbishop Wuerl’s. Bishop Cupich chairs the US bishops’ Committee on the Protection of Children and Young People.

Roman Catholic WomenPriests, an organisation that is not recognized by the Church but claims that more than 100 women worldwide have been ordained priests or bishops in the past eight years, responded to what it called “the Vatican’s equating women’s ordination with paedophilia by priests” with a demand that the Vatican “affirm women’s full equality in the Church, including priestly ministry”.

“We demand an end to misogyny in the Catholic Church,” the group said in a statement. “We demand that the Vatican adopt reforms to transform Church laws and practices to reflect transparency, accountability, justice and equality for all.”

Ceremonies carried out by the group have led to the excommunications of the women and those who ordained them.

In 2008, the doctrinal congregation formally decreed that a woman who attempts to be ordained a Catholic priest and the person attempting to ordain her are automatically excommunicated. In 1994, Pope John Paul II said the Church’s ban on women priests is definitive and not open to debate among Catholics.

  • Lindsay Gray

    I applaud a firm traditionalist stance such as this. Also, I say let the dissent ring out among the feminists and 'modernists'. Let it ring out to the point where they leave the church. There are millions of Catholics today who should not be in the fold to begin with –people whose views are aligned with the values of secular culture and not Christian culture. If they have their way, before long Catholic worship will be nothing more than a gathering to hold hands and hug, sing Kum Ba Ya, and listen to sermons ranting about sexual and political 'rights'. It's approaching that even now in some parishes.
    It is time for a smaller, more intensely devout ecclesia of believers. It is time for the separation of the wheat from the tares.

  • Paul Moloney

    Just goes to show the kind of sick twisted mentality that thinks ordinating a woman is as morally wrong as the rape and cover-up of the rape of a child.


  • Charles Ryder

    Did you read the article?

    “the archbishop said the revised norms were “intended to contain a variety of different elements”.”

    There is no implication, whatsoever, that the two deeds are viewed as having parity.

    To imply as much is dishonest at best and libelous at worst.

    Pay more attention, please. A touch of civility would not be entirely unwarrented either.

  • SarahTX2

    Is raping a child not an offense against holy orders? Why does that one not result in excommunication?

  • Scott2010

    You're right, the two deeds are not viewed as having parity. Attempting to ordain a woman is worse than raping a child. The first is punishable by excommunication because it is an offense against holy orders. The second is punishable by defrocking because, I guess, it is not an offense against holy orders. Your use of the word “libelous” is a joke. Your call for a touch of civility in matters regarding the rape of children is revealing.

  • Scott2010

    Because the devil made him do it, didn't you read your catechism? The women trying to become priests are feminists who should be burned at the stake. How many centuries is it going to take for people to learn the difference between men and women?

  • SarahTX2

    Donald Wuerl looks angry. Who's he pointing his finger at?

  • AnastasiaBingen

    I am trying to adopt a forgiving and understanding attitude here, and I am normally an extremely easy-going person, but words cannot express adequately enough how utterly offensive those of us who are Anglo-Catholic priests and women found bundling women's ordination into the same document as sexual abuse to be. Whilst we would not approve of illlicit ordinations, the fact of the matter is, that we have been tarred by implication, with the same brush as child abusers. A clarification and apology would not go amiss to the Reverend Ladies of England.

  • John Dor

    Oh, I see, so you want to keep the apartheid slave state the Catholic Church is living in. Keep those who yearn for the equality, truth and inclusion of Christ out. By 'intensely devout' don't you mean 'mindlessly oppressive'? Don't ask, don't think, don't question. That's a good girl.

  • MG

    I, like you and many others would react in the same way, but then I realized we are being fed a distortion by the media, the bishops are not saying they are “morally” equivalent in fact they are making a distinguishing between 'morals' and the ' seven sacraments' which is central to our faith, of which holy orders is one. To rape or murder is a grave offense against the moral order, not to mention being crimes. Yet I am sure you know, we can all commit crimes but be reconciled to the faith, if we repent, that is after all the whole point of Christianity! BTW I agree he does look angry, clearly the picture editor wishing to make a point. Go in peace Sarah. God Bless.

  • MG

    I agree the media distortion has resulted in you being tarred by implication and this is unfortunate, but surely you can see they do not mean to morally equate the two and if you read their statements they had two separate press conferences to distinguish between the “grave offenses” against the moral order (child abuse) and “grave offenses” against the faith (the sacrament of holy orders) I may bve wrong but the word “crime” is being used by headline writers and is not in the document published? If you are a woman of “good faith” towards the Catholic Church I am sure you will see what they were trying and meant to do? As someone from a different organization I hope you can respect why another organization has clarified its own rules. Of course you are free to comment on what another organization does, but there is no need to take offense as it is not directed at you. Nevertheless, even though it is not my place either, I am sorry for your offense, please be assured that this was not intended and please don't be hurt by it. Go in Peace God Bless.

  • Thierrytt1

    Let all remember that the Pope is infallible only when he speaks on behalf of the whole church. This Pope speaks on behalf of him and his political cronies. It is time that the whole catholic church took control and got rid of these charlatans who pretend to be the whole church. Funny how they are happy to let unordained women lead a mass without the consecrated host. They are a dying breed and without accepting women the church will die.
    Bringing in obedient african and south american male priests to europe who cannot communicate, though can give communion ,will not help the catholic church survive..

  • James H.

    Rape is a crime. The law is there to deal with criminals. A publicly-acknowledged criminal goes to jail, and his punishment is public and on record, once a conviction is made. He is a sinner like you or I, however, and if a valid confession is made, God regards him as a 'Prodigal Son'. If the rapist is a priest, he is laicised as a matter of course (and as of 2001 that has been expedited by CDF). He may be excluded from the priesthood (or 'invited to a life of prayer and penance'), but he acknowledges his guilt.

    Women's ordination has nothing to do with civil law. It's strictly internal to the organisation. A member of a political party would be excluded, for example, if he publicly opposed a key plank of party policy. In the same way, if you set yourself up as an alternative authority to the Pope and 'ordain' a woman, you can't expect the church to say nothing.

    Does that help?

  • Malle Pärn

    I think that Catholic church has to split up, and continue as Papal Catholic and Christian Catholic churches. Because Christ never told that women should not be priests! Mary Magdalene was the first priest sent to proclaim the Gospel to His disciples, and the woman who anointed Him before death was the first priest to administer the sacrament of unction… Not to speak about other theological conversations with women during His lifetime…
    I have written a thesis (150 pages) about the arguments against and for women's ordination. I am a Lutheran theologian in Estonia. And the Bible contains more arguments FOR than against!

  • Paul Brown

    This is all a load of rubbish and I'm sick and tired of hearing about stuff like this! It reminds me why I don't buy The Catholic Herald. There's so much negativity about in the Catholic Church. Why doesn't the Church concentrate on what people *should* do instead of telling them what not to do most of the time? What is an “attempted or simulated celebration of the Eucharist”? If a film or TV series included a Mass, would this have to be performed by a real Priest, or would an actor be OK? I agree that Mary Magdalene was involved with spreading the Gospel in the early days of the church. Christ only chose men as apostes, because women weren't taken very seriously in those days. As usual, the Pope is wrong!

  • Alan_pavelin

    The arguments put forward for a male-only priesthood are unconvincing. The main argument used to be “the apostles were all men”. But they were also all Jews, and all fairly young, yet the Church doesn't say that only young Jews can be ordained. Nowadays, the usual argument is that the priest is “in loco Christus” (if I've got this right), implying that, as long as it is a man on the altar, the people will be able to see him as Christ. I don't think this follows at all. Christ's gender was not His only defining characteristic, for example He was aged about 30, and try as I might I cannot see the very old priests we sometimes get as about 30. There is also an argument from “tradition”, implying that what has always been done can never be changed. But people would be shocked if the Church suddenly reverted to its practices and beliefs of 1900 years ago. We are evolving all the time.

  • GlassSand

    Archbishop Donald Wuerl cannot prevent the debate regarding the ordination of women. The Church may excommunicate women attempting to be ordained, but God will not.

  • Lang

    intelligent wonderful they have killed my religion but not my love of god thank you

  • njme

    ok, so now if you are a woman and want to serve the Church as a priest you can be excommunicated, but if you rape a child and are part of a ring of leaders (Bishops, Cardinals and the Vatican) that are involved in hiding the rapist and protecting him so he can go on and torture and rape other helpless children, you are not excommunicated. Not only that, but this Pope has refused to defrock Bishops that have been found guilty of protecting rapists. It gets harder and harder to defend the Catholic Church.

  • Don Muench

    It's “in persona Christi”. My understanding is that the priest should “image” Christ – as a male. But this is not the role-playing that one does in a SHakespeare play. According to the Bible all of us are made in the image and likeness of God. And, as St. Paul says, “in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, ” It was a long tradition that you could go to confession only when you were on your deathbed – but that was changed. MAybe we'll have women priests in 100 years. I wish it were sooner!

  • Patrick Diviney

    I believe you would be doing everyone a great service by publishing and/or otherwise providing access to your thesis. Thank you in advance.

  • Rachel

    Im a Catholic woman who is happy for priests to be male only. They need us girls behind them to help them anyway. Mary Magdalene, a woman who was favoured by Jesus as he appeared to her first after his ressurection, is reffered to as ‘the apostle to the apostle’ and Im happy to follow that example and be an apostle to my priests and help them to serve Christ. Why cant people just relax and accept that men can do certain things and women can do others? We go on about equality but men cant get pregnant but you dont see them holding conferences and protest marches and demanding the right to be able to get pregnant.

  • Rachel

    You compare the Catholic Church to the horrors of Apertheid in terms of sexism, yet you think you have the right to patronise Lindsay by acusing her of not thinking and sarcastically saying “theres a good girl?” Oh John, you hypocrite.