The Boom, Lowered
"Both the one who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order, incur an excommunication 'latae sententiae,'" or automatically, said a decree from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.Meanwhile, amid what its prefect (US Cardinal William Levada) termed "the contumacy of schism," the congregation has likewise upheld the excommunications levied by Archbishop Raymond Burke of St Louis against the board of the breakaway St Stanislaus parish, which had hired its own priest after the board elected to call its own shots.
The brief "General Decree Regarding the Delict of Attempted Sacred Ordination of a Woman" was published on the front page of the May 30 edition of L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. It said it "comes into force immediately."
U.S. Cardinal William J. Levada, prefect of the congregation, who signed the decree, said it was published "in order to protect the nature and validity" of the sacrament of holy orders.
While only a handful of cases of the attempted ordination of women occur each year, the ceremonies themselves are given widespread publicity as are the decrees of excommunication that have been pronounced by the bishop of the place where the ceremonies are held.
Dominican Father Augustine Di Noia, undersecretary of the doctrinal congregation, told Catholic News Service May 30 that the decree explicitly applies what canon law says about the offense of attempting to enact a sacrament.
"The problem is not that all of a sudden there was a tsunami of attempted ordinations of women," Father Di Noia said, but that the Code of Canon Law and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches "never anticipated that such a thing would happen."
The decree was needed "for the good of the church and to ensure bishops have a common way of responding" when such ceremonies are held in their dioceses, he said.
Father Di Noia said the decree makes clear the fact that the people directly involved in an attempted ordination of a woman excommunicate themselves automatically; it is not a penalty imposed by the local bishop or the universal church.
Since the excommunication is not imposed, there is no possibility of appeal, he said: "The only recourse is repentance.
"The church has said it is authorized to ordain only baptized men and in that way is following the example of Christ," he said.
With a background of the St Stan's situation, Burke announced the decision in his column for today's St Louis Review:
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith gives two reasons for its decisions. The first reason is the failure of the members of the Board of Directors to observe the time limits set by law for the presentation and pursuit of a recourse, and their negligence in fulfilling what is formally required to pursue a recourse.-30-
The second reason is the evident fact that the members of the Board of Directors of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation have committed the delict of schism and persist in the delict. As the letter of the Congregation explains, the Board of Directors have made what was Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish, a parish of the Roman Catholic Church, into "an independent entity capable of appointing its own clergy apart from the hierarchy of the Church." The letter observes how the former Saint Stanislaus Kostka Parish was gradually "removed from the jurisdiction of the local Ordinary." In other words, the actions of the members of the Board of Directors demonstrate their refusal to submit themselves to the legitimate authority of the Church (cf. can. 751).
The decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith makes clear that the actions of the Board of Directors have broken communion with the universal Church. Frequently, especially in the communications media, the difficulties of the Board of Directors have been presented as a disagreement with me as Archbishop of St. Louis and have been reduced to a personal conflict between them and myself. As their pastor, I have been obliged to call them to reconciliation and repentance for the good of the salvation of their souls and the good of the whole Church. In doing so, I have acted in accord with what the teaching and discipline of the Catholic Church require. My actions have nothing to do with any personal conflict but, rather, with the integrity of the Catholic faith and its practice, which I have the solemn responsibility to safeguard and promote.
Clearly, the finding of the Congregation is most serious for the members of the Board of Directors of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation. It touches upon the eternal salvation of their souls. For the Congregation, and also for me, the matter is of the deepest pastoral concern. The Congregation, therefore, indicates two possible responses of the members of the Board of Directors.
If the members of the Board of Directors believe the decision of the Congregation is unjust, then they may appeal the decision to Ordinary Session of the Cardinals and Bishops who are members of the Congregation, which takes place each Wednesday, Feria IV in Latin, within thirty "useful days" from the day on which they receive a copy of the Congregation's letter. In Church law, the "useful time" which a person has to exercise a right does not run when the person is unaware or is unable to act (can. 201, §2).
The other possible response of the Board of Directors is to withdraw from the state of schism, in which they have placed themselves, and to be reconciled with the Church. As the Congregation points out, reconciliation with the Church necessarily includes repentance for the grave harm which their schismatic actions have caused to individual souls and to the whole Church.
The decision of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asks that I, as Archbishop of St. Louis, assist the members of the Board of Directors of Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation to accept its decision and offer them, on the Congregation's behalf, "special pastoral care and kindness." I have been and continue to be committed to the reconciliation of the members of the Board of Directors with the Roman Catholic Church. From the beginning, extraordinary efforts have been made by the Archdiocese of St. Louis to keep Saint Stanislaus Kostka Corporation within the communion of the Church. I will continue those efforts.
What is clear, however, is that reconciliation can only take place through the acceptance of the Church's teaching and discipline, in its integrity, which we all are held, in obedience, to accept and follow. Reconciliation, in the present case, must be a return to the recognition of the legitimate authority of the Church's pastors, that is, the Holy Father, the Archbishop of St. Louis, and the parish priest.