The new set
of canon law norms
issued by the Vatican yesterday was intended to
win some PR points on the sexual abuse front, but its substantive goal
is to ensure that no Roman Catholic bishop starts ordaining women. Far
from being a maladroit add-on to the list of “graver crimes” (graviora
delicta
) subject to the juridical control of the Congregation for
the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the ordination issue is the document’s
main business. That’s my conclusion.

Talk to a canon lawyer and
you will learn that there’s nothing much new in the other stuff. Under
the norms
issued in 2001 by Pope John Paul II, the Congregation Formerly Known as
the Inquisition already had been given jurisdiction over graviora
delicta
involving sexual abuse and the sacraments. If the statute of
limitations needed to be extended in a given case, getting a
dispensation was a routine matter. OK, child porn has become a serious
“delict.” But it’s the formal acquisition of jurisdiction over “attempted
women’s ordination” that’s the significant innovation. Although the CDF
issued its
own decree
on the subject in 2007, now the pope has given the
congregation formal procedural control over such cases.

There’s
more. In the 2007 decree, the CDF simply announced automatic
excommunication for both the cleric doing the ordaining and woman
receiving it. The new norm goes further and declares that the ordainer
“may be punished by dismissal or deposition”–i.e. formally removed from
the priesthood: laicized.


In her report
in today’s NYT, Rachel Donadio takes note of this addition, writing:

The
revision codifies a 2007 ruling that made attempting to ordain women
an offense punishable with excommunication. The new document said that a
priest who tried to ordain a woman could now be defrocked.

What’s
important to bear in mind is that while the odd priest has participated
in ceremonies to ordain women, proper ordination in the Catholic Church
is the responsibility of bishops. Suppose a bishop–a Lefebve of the
Left–were to start ordaining women, and not only as priests but also in
due course as bishops. Then there’s apostolic succession and a
full-fledged gender-equal schismatic sect–call it the Society of St.
John XXIII. That’s the nightmare scenario the CDF has been equipped to
foreclose. 

If the Vatican had wanted to make clear that it
didn’t regard attempted women’s ordination as being as serious a crime
as raping children, it could have kept the 2007 decree as is. Yes, CDF
spokesman Monsignor Charles Scicluna could have said, they’re both graviora
delicta
, but the punishments are not of equal severity: A clerical
offender can’t be laicized for the former, only the latter. That’s not
the way it is. Try to ordain a woman, Archbishop Lefty, and we get to
kick you all the way downstairs.

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