CDF: Decree of Excommunication of those involved with attempted ordination of women

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

General Decree
On the delict of attempted sacred ordination of a woman

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in virtue of the special faculty granted to it by the Supreme Authority of the Church (cf. Can. 30, Code of Canon Law), in order to safeguard the nature and validity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, decreed, on the Ordinary Session of December 19, 2007:

In accordance with what is disposed by Can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, he who shall have attempted to confer holy orders on a woman, as well as the woman who may have attempted to receive Holy Orders, incurs in a latae sententiae excommunication, reserved to the Apostolic See.

If he who shall have attempted to confer Holy Orders on a woman or if the woman who shall have attempted to received Holy Orders is a faithful bound to the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches, he is to be punished with the major excommunication, whose remission remains reserved to the Apostolic See, in accordance with can. 1443 of the same Code (cf. can. 1423, Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches).

The present decree enters in force immediately after its publication in L’Osservatore Romano.

William Cardinal Levada
Angelo Amato, s.d.b.
Titular Archbishop of Sila

(Published in L’Osservatore Romano of 29 May 29 2008)

Congregatio Pro Doctrina Fidei
Decretum generale

de delicto attentatae sacrae ordinationis mulieris

Congregatio pro Doctrina Fidei, ad naturam et validitatem sacramenti sacri ordinis tuendam, vigore specialis facultatis sibi a suprema Ecclesiae auctoritate in casu tributae (cfr can. 30 Codicis Iuris Canonici), in Congregatione Ordinaria diei 19 Decembris 2007, decrevit:
Firmo praescripto can. 1378 Codicis Iuris Canonici, tum quicumque sacrum ordinem mulieri conferre, tum mulier quae sacrum ordinem recipere attentaverit, in excommunicationem latae sententiae Sedi Apostolicae reservatam incurrit.
Si vero qui mulieri sacrum ordinem conferre vel mulier quae sacrum ordinem recipere attentaverit, christifidelis fuerit Codici Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium subiectus, firmo praescripto can. 1443 eiusdem Codicis, excommunicatione maiore puniatur, cuius remissio etiam reservatur Sedi Apostolicae (cfr can. 1423 Codicis Canonum Ecclesiarum Orientalium).
Hoc decretum cum in L’Osservatore Romano evulgabitur, statim vigere incipiet.

Gulielmus Cardinalis Levada
Angelus Amato, s.d.b.
Archiep. titularis Silensis
a Secretis

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  1. Shane says:

    Wasn’t this already the case?

  2. Andy says:

    You know what, Father? Maybe there is something to this Marshal plan you write about. Deo Gratias!

  3. Michael says:

    What about Catholic priests who were in attendance and “celebrating mass” at these so called ordinations? Are they excommunicated as well?

  4. Andy says:

    What is important is that discipline is slowly returning to the church.

    I’ve heard on the Vatican radio on Wednesday that a new document about the discipline in the ‘institutions of the consecrated life’ (holy orders) was presented in Rome. Now this. And this is important, because those might be the signs of the era of everyone doing as they please ending. And one the biggest problem with post-V-II was loosening of the discipline resulting in stuff like this.

  5. Juli says:

    It’s terribly sad that this is even necessary…

  6. Chironomo says:


    I also read the report on the issuance of “guidelines for obedience” as they were referred to with some interest. When was the last time that anything like this was heard of? How long have there been so-called “Female Ordinations”, but only now is action being taken? I too believe that an era has come to an end… happily!!

  7. Alessandro says:

    I can understand why the CdF had to to this, because there are too many so called “catholic woman bishops”
    going around the world ordaining other “catholic” women to the priesthood. But I have to regret about the
    form of this document. It excommunicates also who ordains to the diaconate (sacer ordo = deacons, priests,
    bishops) a woman. And this is something very new, never seen in the Tradition of the Catholic Church.
    The International Theological Commission of the CdF in 2002 wrote even that there is no clear magisterial definition
    of the sacramentality of the diaconate. We must be careful on such matters: even some orthodox churches had and still have a diaconate for women, and they are not progressivist at all.
    However, for our catholic home, I see this as a useful “preventive” war agaist forcing the present rules in order to bend also theological opinions.

  8. Forrest says:

    can we extend excommunication to whacky Chicago priests who mock the collar they wear, and cause immeasurable scandal, not only in their diocese, but throughout the world? When will the bishop do something?

  9. The Abbot says:

    It certainly appears to be a definitive statement. I only hope Cardinal Levada isn’t now going to be deluged by stupid questions such as “But what if the ordination occurs on a boat?”

  10. Raymundus says:

    It’s interesting that this is not limited to sacerdotal ordination, but all attempted ordinations to sacred orders. This has important implications for the “female diaconate” argument.

  11. michigancatholic says:

    I’m so glad to see this. Pope Benedict has a brain and he’s using it–something Catholics haven’t seen in their leaders for a long time. Long live Pope Benedict!

  12. Patrick says:


    Maybe they could excommunicate him for his public and active endorsement of a pro-abortion presidential candidate.

  13. Shane says:

    My understanding was that Lumen Gentium established the sacramentality of the diaconate, to the exclusion of the minor orders.

  14. Alessandro:

    Historically, the term “ordination” (in Greek, “chierotonia”) as applied to women and the diaconate, can only be understood in the broadest sense, and does not imply a conferring of Holy Orders (as in “ordination” to the subdiaconate, for example). I wrote a paper on this subject years ago, which can be found in the EWTN Online Library:

  15. michigancatholic says:

    Last time I checked the Greek Orthodox Church still wasn’t in union with Rome. Do you know something I don’t?

  16. William Tighe says:

    Alessandro’s statement is in itself a good example of why we urgently need a document “Ordinatio Diaconalis” to complement and reenforce “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” of 1994. I am pleased to state, however, that in an e-mail correspondence with a Roman curialist some time ago I was informed that all of the materials for such a document had been assembled some time ago by the International Theological Commission, and a precis published in *Origins.* God grant that such a document may see the light of day soon!

    As to the matter itself, the vacuity of the notion that there ever was such a thing as “woman deacons” was demonstrated by *Deaconesses: An Historical Essay* by Aime-Georges Martimort (Rome: Edizione Liturgische, 1982) of which an English translation by Kenneth Whitehead was published by Ignatius Press in 1986 and reissued in 1996, and which remains available from the publisher at $19.95. I cannot praise this book too highly. It demonstrates, not only that deaconesses were not “female deacons” but that most areas of the Early Church (Rome, Egypt, North Africa) never had “deaconesses” — and that when “deaconesses” made their appearance in Gaul ca. 400 it was simply as a title given to prominent women religious, such as abbesses.

    There is a certain tendency among unwary or ideologically-driven Eastern Orthodox Christians to advocate for the recovery of “the female diaconate” (for a good bad example, see the article on “the female diaconate” by Kyriake Kydonis Fitzgerald in that otherwise -estimable book *Women and the Priesthood* ed. Thomas Hopko, second edition, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1999 — an article which simply sneers at Fr. Martimort’s book in some of its footnotes, but which cannot answer it), and a few years ago press reports stated that the Church of Greece had decided to “ordain women to the diaconate” — but upon examination, I found that these deaconesses were treated as tantamount in practice to subdeacons, not deacons (and note that among the Orthodox subdeacons have always been a minor order whose few liturgical functions can be fulfilled by properly-appointed laymen).

  17. William Tighe says:

    I do not know why the last few lines of my immediately-preceding comment have been scored through. It was not my doing or intention.

  18. Raymundus says:


    The sacramentality of the diaconate was definitively established at the Council of Trent. I point you to the decrees on the sacrament of Orders.

  19. Caecilia says:

    ‘I’m so glad to see this. Pope Benedict has a brain and he’s using it—something Catholics haven’t seen in their leaders for a long time’

    This is not only completely gratuitous, it is false. If you as have not been able to see either brain or brain using in our Leadership, then maybe you need glasses.

  20. Memphis Aggie says:

    What caught my eye was the phrase “major excommunication” which implies there is a “minor” excommunication, or that you there are degrees of excommunication. Is that true, or an I’m missing something in reference to the Oriental Church?

  21. Caecilia says:

    And yes, I need to use the preview button to check what I write. Sorry for the superfluous ‘as’

  22. michigancatholic says:

    I don’t expect Pope Benedict to overhaul the entire liturgy and then let it fall into the hands of activists of all sorts while standing by whining, or for that matter to kiss any Korans or tolerate any Assisi-like paganfests. This kind of silliness is a large part of what got us where we currently are…

    Like I say, Pope Benedict has a brain and knows none of that will work. At. All. He’s doing a much better job for the Church and for us than many people can admit. Someday people will see the recent past for what it was and be able to admit the carnage. We’re probably still too close to it now for some folks. Nevertheless, it’s been a spiritual “bloodbath.”

  23. Prof. Basto says:


    No it wasn’t. The Congregation had to impose “just penalties” on a case by case basis, and, what it usually did was to issue individual decrees of ferendae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See every time there was a known attempt to ordain women.

    Now, with this norm, a new general rule of latae sententiae excommunication is established, so that the following changes are introduced:

    (i) henceforth the Congregation will not have to choose the type of “just penality” for each case of attempted women ordination, because it is now established as a legal rule effectiv that the penalty for all cases of that offense shall be excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See;

    (ii) the penalty is no longer ferendae sententiae for the subjects of the (Western/Latin Church) Code of Canon Law, because the Congregation, with delegation of powers from the Supreme Authority of the Church, has established that the excommunication will be incurred latae sententiae, that is, automatically upon the commission of the offense, independenly of any pronouncement by ecclesiastical authority. Of course, in notorious cases, the ecclesiastical authority will still issue decrees on specific cases, to declare/clarify that automatic excommunication has been incurred. But the penalty will no longer be imposed by the decree, but merely declared, as a result of the censure having been incurred upon the performance of the offense itself.

  24. Shane says:

    Thank you Professor Basto. Would I be correct to believe that canons 1323 and 1324 still apply?

  25. Jim says:

    There are some excommunications which can be lifted in the confessional by a priest. There are some which must be lifted by the diocesan bishop (such as procuring of or complicity in abortion), and some which can only be lifted by the successor of St. Peter…such as that which we are discussing. I’m not sure which ones are major (Pope or bishop, perhaps?) and which ones are minor (any priest?).

  26. michigancatholic says:


    Major only in that I think they are referring to that excommunication “whose remission remains reserved to the Apostolic See.” In other words, once it’s incurred, one has to apply to the Holy See to have it lifted, which would probably entail public recantation of the act, the more clearly the better.

    (As opposed to a quick trip to one of our more, shall-we-say, relaxed bishops who could lift it tongue-in-cheek on both sides, causing no end of scandal. But of course, they wallow in that…it’s no problem to them because it furthers their ends.)

    The Vatican has caught on and is actually starting to do something. IT’s good.

  27. Prof. Basto says:


    Yes, canons 1323 and 1324 of course still apply, and God knows to whom they apply and to whom they don’t. Of course, when the Church declares/clarifies that latae sententiae excommunication has been incurred, then She makes Her judgement about that as well, and the legal effects of a declared excommunication follow.

    As I said, in notorious cases there will still be interest in declaring that the latae sententiae penalty was concretely incurred by someone, so as to avoid doubt. The Decree of Excommunication issued against the SSPX bishops is an example of that: the penalty is latae sententiae, but there is still reason to clarify, in a concrete case, the judgement of the Church that the automatic penalty has been incurred by someone.

    However, this decree changes the situation in the two ways I described in my previous post. The prescribed penalty for women ordination is not just a “just penalty” anymore (now excommunication is “the” prescribed penalty for this offence, there is no other option), and it is also no longer ferendae sententiae.

    Please note that simulation of the Eucharist was already punished with excommunication, but the penalty for simulation of other sacraments is a “just penalty” to be determined. So, when a fake “woman priestess” attempted to confect the Eucharist, she already incurred Excommunication, but now Excommunication will immediately be incurred upon the attempted ordination, thus punishing the attempt of ordination itself. And excommunication will be incurred not only by the woman attempting to get ordained, but also by the person (male or female) attempting to conferr Holy Orders on that woman.

    The simulated ordination of a man continues punisheable by a just penalty. Note, however, that the attempted ordination of a woman is a graver offense, because it implies the rejection of an infallible teaching that is to be held by all Catholics, namely, the doctrine contained in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, according to which women ordination is invalid for ontological reasons an the Church has no authority whatsoever to ordain women.

    The reasons why this decree was issued to simplify penal procedures are summed up by canonist Dr. Edward Peters at his blog “In the Light of the Law”:

  28. Mr Tighe wrote:

    “As to the matter itself, the vacuity of the notion that there ever was such a thing as ‘woman deacons’ was demonstrated by Deaconesses: An Historical Essay by Aime-Georges Martimort…”

    This is correct. In my 1996 essay, I took pains to use the term “deaconess,” which is how they would have been distinguished at the time. I wrote: “Promoters of the ordination of women say that, because the word in the original Greek text, for both male and female deacons, is the same–it follows that the male and female deacons are essentially the same as well… [however] with respect to the women, the masculine noun in ancient Greek is preceded by a feminine article, thus rendering a feminine usage, regardless of either the noun or the context.”

    Even in those Orthodox Churches which have restored the female diaconate, they are referred to as “deaconesses.” There is also a clear distinction between them and male deacons, including the provision that deaconesses cannot aspire to the priesthood.

    David L Alexander

  29. Alessandro says:

    Until 1967 we didn’t know, as catholics, that the diaconate gives a “character” to male ..(cf: Motu proprio of Paul VI, Sacrum diaconatus ordinem)….
    Also the International Theological commission is more careful than some interventions in its study, available
    only in french, about the Diaconate and states in chapter IV: Parmi les questions qui ont besoin d’un approfondissement théologique ou d’un développement ultérieur se trouvent les suivantes: a) le degré normatif de la sacramentalité du diaconat tel qu’il aurait été fixé par les interventions doctrinales du Magistère, surtout en Trente et dans Vatican II; b) l’ “unité” et l’ “unicité” du sacrement de l’ordre dans la diversité de ses grades; c) la portée de la distinction “non ad sacerdotium, sed ad ministerium (episcopi)”; d) la doctrine du caractère et de la spécificité du diaconat comme configuration au Christ; e) les “pouvoirs” que le diaconat octroie en tant que sacrement.

  30. Antiquarian says:

    It’s interesting that when the earlier “ordained” women came to DC during the Pope’s visit, one of them was interviewed and asked about being excommunicated. She replied that the excommunication was unjust and therefore invalid and that she did not recognize it.

    Hmm, sound familiar?

  31. Shane says:


    Lumen Gentium §29 states:

    “At a lower level of the hierarchy are to be found deacons, who receive the imposition of hands “not unto the priesthood, but unto the ministry.”(74) For, strengthened by sacramental grace they are dedicated to the People of God, in conjunction with the bishop and his body of priests, in the service of the liturgy, of the Gospel and of works of charity…it will be possible in the future to restore the diaconate as a proper and permanent rank of the hierarchy.”

  32. Michael says:

    Would David Alexander tell us which Orthodox Churches have restored the diaconate?

    Re: Excommunications. I think they will be of little impact so long as the professors and seminarians who hold the views that are irreconcilable with the teaching of the Church are not removed.


  33. michigancatholic says:

    I disagree, Michael.

    We see protestants doing all sorts of things in violation of the church all the time, yet we know the difference. The same could happen here if we made the truth about it plain.

    The modern idea has been that if we ignore it and have pity on dissidents and such, that it can slide by, and we can keep them (and the head count). Obviously, to just about everyone, that’s not true. Perhaps the Internet has simply made it more obvious, but it was never true. Now Rome has realized it.

    When people step over the line and defy the church in these blatant & deadly ways, then they are no longer in communion with Rome. It is not a kindness to let them think that somehow they are. In fact, it can be a participation in their evil ways! It’s best to let them know and draw the line. They can always decide to recant and come back, but the ball is securely in their court. It always was. We just haven’t had enough guts to motivate truth-telling for the last few years.

    Trust me, if you don’t have people in the Church far enough that they stay within certain normal bounds of faithfulness, you really don’t have them in the church at all. There’s no point in lying to either them or yourself about this. It’s completely counterproductive and destructive.

  34. Alessandro says:

    I am very happy for the most needed general decree. But as a theologian I can’t dismiss the problems it arises.
    For the statement about the sacramentality of the diaconate (LG 29), which is today obviously held is: “gratia enim sacramentali roborati, in diaconia liturgiae, verbi et caritatis populo Dei, in communione cum Episcopo eiusque presbyterio, inserviunt”; and also in Ad Gentes 16: “ut ministerium suum per gratiam sacramentalem diaconatus efficacius expleant”. The expression gratia sacramentalis is prudent, much more nuanced than “sacramental ordination”, used in the earlier draft of LG of the year 1963 and then changed. The Doctrinal Commission of the Council explained the reason of this change (as you can see in Acta Synodalia III/I, 260). It wanted to make a reference to the traditional foundation of what is stated, but at the same time “to avoid giving the impression of condemning those who had doubts about this subject”

  35. Alessandro says:

    To Michael:
    For example the Orthodox Church of Greece voted on Oct. 8, 2004, to restore the female diaconate. Despite the decline of the order of deaconesses, Orthodoxy never prohibited it. In 1907 a Russian Orthodox Church commission reported the presence of deaconesses in Georgian parishes; the popular Orthodox Bishop St. Nektarios (+1920) ordained two women as deacons in 1911; and up to the 1950’s a few Greek Orthodox nuns became monastic deaconesses. In 1986 Christodoulos, then metropolitan of Demetrias and after archbishop of Athens, ordained a woman deacon according to the “ritual of St. Nektarios”-the ancient Byzantine text.
    In fact someone says the Catholic Church has at least implicitly or indirectly acknowledged the ordinations of women by the Armenian Apostolic Church. While the institution of female diaconate has died off in the Byzantine as well as the Syrian context it is well and alive in the Armenian Church. Today a female deacon of the Armenian Church is ordained in the same way as a male deacon and is serving in the same way as male deacons do (also in the Holy Liturgy!). But remains clear the restriction that women cannot be elevated to Holy Priesthood, never! I wish to remind that there are two recent declarations of unity-agreements of mutual recognition of the validity of sacraments and of orders-between Rome and the Armenian Church, one signed by Paul VI and Catholicos Vasken I in 1970, another between John Paul II and Catholicos Karekin I in 1996. This is what I call a theological problem.

  36. prof. basto says:


    Regarding your statement: For example the Orthodox Church of Greece voted on Oct. 8, 2004, to restore the female diaconate

    Schism usually leads, in time, to heresy.

    Thus, our separated Orthodox brethren are no example to the True Church.

    Also, what never existed cannot be restored.

  37. The Orthodox, while holding to the essentials of the Faith (the supremacy of Peter notwithstanding), and while having both valid sacraments and a valid priesthood, nonetheless generally do not define teachings with the same precision as Rome, as they have no central magisterium, or teaching authority. This is what the split from Rome has cost them. So while they may “ordain” a woman to the diaconate in some Churches, the fact that she cannot aspire to the priesthood already distinguishes her diaconal order from that of a male. That this is universally understood among the Orthodox goes a long way in overcoming any “theological problem.” Now, if one of the Churches were to decree that, in theory, this impediment did not exist… well, THAT would be a problem.

  38. Shane says:

    A video from last summer which goes over the issue of why women are not ordained from what is probably a perspective many have not heard:

    Hopefully it helps folks understand why this is not a sexist thing at all and what a terrible degradation of women it is to suggest they ought to be ordained.

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