Archbishop Raymond Burke of the Archdiocese of St. Louis has excommunicated three women for taking part in an attempted ordination of women to the priesthood. The archbishop said the excommunication was part of his “solemn duty” to protect the faith and unity of the Church.
On November 11, 2007 a German woman named Patricia Fresen conducted a would-be ordination ceremony at a St. Louis synagogue. The ceremony, which used the formula and rite of a Catholic ordination, attempted to ordain as priests two St. Louis-area women, Rose Hudson and Elsie McGrath. On August 12, 2007, they had taken part in a ceremony claiming to ordain them to the deaconate.
In a March 12 Declaration of Excommunication, Archbishop Burke declared the three women to be excommunicated. He outlined several reasons for the excommunication.
The purpose of the Declaration of Excommunication was, in Archbishop Burke’s words, “to protect the members of the flock of Christ, placed in my pastoral care, who are in growing danger of being led astray from the One True Faith and Church of Christ.”
Archbishop Burke, who is regarded as one of the foremost experts on canon law, explained that this type of situation has been addressed before. In August 2002, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith also excommunicated two women who had taken part in an invalid ordination ceremony, he said.
Patricia Fresen, the archbishop said, had “formally and directly engaged” in founding a “new and separate sect” called Roman Catholic WomenPriests USA.
The archbishop’s Declaration also noted that, “the three women have publicly affirmed, by word and by deed, the validity of the ordination of women to the priesthood, in contradiction to the perennial, constant, and infallible teaching of the Catholic Church.”
The declaration said that the women had been notified of their right to defend themselves from the accusations, but they had failed to present themselves when their date for trial arrived.
The “most grave accusations” made against Patricia Fresen included schism, the persistent rejection of Church doctrine coupled with a refusal to retract that rejection, and the simulation of the administration of a Sacrament. The accusations against the two attempted women ordinands, Hudson and McGrath, were the same except they were not accused of simulating the administration of a Sacrament.
Archbishop Burke declared all three women guilty of the accusations, saying, “by the commission of the most grave delict of schism, all three of the guilty parties have lost membership in, good standing in, and full communion with the Roman Catholic Church, which bond each and every baptized Catholic is obliged to maintain.”
The excommunications were announced by archbishop “in the most sincere hope and with the prayer that the application of the due canonical penalties will lead the guilty parties to seek the cure of their most grievous sins and canonical crimes.”
The consequences for the three women include being barred from all parishes and institutions of the archdiocese, being forbidden to take “ministerial part” in the celebration of Mass and being unable to administer or receive any sacraments. They also may not receive absolution from their sins, and they are forbidden to be buried in consecrated ground.
The archbishop wrote that any sacraments attempted to be celebrated by the women are “utterly null and void,” saying that “any assistance or attendance at, and direct or indirect participation in their supposed sacramental rites or rites of prayers” was strictly forbidden.
A “Question and Answer” article on the website of the Archdiocese of St. Louis explained some of the basics of the declaration. The article explained excommunication as “knowingly and willingly placing oneself outside the full communion of the Catholic Church. A person excommunicates himself/herself.” It continued, “When the archbishop declares an excommunication, its purpose is meant to be healing, and a call for the person to reconsider the action and reconcile with the Catholic Church.”
The article said that Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis had reaffirmed that the Church has no authority to ordain women, saying “This teaching is to be held definitively by all the faithful as belonging to the deposit of faith.”
The article also said that Fresen, though she lives in Germany, had been excommunicated by the Archdiocese of St. Louis because she committed her offense and caused scandal and harm to the faithful in that archdiocese.
In a separate statement, Archbishop Burke called for prayer for the three excommunicated women.
“The situation is sad for the whole Church,” he said. “It is cause of great concern for me as archbishop. Please join me in praying that both will be reconciled with the Church and that the great harm which has been caused to the Church, with the help of God's grace, will be healed.”