Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan attempted to reach out to and reason with a Wisconsin woman who recently took part in an invalid attempt at ordination to the Roman Catholic priesthood.

In a letter released this Sunday, Archbishop Dolan told parishioners at Kathy Vandenberg’s former church that he was disappointed at the decisions she had made.   Vandenberg, the 64 year-old resident of Waukesha, Wisconsin, took part in a small ceremony two weeks ago to protest the Catholic Church’s doctrine on ordination to the priesthood.  Vandenberg was drafted by a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests to join them in reenacting a modified ordination ceremony aboard a boat and declaring themselves Catholic priests.

The Catholic Church has repeatedly stated that whereas the ordination of men to the sacramental priesthood is a divinely inspired tradition and not a matter of equality, it is not an issue up for discussion.  The Diocese of Pittsburg, within which the ceremony took place, warned the women, prior to their protest, that their public actions in defiance of the faith would indicate a public decision to separate themselves from the body of the Church.  

 “I regret it when anyone publicly jeopardizes his or her relationship with the Church, which Ms. Vandenberg, by her action, has now unfortunately done,” Dolan said.

“I am also disappointed,” the archbishop said, “because Ms. Vandenberg and I had begun a fruitful dialogue on the matter last fall.”  Archbishop Dolan said that he had met with Vandenberg and Archdiocesan Chancellor, Dr. Barbara Anne Cusack and that at the meeting he, “advised her that any attempted ordination would affect her relationship with the Church.”  Dolan said that Ms. Vandenberg seemed sincerely unaware that her planned actions could result in excommunication and that she, “did not want that to happen.”

 “I invited her to reflect on the gravity of such a decision, to renounce it, and to return to the Church,” the archbishop said.  

Archbishop Dolan said that Ms. Vandenberg asked for time to consider her decision and promised him that she would discuss her next step with him.  He wrote Ms. Vandenberg twice and asked for her to keep him up to speed on her decision.  “Her regrettable participation in the protest,” the archbishop lamented, “gives me her unfortunate answer.”

Dolan says that it is now his duty as archbishop to notify the Holy See of Ms. Vandenberg’s decision.  “If the past is any guide, I would anticipate that the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith in Rome will soon inform the participants in this exercise that, sadly, they are excommunicated from the Church.”

The Catholic Church teaches that excommunication arises when a person makes the decision to remove themselves from the authority of the Magisterium.  That authority, Catholics believe, has been granted by Jesus and protected by the Holy Spirit.  Excommunication never comes from the Church but always from the individual, the Church simply formally states what the individual has already stated by their actions. In a statement reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Ms. Vandenberg said that in her belief, a declaration of excommunication, “doesn't mean I'm excluded from the church. Only I can exclude myself.”