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Faith/Spirituality Forum: Aren't they heretics? Why not latae sententiae?

by Catherine Frakas 24 Feb 2001

Aren't they heretics? Why not latae sententiae? QUESTION from A. Basto on January 28, 2003 On June 29, 2002, Romulo Antonio Braschi, founder of a schismatic community, attempted to ordain the following Catholic women to the priesthood: Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, Adelinde Roitinger, Gisela Forster, Iris Miller, Ida Raming, Pia Brunner and Dagmar Braun Celeste, who on that occasion identified herself as Angela White.
Citing the previous interventions of the Bishop of Linz and of the Austrian Episcopal Conference, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published a statement on July 10, 2002, warning the above-mentioned persons that they would be punished with excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See if by July 22, 2002, they had not acknowledged the nullity of their ordination and asked forgiveness for the scandal caused to the faithful.
Given that there was no indication of repentance on the part of those women, and given that they failed to recognize the nullity of their attempted ordination, the Decree of Excommunication, issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dated August, 5th, 2002, was made public. The ordaining Bishop, as a schismatic, had previously incurred in the penalty of excommunication.
On January 27th, 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued another Decree on the alleged ordinations, given that the women had submitted a request for re-consideration and a recourse from the decision.
This Decree, signed on December 21, 2002, maintains the previous sentence of excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See. It also makes several important observations regarding the impossibility of women being ordained to the priesthood, and the consequent nullity of the ordination of those women ordained last June. It recalls, also, the disobedience of the women, who have been gathering faithful arround them, and mentions the fact that they have made themselves accomplices in the Bishop's schism.
Most importantly, the decree states that in addition there is the doctrinal aspect, namely, that they formally and obstinately reject a doctrine which the Church has always taught and lived, and which was definitively proposed by Pope John Paul II, namely, that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women (Apostolic Letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis, n. 4). The denial of this doctrine is rightly considered the denial of a truth that pertains to the Catholic faith and therefore deserves a just penalty (cf. cann. 750 '2; 1372, n. 1 CIC; John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Motu Proprio Ad tuendam fidem, n. 4A).
Moreover, by denying this doctrine, the persons in question maintain that the Magisterium of the Roman Pontiff would be binding only if it were based on a decision of the College of Bishops, supported by the sensus fidelium and received by the major theologians. In such a way they are at odds with the doctrine on the Magisterium of the Successor of Peter, put forward by both the First and Second Vatican Councils, and they thereby fail to recognize that the teachings of the Supreme Pontiff on doctrines to be held definitively by all the faithful are irreformable.
This Decree was approved by the Supreme Pontiff, and section four of the Decree (the section that confirmed the Decree of Excommunication) received approval in forma specifica (in specific form), which means that that section has received the status of an act issued by the Pope himself. The other sections were approved in the common form and the Pope ordered the publication of the Decree.
I have some doubts about the Decree and I would like to check with you on them. The Decree states that the women were punished not with latae sententiae (automatic)excommunication, but with ferendae sententiae (non-authomatic) excommunication.
That is to say, the punishment was not immediately inflicted on the moment of the practise of the offence, but was rather imposed by the Congregation with its authority as keeper of the Faith, in exercise of the powers of correction possessed by that Dicastery.
I understand that the Church's law prescribes latae sententiae excommunication as punishment for heresy and other of the gravest canonical offences. Other high crimes receive the ferendae sententiae excommunication.
Well, doesn't it seem to you that the women in question are also heretics, and, therefore, have suffered latae sententiae excommunication on the moment of the simulated ordination cerimony?
In that case, they shouldn't have been warned of a possible future excommunication, then excommunicated, and then have their appeal dismissed. It seems that the automatic excommunication should have simply been made public in a Decree calling them to return to communion and to repent.
I mean, if the Congregation imposed a ferendae sententiae excommunication, it is because the actions of those women were not seen as heretical by the Dicastery. The Dicastery sees that invalid ordinations took place, it sees participation in the schism, and it even sees doctrinal questions, since the women are at odds with the doctrine of Ordinatio Sacredotalis and the doctrine about the Pope's Magisterium. Nevertheless, they don't mention heresy, a crime that would carry latae sententiae excommunication with it.
But haven't the said women performed a public and formal denial of the definitive dogma of the Church on the possibility of women being ordained to the priesthood?
I mean, every faithful catholic must agree that the Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is, as stated in the Decree itself, the definitive and irreformable position of the Church on the question of the ordination reserved to males only.
Refusal to recognise that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis contains a teaching that cannot be changed would mean the breach of another Article of the Faith, since it would contradict the teaching on the Pope's infallible magisterium, defined by the First Vatican Council in its Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus.
Thus, it seems that the women are heretics, and that the imposition of excommunication was not necessary, since they had already suffered automatic excommunication, which would only then require a declaration of the Dicastery making it public.
I am worried because someone may use the excuse of the ferendae sententiae punishment imposed in that case to argue that those who oppose Ordinatio Sacerdotalis and the dogma contained in it are not heretics.
Either I am ignoring some thechnicality that makes the action of those women not qualify precisely as heresy, or it seems that the Congregation overlooked the heresy factor. Since I have read the list of Cardinals that took part in the approval of the Decree, I believe that they are right and I am wrong on that. But I would like to understand what I am missing here. And there is always the other possibility, that they forgot about heresy.
Since they are not making a teaching, but rather a delivering judgement on a specific case, they are not covered by infallibility, even with the pope's approval of the document, and the approval in forma specifica of the decision to maintain the decree. But they almost never make mistakes, and we must always give them the benefit of the doubt. Of course, the decree is in force and must be obeyed while in force. And if I were to be correct in my assessment, the situation of the women would not change, because they would be still excommunicated, just in a different way, and for another additional reason.
What are your views? Are they heretics? I would like to stress here that my sole concern is to guard the dogma in ordinatio sacerdotalis against heresy. Several people ask for ordinatio sacerdotalis to be dropped. Of course, that is not possible, but we should always make people remember that it is a Letter containing a dogmatic teaching about one of the Sacraments.
I look forward to hearing from you.
ANSWER by John-Paul Ignatius, OLSM on January 29, 2003 Dear Mr. Basto:
Yes, I think you have overlook some technical facts.
First, it is not heresy to believe that women can be ordained, but it is a denial of an infallible teaching of the Church.
There are TWO levels of infallible teaching. One is teaching which is formally defined dogma. Second is teaching of doctine that while infallible it has not be formally defined, but derived from defined dogma.
The doctrine concerning women and the priesthood belongs to this later level. This doctrine has not be formally defined, but rather has been made infallible by the ordinary magisterium by the constant teaching of this doctrine from the beginning as part of the deposit of faith.
That is why the Church said, The denial of this doctrine is rightly considered the denial of a truth that pertains to the Catholic faith and therefore deserves a just penalty (cf. cann. 750 '2; 1372, n. 1 CIC).
Canon 750.2 is the NEW canon promulgated by the Pope a couple of years ago.
The reason for this addition to Canon Law was to close a loophole that liberals were using to justify their rebellion. They claimed they did not have to believe in any teaching that was not ex cathedra or at least solemnly and formally defined in a ecumenical council (these two methods are called extraordinary magisterium). They rejected the notion that a doctrine could be infallible through the ordinaary magisterium.
This interpretation was not accurate, but to make it clear the Pope closed the loophole in Canon law.
Level 2 teaching can be infallible and denial of such teaching does remove on from communion with the Church but it does not quite rise to the level of formal heresy. Heresy being a denial of formally defined dogma.
This is why the statement of the Church said the penalty of denial of this Level 2 teaching was by just penalty. One of the just penalties is ferendae sententiae excommunication.
However, even if this was formal heresy and thus making a latae sententiae excommunication applicable, such excommunication is in effect ontologically, but not necessarily publically. If a person denys some aspect of the faith required for belief nobody will necessarily know about it. Despite that the person is still excommunicated and if he partakes of the Eucharist commits further sin -- all of which is secret unless he announces it to the world.
This is the determining factor. If one asserts their hersey in a public and notorious manner, the Church may, for the good of the faithful and to avoid further scandal, publically declare a formal excommunication even though ontologically the person has already been excommunicated latae sententiae by the very fact of their denial of the dogma.
Imagine what people would think is a notorious heretic (although already excommunicated latae sententiae did not receive a formal excommunication from the Church. People would ask, Why is the Church not formally censuring this person? That would cause scandal too.
It is because these women are PUBLIC with their denial of the doctrine and because they are drawing others into their rebellion and scandalizing the faithful in thinking they are actually convecting the Eucharist, when in fact they are not, that Rome MUST make a formal and public denouncement.
Now, as mentioned before, the denial of the doctrine on women and Holy Orders is Level 2 teaching and not Level 1, so technically it is not heresy invoking latae sententiae excommunication that is automatic, but heterodoxy subject to possible ferendae sententiae excommunication that requires specific legislation from the Church.
Schism, however, if these women, and the bishop, have gone into formal schism technically, then a latae sententiae excommunication would apply to that sin, but again, even though the latae sententiae (auto) excommunication has already ontologically taken place, the public nature of the schism would require a public denouncement on the part of the Church with a formal excommunication.
Also, remember the purpose of excommunication. It purpose is not to disenfranchise errant Catholics, its purpose is a tough love in hopes that the errant Catholic will come to their senses and repent. That is why a warning is given -- to give them a chance to re-think their position and come to their sense and repent.
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