Do the new Vatican norms really equate ordaining a woman with raping a child?

This claim is being made all over the place, but unless I've misunderstood something, I have to disagree.

Before I explain why, left me first clarify that I do not agree with the exclusion of women from the priesthood. I think it's one of the most preposterous policies in a Church with more than its share of preposterous policies. Nor am I defending the inclusion of this penalty against ordaining women in the new norms. From a PR standpoint alone that was a pretty boneheaded move.

But I have to take issue with the claim that ordaining women is being "equated" with pedophilia simply because the penalty is the same in both cases.

Imagine you are the CEO of a company. It might be the policy of the company to automatically fire an employee who, say, steals company property. Firing the employee is really the severest penalty you can hand out. Now, if one employee stole a box of pens, and another employee raped, tortured, and murdered one of his coworkers, both would be fired. But the fact that the penalty is the same in both cases does not mean that both crimes are considered to be of equal gravity. The pen thief satisfied the minimal requirements for the most serious possible penalty. The rapist/torturer/murderer far exceeded the minimal requirements, but a more serious penalty simply was not available.

That, it seems to me, is true in the present situation in the new Vatican norms. The attempted ordination of a woman to the priesthood satisfies, as far as the Vatican is concerned, the minimal requirements for automatic excommunication, the most severe penalty they can hand out. Pedophilia is obviously a far greater crime. But a far greater penalty is not available.

Again, I'm not defending the policy of excommunicating people involved in attempts to ordain women. But to say that it is being equated with pedophilia simply because the penalty is the same in both instances is simply not the case.



Blogger crystal said...

Yes, I agree that they were not trying to equate sex abuse and women's ordination. Maybe people just used that possibility as a jway to bring up their criticism of not letting women be priests? Not really fair in some ways I guess (I did it too).

One thing that bothers me is the difference in penalties - the pedophile priests are not excommunicated like the women are (or did I miss that?) but just defrocked. As far as I can tell, they're still members in good standing in the church, though no longer priests.

I used to think that excommunication was about being really bad morally but it seems to be more about flaunting church authority.

3:59 p.m.  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...


You're right, pedophile priests are not actually excommunicated under the new norms. I realise now that I implied that the penalty was the same -- excommunication -- in both cases of pedophilia and ordination of women. I'm not sure why I wrote that, but it is very clearly not the case. What they have in common under the new norms is that they are classified as "grave crimes." The penalties are quite different, and not really any different than before.

So, in effect, the attempted ordination of women is punished rather more harshly than pedophilia, if one takes excommunication to be the harsher penalty. That rather undermines what I wrote, now that I think about it!

I used to think that excommunication was about being really bad morally but it seems to be more about flaunting church authority.

That's interesting, I had exactly the opposite impression -- that it has historically been used almost only for flaunting church authority. I really don't know. I found this "List of people excommunicated by the Catholic Church." I don't know how comprehensive it is, but it would seem most of the people on it were excommunicated for doctrinal or political reasons, not for "being really bad morally" -- though I suppose some would consider heresy to be immoral.

4:39 p.m.  
Blogger crystal said...

Maybe in a way excommunication isn't worse than defrocking, if people can get un-excommunicated like the SSPX bishops. I guess defrocking is forever?

Interesting list :)

9:43 p.m.  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...

It depends on how you look at it. Defrocking means your out of a job -- a difficult position for a priest, who isn't necessarily qualified to do much else.

On the other hand, if you believe that your eternal salvation depends on your continued membership in the Roman Catholic Church, excommunication would be considered more severe. It's sometimes referred to as "spiritual capital punishment," for example. I don't happen to buy that -- if I was formally excommunicated, there's an Anglican church around the corner...

6:38 a.m.  
Blogger crystal said...

Yeah, and I think excommunicated pople are still allowed, even encouraged, to go to mass - they aren't cut off in the way they were in the middle ages when they were contagiously anathema.

I feel like you do, that that salvation isn't limited to those who can participate in Catholic church sacraments.

5:42 p.m.  

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