On May 30, 1431, a nineteen year old French girl was accused of heresy and sorcery, condemned and put to death by burning at the stake.

489 years later, on May 30, 1920, the same young woman, Joan of Arc, was canonized by the very church that had taken her life......which had taken her life because she followed her inner call, because she led her people to fight for their freedom, a direction the Catholic church hierarchy did not want her to go at the time, because she refused to recant and, if you can believe this, because she wore "men's" clothing.

On Friday, May 30, 2008, Cardinal William Levada, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, (the position the current pope used to hold,) signed a decree "Regarding the crime of attempting sacred ordination of a woman, to protect the nature and validity of the sacrament of holy orders," that "both he who has attempted to confer holy orders on a woman, and the woman who has attempted to receive the said sacrament, incurs in Latae Sententiae excommunication, reserved to the Apostolic See. .......The current decree will come into immediate force from the moment of publication in the 'Osservatore Romano' and is absolute and universal."

Latae Sententiae excommunication........I wish that meant that ordained Catholic women were going to be treated to fancy coffees, but it doesn't.

How far have we come in the 577 years since 1431?

Joan was executed for answering her call;

today women are excommunicated for answering theirs.

I guess that is some progress.

The Rev. Joseph Fox, professor of canon law at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. said in an interview yesterday, Saturday, May 31, 2008, "This is a law that didn't exist before, ....it won't apply to cases that happened before it was published." Maybe that means this decree won't apply to me?

Anyone who incurs this automatic excommunication can only be received back into the Church by the Apostolic See, (the pope) according to the Decree.

Dominican Father Augustine Di Nola, undersecretary of the doctrinal congregation said Saturday in an interview that the "decree makes clear the fact that the people directly involved in an attempted ordination of a woman excommunicate themselves automatically; it is not a penalty imposed by the local bishop or the universal church. Since the excommunication is not imposed, there is no possibility of appeal, he said. "The only recourse is repentance." That is the same as asking Joan to recant.

This is very hard to understand. The excommunication is not imposed by the local bishop or the universal church, so no woman can appeal it?


So, in addition to the forbidding of any discussion of the question of ordaining women for the last three decades, and the persistent claiming that the church has no power to ordain women, we are now additionally told that the church does not excommunicate women who are ordained. The women do it to themselves.

It's a bit like the description of girls "who got themselves pregnant," back when I was young. Some of you might remember that turn of phrase. (As an old English teacher, I am always suspicious of passive voice constructions that obfuscate the real actor.)

"One terse reaction to this decree was the following, written in a comment to The National Catholic Reporter article.

Amazing! To my knowledge NONE of the priests who sexually abused children were excommunicated. Neither were the bishops who transferred them from parish to parish KNOWING that they were child molesters. But we women are more dangerous than that apparently."

The official response from the Roman Catholic Womenpriests organization said,

"RC Womenpriests are loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy disobedience to an unjust law that discriminates against women. We hold up heroic women in the church's tradition like Hildegard of Bingen, Joan of Arc and St. Theodore Guerin who obeyed God, followed their consciences and withstood hierarchical oppression including interdict, excommunication and death. In obedience to Jesus, we are disobeying an unjust law.........All people have a moral obligation to disobey an unjust law. St. Augustine taught that an unjust law is no law at all.......Canon 849 states that baptism is the gateway to the sacraments.....[maleness is not mentioned].......Recent scholarship affirms that women were ordained in the first thousand years of the church's history......We are reclaiming this important tradition in order to bring equality and balance and reconciliation and renewal to the church we love, and to all the holy people of God who have been hurt, marginalized and ostracized in the name of Jesus Christ....."

I think that would include Joan of Arc.

When I was ordained a deacon, I was instructed, as is everyone ordained a deacon, "Believe what your read,

Teach what you believe, and

practice what you teach."

That is, Think, Speak, Act.

This is exactly what we hear in our scripture readings today.

The first reading tells us to be committed totally to God, to believe heart and soul.

The Psalm tells us to take refuge in God and we prayed to be saved from shame, that is public disgrace.

St. Paul told the Romans and us, that it is not the law that produces righteousness, (right relationships,) but faith. And that faith comes from God as pure gift. We don't deserve it, we can't earn it, we can only say yes or no to it. And if we say yes to it, that faith will take us to places that we wouldn't necessarily choose. That faith will require us to live out our commitment, our yes, regardless of the hardships, the attacks, the besieging and the buffeting by the "storms." Those "storms" might be illnesses, disasters, misfortunes, or even the threats of excommunication. We are not promised that the storms won't occur. We are told that faith, that gracious gift from God, is what will get us through, what will preserve us, despite the storm.


The Gospel of Matthew tells us to conform to the will of God and the result will be a life of righteousness, a life of concretized external responses to God's call that is more than just an inner response or commitment. It will be walking the talk. It will be the action of our lives that marks us, as if tattooed, as believers.

In the end, it is God who calls. It is God who graces us with faith. It is God who ordains. In the end, it is God who will judge if we answered the call, if we accepted the gift of grace, and if we lived out that faith concretely in our lives,............... God, not a canon law.


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