Point of Order

The women claiming ordination to the Catholic priesthood are making claims that should be profoundly disturbing to real Catholic bishops.

Editor’s note: Diogenes has, unfortunately, ceased writing. But this essay from our archives, written in July 2007, has lost none of its original relevance.

Utterly null, absolutely void, and endowed with gushing media coverage: another non-ordination of non-Catholics—in Santa Barbara this time—by persons in error on both counts. Brace yourself for some elegant and lucid journalism from the Santa Barbara Independent:

Besides their gender deviating from the Catholic priest norm, neither of the two deacons ordained Sunday—who are scheduled for re-ordination as priests on July 28—is celibate. Norma Coon,* of San Diego, has been married for 40 years. Toni Tortorilla, of Portland, lives with her lesbian partner.…

The ceremony, which took place on the feast day of Mary Magdalene, also differed from the standard Catholic ordination in the names the presiding clergy used for God, who is ordinarily referred to as “the Father.” The female priests instead referred to “Mother and Father” and to “God/de.” (The latter is pronounced like “God,” with the silent, extra letters hinting at a goddess that those in the ceremony declined to refer to explicitly.) Jesus Christ retained his masculine identity, however.

Clear, I hope?

Secret evidence, accepted on faith

Viewed as a magic act, the present paradigm-shattering stunt is a disappointment. It’s one thing to watch a conjurer pull a rabbit out of a hat, another to watch him pull a hat-lining out of a hat. So here we see three perfectly conventional Unitarians kneel down, the secret formula is intoned over their heads, and—presto!—when they get to their feet we find three perfectly conventional Unitarians. None of the parties starts off close enough to Catholic churchmanship to make the ceremony a plausible counterfeit, whence it’s hard to see why they bother in the first place.

That said, the article is interesting in its mention of the circumstances by which the South African “ordaining bishop,” Patricia Fresen, lays claim to holy orders.

The women ordained Sunday join 18 others in North America who belong to an international organization called Roman Catholic Women Priests, which counts among its number approximately 50 female priests and deacons worldwide, including a few whose identities remain undisclosed in an effort to protect their jobs within the Church. Also secret are the identities of the male bishops who ordained Bishop Fresen. Film and documentary evidence of that ceremony is being kept by a notary public, not to be released until the deaths of the male bishops.

The limits of collegiality

Assuming that the incident described above happened as stated, and that the male bishops involved were Roman Catholics, one is moved to wonder what consequences follow from the automatic excommunications prescribed by Canon 1382 (“Both the Bishop who, without a pontifical mandate, consecrates a person a Bishop, and the one who receives the consecration from him, incur a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See”). It’s not unthinkable that a couple of retired bishops could be sufficiently loose in the hinges to attempt this prank.

Since it’s all secret, however, we won’t know who they are or the date on which they excommunicated themselves for some time. Presumably the sacraments they perform are valid even after their excommunication, but it’s odd to think that one’s confirmation or consecration might be effected by a man revealed after the fact to have been a non-Catholic. The theological force of episcopal collegiality, moreover, is stretched to the breaking point by the image of patchwork communion. If Bishop X is buried in the cathedral crypt, will they disinter him after the video surfaces and re-bury him in partibus infidelium?

Maybe it will turn out to be a hoax, and the “male bishops” merely part-time kleagles hired from one of those goofy autocephalous outfits. But the general drowsiness with which many Catholic ecclesiastics treat of the sacraments suggests they view their ordination in the same terms as Patricia Fresen and company: a ritual of empowerment conferring the confidence to preach, counsel, and lead the singing of hymns.

Do you get the sense the college of bishops is as keen to spy out the offenders in their midst as a college of surgeons would be to rid themselves of impostors in theirs?

*In February 2011, Norma Coon publicly renounced her “ordination,” affirmed the truth of John Paul II’s apostolic letter Ordination Sacerdotalis that the Church may ordain men only, and severed all ties with the Roman Catholic Women Priests.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.