VATICAN CITY — The Vatican's powerful Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has excommunicated seven women ordained as priests by a bishop who has broken with the Roman Catholic Church.
The congregation said it acted after receiving no response to a formal warning, which it issued July 10, giving the women 12 days to acknowledge that their ordinations were "invalid and null," repent and ask forgiveness.
A decree of excommunication, signed by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Vatican body that safeguards the church's doctrine of faith and morals, said the women had failed to "give any indication or amendment or repentance for the most serious offense they committed."
But, the decree said, the congregation hopes that the women "may rediscover the path of conversion in order to return to the unity of the faith and to communion with the church, which they have wounded by their actions."
Under the church's Code of Canon Law, an excommunicated Catholic is excluded from the church and may not celebrate or receive the sacraments or exercise any authority in the church.
The women--four Austrians, two Germans and one believed to be an American--did not respond publicly to the congregation's warning, but the two U.S. groups that support the ordination of women--Future Church and Call to Action--spoke in their defense.
"If women and mothers had been integrated into our church's decision-making structures, we would not have the clergy sexual abuse scandal that we have today," said Linda Pieczynski, former president of Call to Action.
The women, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, Adelinde Theresia Roitinger, Gisela Forster, Iris Muller, Ida Raming, Pia Brunner and Angela White, all former theology students in Linz, Austria, were ordained June 29 by Bishop Romulo Antonio Braschi of Argentina in a ceremony on the Danube River.
The Vatican agency called Braschi "a schismatic" and said "he has already incurred excommunication." Braschi left the Roman Catholic Church to found the 13,000-member Catholic Apostolic Charismatic Church of Jesus King.
The Vatican says Jesus established the tradition of a male priesthood by choosing only men as his apostles. It has urged women to model their role on that of the Virgin Mary.
The congregation cited the 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (Priestly Ordination), in which Pope John Paul II said that "the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitely held by all the church's faithful."
"For this reason," the Vatican agency said, "the above-mentioned 'priestly ordination' constitutes the simulation of a sacrament and is thus invalid and null as well as constituting a grave offense to the divine constitution of the church."