The Vatican announced Thursday in a general decree that it will excommunicate anyone who would attempt to ordain a woman as a priest and the woman herself.
According to the decree, the excommunications would take place with immediate effect.
A quick search of the Vatican website didn’t turn up the document in question, so I’m largely speculating. (It often takes a little while, if ever, for many documents to be translated into English by the Vatican.) But given the fact that the excommunication would take immediate effect, it’s likely a latae sententiae excommunication, one that occurs automatically upon a certain action. These actions are generally reserved to serious violations of Church and Divine law. Some examples of actions that incur such a penalty are: procuring an abortion knowing that it’s gravely sinful, a priest violating the secrecy of the confessional and, as we see know, pretending to ordain a woman a priest. (One point: under Canon, or Church law, a latae sententiae excommunication is only effective if the person committing the act is aware of the penalty. Ignorance of the law is an excuse under Church law.)
In reality, a woman can no more be made a priest than a chocolate chip cookie could be consecrated into the Body and Blood of Christ or a dog could be baptized. It’s just the wrong physical matter and therefore the attempt at a sacrament would fail. So all these ordination attempts are no more than playacting. This doctrine has been held since the earliest times of the Church. We see it in the Bible at the Last Supper: Christ ordained his Apostles as priests with the washing of the feet, meaning only men were ordained as the first priests. Had He wished to ordain women, He certainly would have done so, so we can only assume that He had His reasons and as His followers, we should have faith in Him. I don’t completely understand the reasons for it myself, but I take it on faith that Christ knew what he was doing and wouldn’t let His Church go astray.
UPDATE (8:34 AM): English Text of the Decree:
Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
On the delict of attempted sacred ordination of a woman
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in virtue of the special faculty granted to it by the Supreme Authority of the Church (cf. Can. 30, Code of Canon Law), in order to safeguard the nature and validity of the sacrament of Holy Orders, decreed, on the Ordinary Session of December 19, 2007:
In accordance with what is disposed by Can. 1378 of the Code of Canon Law, he who shall have attempted to confer holy orders on a woman, as well as the woman who may have attempted to receive Holy Orders, incurs in a latae sententiae excommunication, reserved to the Apostolic See.
If he who shall have attempted to confer Holy Orders on a woman or if the woman who shall have attempted to received Holy Orders is a faithful bound to the Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches, he is to be punished with the major excommunication, whose remission remains reserved to the Apostolic See, in accordance with can. 1443 of the same Code (cf. can. 1423, Code of Canons of the Oriental Churches).
The present decree enters in force immediately after its publication in L’Osservatore Romano.
William Cardinal Levada
Angelo Amato, s.d.b.
Titular Archbishop of Sila
(Published in L’Osservatore Romano of May 29, 2008 – permanent link)
So, I was correct on the nature of the penalty.
And an understandable explanation, with appropriate links, by a leading canon lawyer.