Bishop Dewane Excommunicates “Priestess”–The Reason Why

Recently, Bishop Frank Dewane informed a Fort Myers woman that by submitting herself to a simulated Rite of Ordination to the Catholic priesthood she would incur the penalty of excommunication. In doing so the bishop acted correctly in light of Canon Law and his obligation as chief shepherd of the Church of Venice in Florida. The Bishop’s actions are pastoral in nature, promoting the good of all the people of the diocese. They are also meant to be medicinal for the recalcitrant woman since this penalty is imposed with the hope of bringing her back into communion with the Church.

In a society which touts egalitarianism as the greatest good many see the Church’s stance regarding the impossibility of ordaining women to be archaic, sexist and simply juridical. None of these are the case.

An explanation based on sacramental theology may help both Catholics and non-Catholics understand why it is not within the Church’s competence to ordain women.

To confect a valid sacrament, two elements must be present. Firstly, the matter (the right stuff) must be present. Secondly, the correct form (the right words and actions) must be used.

As to the matter, the material used to confect a sacrament is given by divine mandate (from Christ) and instantiated in the Church’s sacramental rites. For example, bread and wine are necessary to have a valid Eucharist. To substitute any other element would not effect the Real Presence of Christ, as Catholics aver this sacrament to be. In a similar way the proper matter for ordination to the priesthood is maleness. The Church discerns this from Scripture, the Apostolic Fathers and its unbroken (2000 year) tradition. Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the impossibility for the Church to ordain women in his 1994 Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. (For those who are interested in the Church’s rationale, it is well worth reading.)

Regarding the form of a sacrament, the Church teaches that a correct formula (words and actions) are also vital for validity. Once again, to use the example of the Eucharist, the words of institution must be the words that Jesus used─ “This is my body… This is my blood”─ to effect the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ. These words must also be spoken by a validly ordained priest. The correct formula and intention for a sacrament are so important that Anglican Orders were declared null and void by Leo XIII in Apostolicae Curae (1896) because the ritual for ordination used in the Ordinal of Edward VI (1549) left out the idea of the sacrificial nature of the priestly office in favor of a more Protestant understanding of ministry and communion. Although this formula was latter corrected by the Church of England, the Apostolic Succession of validly ordained bishops, and hence priests, was broken. Many traditional Anglican and Episcopalian bishops and priests have recognized this problem and have had themselves re-ordained by validly ordained Orthodox or schismatic bishops. Because of this break in the chain of succession when an Episcopal priest comes into the Catholic Church he may have to undergo a valid rite of ordination.

The sacraments of the Church (in this case Holy Orders) are governed by divine dictate. In this area, the Church cannot be subject to political correctness or social mores. Therefore, the ordination of a woman is not only illicit, but invalid.

Fr. Michael P. Orsi


Chaplain and Research Fellow at Ave Maria Law. Father Michael P. Orsi was ordained for the Diocese of Camden in 1976 and has a broad background in teaching and educational administration. Fr. Orsi has authored or co-authored four books and over 300 articles in more than 45 journals, magazines and newspapers. He has served as Assistant Chancellor, Assistant Vicar for Pastoral Services, Director of Family Life Bureau, and Coordinator of Pope John Paul II’s visit to New Jersey for the Diocese of Camden. He has also served as a member of The Institute for Genomic Research at the University of Pennsylvania and as a member of New Jersey’s Advisory Council on AIDS. Fr. Orsi holds a Doctorate in Education from Fordham University, two Master degrees in Theology from Saint Charles Seminary, and a Bachelor of Arts from Cathedral College. He is presently serving as Chaplain and Research Fellow in Law and Religion at Ave Maria School of Law, Naples, Florida. He is a member of the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars. In 2005 Fr. Orsi was appointed as a Senior Research Associate to the Linacre Center for Bioethics, London, England. Fr. Orsi co-hosts a weekly radio program The Advocate which discusses law and culture on WDEO-AM 990, WMAX-AM 1440 in metro Detroit and WDEO-FM 98.5 in southwest Florida [also linked at].

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  • Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say not that she would incur the penalty of excommunication, but that she already had since this was latae sententiae?

  • Florin S.

    The Bishop’s actions are pastoral in nature promoting the good of all the people of his diocese. When I read this i wondered where is the promotion of good for all people of a diocese where a ‘Catholic’ politician like Nancy Pelosi not only aggressively promotes the extermination of human babies but also mocks Catholic Bishops whenever she gets the chance – and she does these things publicly. By permitting Pelosi to continue to receive the Eucharist while publicly dissenting from Catholic teaching and urging others to do so, denying her the medicinal catalyst for conversion that could bring her into true communion with the Church. Why is the ‘priestess’ more guilty of grave moral evil but one, like Pelosi, who advances an anti Catholic, anti life, antiBishop agenda not deemed to be as guilty…Pelosi proclaims herself to be a devout Catholic in good standing and this harms the ‘good of all people of a diocese’ and causes confusion and gives fodder to the enemies of life who proclaim that since Pelosi is a Catholic in good standing then it follows that the Catholic Church does not believe that abortion is such a morally grave action. I wonder where the balance is: a woman goes through a mock ordination or a woman who promotes and advances the slaughter of millions and millions of human babies..?  P. Paul VI, Pope John Paul II, Pope Benedict and Cardinal Burke have all declared publicly that those who promote abortion publicly are not to receive Holy Communion but when Pelosi was questioned about this she declared that the Bishops are in disagreement about this and that the Catholic Church is not against abortion, ‘per se’…what does that even mean?  Where is the balance?!

  • ANNE

    Venice FL must have a more faithful Bishop than San Fransisco’s Bishop – the Diocese where Heretic Polosi is from. 
    Please refer to Heretic Polosi by her correct title which she has worked hard to earn – “HERETIC”.   For definition of heretic, please see the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” – # 2089.

  • ANNE

    Only the Pope and the Bishop from the home Diocese can excommunicate someone.  Please do not blame all Bishops for the inaction of the San Fransisco Diocese Bishop.  There should be no imbalance in any Diocese regarding abortion, euthanasia, or women priests –  All violate Church required teachings.  Code of Canon Law  QUOTE “915  Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition
    or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest
    grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.” UNQUOTE  If anyone has a Diocese Bishop who does not adhere to the faith, you should write to the Bishop with a copy to the US Papal Nuncio and to the Vatican.  Include documentation including listing the violation of the “Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition” or GIRM (General Instruction of the Roman Missal) or Code of Canon Law.  Unfortunately some Bishops do not care about the MORTAL Sin of SCANDAL while a few others such as in SFO do not.