Engendering a firestorm of criticism, their new canonical guidelines for handling and punishing the most "grave crimes" in church law revealed just how enraged the hierarchy is at women who dare to challenge them. Along with the crimes of sexually molesting children and developmentally disabled adults, and of using and distributing pornography, the Vatican listed "the attempted sacred ordination of a woman."
In other words, the two greatest problems the Catholic hierarchy faces are women and children.
In reality, this action is yet another desperate response by the Catholic hierarchy to the small but highly visible movement by Catholic women -- sisters and lay women -- to defy the church's ban on women's ordination. The first woman to publicly step up to the altar was Mary Ramerman, a wife and mother, ordained a Catholic priest in 2001 in a theater in Rochester, New York, before 3,000 jubilant supporters. A year later, seven more women were ordained, on a boat on the Danube River between Austria and Germany.
So threatening was the Danube event that one month after, Pope Benedict XVI, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, publicly denounced and excommunicated all seven women. That is a sanction he has never issued -- even now, in the new canonical guidelines -- against a single cleric who raped or sodomized a child or a single bishop who aided and abetted such crimes.
Benedict's actions have not stemmed the tide. Nearly 100 women have been ordained or are in training to be ordained through the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement, vividly documented in Jules Hart's award-winning film, Pink Smoke Over the Vatican. The new canonical guidelines call for excommunication of the ordained woman and the priest who ordains her, which is redundant, since the Vatican did that in 2007. But it also authorizes speedy recourse to the ultimate punishment for a priest: laicization, or the end of his priesthood.