Women who are ordained as priests will now incur automatic excommunication according to a new decree published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Adelaide Now reports the decree was published in the Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano, giving it immediate effect.
A Vatican spokesman said the decree made the Church's existing ban on women priests more explicit by clarifying that excommunication would follow all such ordinations.
Fr Tom Reese, a senior fellow at the Woodstock Theological Centre at Georgetown University, told reporters he thought the decree was meant to send a warning to the growing number of Catholics who favour admitting women to the priesthood.
"I think the reason they're doing this is that they've realised there is more and more support among Catholics for ordaining women, and they want to make clear that this is a no-no," Fr Reese said.
Excommunication is usually "ferendae sententiae", imposed as punishment.
But some offences, including heresy, schism, and laying violent hands on the Pope, are considered so disruptive of ecclesiastical life that they trigger automatic excommunication, or "latae sententiae."
The decree says that women priests and the bishops who ordain them would be excommunicated "latae sententiae."AGI News translates the text of the decree as follows: "The Congregation for Religious Doctrine, to protect the nature and validity of the sacrament of the holy order, in virtue of the special faculty to be consecrated by the supreme authority decrees that both the one trying to consecrate a woman in the holy order, and the woman who has tried to receive the holy order, will be excommunicated 'latae sententiae', reserved to the Apostolic See."
The text continues that "if he who has tried to consecrate a woman in the holy order or if the woman who has tried to receive the holy order is a faithful subject of the Code of the Rules of the Oriental Churches, he or she will be punished by excommunication, pardon can only be given by the Apostolic See." The decree, specifies the former Holy See, "will come into immediate force from the moment of publication in the 'Osservatore Romano'".
Vatican to excommunicate women priests (Adelaide Now, 30/5/08)
Vatican: Automatic excommunication for women priests (AGI News, 29/5/08)
Congregation for Doctrine of the Faith - General Decree on the delict of ordaining women (L'Osservatore Roman, 30/5/08)(Italian)