Reply to Edward Peters on the Excommunication of Norma Jean Coon

Norma Jean Coon, formerly associated with the organization called ‘Roman Catholic Women Priests’ (RCWP), has repented of her past claimed ordination to the deaconate, and has returned to full communion with the Catholic Church. The CDF and her local Bishop have acknowledged that there are not, at the present time, any sanctions (interdict or excommunication) against her. The Church has always welcomed repentant sinners back to the fold of the flock.

However, an interesting question has been raised by Canon Edward Peters in his post Norma Jean Coon, excommunication, reconciliation, and the National Catholic Reporter and in this follow-up post Varia: Coon’s sanctions, Ferraro’s funeral, and Corapi’s case. Peters questions whether Coon was ever excommunicated under Canon Law, since the Canon that excommunicates anyone who invalidly attempt to ordain a woman, and the woman who invalidly attempts to receive it, was established subsequent to her particular invalid attempted reception of ordination [decree].

Peters: “On the one hand, Canon 1378, as it applied when Coon underwent her ‘ordination’ in July of 2007, did not criminalize the simulation of holy Orders, let alone did it impose an automatic excommunication for such simulation. The automatic excommunication for the attempted ordination of women that canon law knows today did not go into effect until May 2008, some ten months after Coon’s deed.”

In my view, Norma Jean Coon was automatically excommunicated when she invalidly attempted to receive the Sacrament of Holy Orders. At the time of that act, Canon Law contained a sentence of automatic excommunication (latae sententiae) for heresy and schism:

Canon 751: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

Canon 1364 §1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication.”

The organization that calls itself ‘Roman Catholic Women Priests’ (RCWP) is a schismatic organization. RCWP claims to be run by women bishops and women priests. They invalidly attempt the ordination of women as bishops, priests, and deacons. Their alleged bishops are not in communion with the Holy See, nor with any of the faithful Bishops of the Church. This organization is in a state of formal schism, as well as heresy.

By invalidly attempting to receive Holy Orders from a woman leader of RCWP, Coon committed formal schism from the Church. She therefore incurred automatic excommunication for the sin of schism. She may well have committed formal schism prior to that act, by formally joining RCWP, even apart from invalid attempted ordination.

In addition, by invalidly attempting to receive Holy Orders from a woman in RCWP who claims to be a Bishop, she was publicly expressing the sin of formal heresy, by her obstinate refusal to believe the infallible teaching of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium that the true Church lacks the authority to ordain women to the priesthood, and therefore also to the Episcopate (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, n. 4). In other words, her public act revealed her firm heretical belief that a woman can be an ordained Bishop. The teaching of the Magisterium that women cannot be ordained as priests or bishops is infallible under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. It is one of those teachings that must be believed with divine and catholic faith (Vatican I, chap. 3, n. 8; Canon 750). So she was automatically excommunicated for the sin of formal heresy also.

This sentence of automatic excommunication for apostasy, heresy, and schism is in Canon Law. But under the eternal moral law, these three types of sin inherently excommunicate the sinner from the Church, even if there were (and when there was) no such Canonical penalty. The very nature of each of these sins (apostasy, heresy, schism), committed with full knowledge and full deliberation by any baptized Catholic Christian, necessarily cuts the sinner off from the Church. These are the only three sins that inherently excommunicate the sinner, apart from Canon Law. The very nature of each of these sins separates the sinner from communion with the Church because each of these sins is a direct grave sin against that communion. So even if there were no such penalty in Canon Law, Coon would still have been excommunicated under the eternal moral law.

More on the question of heresy, women’s ordination, and excommunication

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