Campaigners for women’s "ordination" and for the lifting of excommunications on those who have participated in the outlawed practice today attended the Jubilee Mass for priests in St. Peter’s Square, celebrated by Pope Francis.

The group of campaigners, called Women’s Ordination Worldwide, were also due to protest near the Vatican on Friday, and earlier in the week reportedly had a meeting with a Vatican official in the Secretariat of State, according to the British weekly The Tablet. The group reportedly wants to re-open dialogue in the Church. 

Pope St. John Paul II issued a definitive statement in 1994, firmly excluding the possibility of women priests. In the apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, he drew heavily on Bl. Paul VI’s 1976 similarly clear declaration on the subject, and stated that the Church “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.”

But since 2002, around 150 women have been “ordained” and all of them have been excommunicated as a result.

The continued contempt for the Church’s authority on the matter led to Cardinal William Levada, then prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, issuing a decree in 2008, stating that both a person who “attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order” would incur automatic excommunication.

Vatican officials therefore say there is no possibility whatsoever of women being ordained because it is against the faith and divine law as well as contrary to the Sacrament of Orders and therefore heretical.

The lifting of excommunications could be possible but only if those who are excommunicated no longer “persist” in the delict (against faith).

But by continuing to campaign for women’s ordination and protest against the Vatican on the issue, it suggests the delict is ongoing and therefore any lifting of the severe penalty is unlikely.

According to a Vatican official, it is possible that the Vatican could come up with a reason to lift them, such as claiming, for example, that some of those involved are “not really against the Church’s teaching”, or that it’s a “matter of interpretation”.

But he stressed that would not mean women could then be ordained, and even if the excommunications were lifted, it’s probable they would commit the delict again and then incur re-excommunication.

Furthermore, the lifting of these excommunications would not be as straightforward as that of the four bishops belonging to the Society of St. Pius X in 2009 because the Society desisted from ordaining new bishops against the Pope’s authority, an act that led to the excommunications in the first place. The SSPX were able to satisfy the Congregation for Bishops that they did not intend to contravene any truth of faith nor the authority of the Pope.

The Vatican official stressed that allowing such a campaign group to meet a Vatican official is not surprising. In fact, he said, it is to be expected. “It’s important to keep talking with such a group and keep the channels of dialogue open,” he said. “You cannot convert them if you’re not talking with them, so having such a meeting is not a bad thing in itself.” 

“Of course, considering times we’re living in, you’re always worried what's coming next,” he added, but stressed that often it’s “just the curial way of making sure things don’t escalate, that the door remains open, that channels of communications remain open. It’s a way of pricking the balloon.” 

As during the pontificate of Benedict XVI, the Vatican under Pope Francis is seeking ways of increasing women’s participation in the life of the Church but some in the Vatican are concerned that any attempt to appease such groups as Women’s Ordination Worldwide would lead to creating areas of ambiguity that could take decades to correct, and place souls in danger in the process.

The Register contacted the office of Cardinal Gerhard Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for comment on the issue and are awaiting a reply. But Pope Francis has already reiterated John Paul II's clear statement and strongly ruled out women priests. Answering a reporter's question on the issue on the way back from the United States last September, the Holy Father said

"On women priests, that cannot be done. Pope St. John Paul II after long, long intense discussions, long reflection said so clearly. Not because women don’t have the capacity. Look, in the Church women are more important than men, because the Church is a woman. It is “la” church, not “il” church. The Church is the bride of Jesus Christ. And the Madonna is more important than popes and bishops and priests. I must admit we are a bit late in an elaboration of the theology of women. We have to move ahead with that theology. Yes, that’s true."