MADRID - The ordination of women as Roman Catholic priests has been made a "crime against the faith" by the Vatican and subject to discipline by its watchdog.
The new rules issued yesterday put attempts at ordaining women among the "most serious crimes" alongside paedophilia and will be handled by investigators from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, considered the successor to the Inquisition.
Women attempting to be priests, and those who try to ordain them, already faced automatic excommunication but the new decree enshrines the action as "a crime against sacraments". The unexpected ruling follows the Pope's welcome to Anglican clergy dissatisfied with its General Synod attempts to compromise over calls for the ordination of women as bishops. Under current plans, the first women bishops could be ordained in the Anglican Church by 2014.
A group of 70 disgruntled clergy met a Catholic bishop last Sunday to discuss plans to defect to the Roman Catholic Church and hundreds are said to be poised for an exodus to Rome.
This year three bishops went to the Vatican to talk over an offer made by Pope Benedict XVI, inviting disillusioned Anglicans to convert to Catholicism, while still keeping tenets of their own faith. Within the Catholic Church there have been growing calls to allow women to become priests in the wake of the widespread paedophilia scandal.
Women priests have been allowed by the Anglicans since 1992.
But the Vatican made its stance clear yesterday by comparing such actions to child-abuse crimes and issuing new rules for investigating by the same disciplinary body.
Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, underscored how the ordination of women is "a crime against sacraments", while paedophilia should be considered a "crime against morals" and both would fall under the jurisdiction of the CDF.
The organisation, which was once known as the Holy Office of the Inquisition, was previously headed by the Pope when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
- Telegraph Group Ltd