The formalized rules were billed as the Vatican's tough new response to abuse -- now targeting priests who possess child pornography and who molest the mentally disabled.
Though abuse victims called the rules codified Thursday little more than administrative housekeeping, others were astonished at the inclusion of a new crime -- ordaining women priests -- subject to the same procedures and punishments as sex abuse.
Although the Vatican said the two were not the same, calling abuse "more grave," the mere association sparked outrage.
Bridget Mary Meehan is one of five American women ordained bishops as part of a Catholic reform initiative called the Roman Catholic Womenpriests. She became a womanbishop in 2009 and serves in Florida and Virginia.
"They're equating both as criminal acts; therefore, this is an example of misogyny and patriarchy and really taking on women as the enemy in the church," she said.
Pope Benedict does not support the ordination of women. In 2007, the Vatican issued a decree saying that the attempted ordination of women would result in the automatic excommunication for the woman and the priest trying to ordain her. The new document now adds that the priest also can be defrocked.
Meehan now faces excommunication, though the Vatican does not recognize the Womenpriests movement.
"The idea that women seeking to spread the message of God somehow defiles the Eucharist reveals an antiquated, backward church that still views women as unclean and unholy," said Erin Saiz Hanna, executive director of the Women's Ordination Conference, a U.S.-based organization that works to ordain women as priests, deacons and bishops.
Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's sex crimes prosecutor, defended the inclusion of sex abuse and the ordination of women in the same document.
"An attempted ordination of a woman is grave, but on another level," he said. "It is a wound. It is an attempt against the Catholic faith on the sacrament of holy orders [the priesthood]. So they are grave but on different levels."
Some argue the Vatican is pushing back against suggestions that the solution to the abuse crisis is to open up the priesthood and allow men to marry.
"Celibacy is not the problem," said Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington, D.C. "For those who want to couple the two ... I think that's more an agenda of theirs than a reality of the situation."
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.