Former nun has priesthood plans
This article was reported
by Tim O'Brien
on June 2, 2013 for Albany Times Union.
MENANDS - Mary Theresa Streck has lived a life according to the principles of her Roman Catholic faith.
For 18 years, she was nun in the order of Sisters of St. Joseph. While living in the Taylor Apartments in Troy, ministering to its low-income residents, she asked to be let out of her vows to marry Jay Murnane, who was released from his service as a priest.
Together, they continued their ministry for 20 years, still guided by faith to run the Ark, an after-school art program there, and to launch the Ark Community Charter School in Troy to continue to work with children struggling with issues caused by poverty. Though it is a public school where religion cannot be taught, Streck said, it is guided by her principles.
Widowed nine years ago, and now at 65 looking to wind down her education career, Streck still feels pulled by faith. This time, the step she is about to take may cause her to be excommunicated from the church she loves: This fall, she will join a group of women who say they have been legitimately ordained Roman Catholic priests.
"This is a continuation of a lifetime path," she said. "It's not like I woke up and said 'Now I'd like to pursue a life of ministry.'"
On June 22, Streck will travel to Falls Church, Va., to be ordained a deacon by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. She will follow that step this fall by being ordained a priest by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan in Albany.
"The movement started in 2002 with seven women being ordained," said Meehan, who is based in Florida. Now there are more than 150 in the United States, Europe, Canada and South America. While the Vatican says only men can be priests, the association claims its ordinations are valid.
The first group of female bishops, they say, were ordained by a Roman Catholic bishop. Meehan said his name will be revealed upon his death.
"The ordinations are valid but they are against canon law," Meehan said.
Some priests who have publicly advocated ordaining women have been removed from their posts. Roy Bourgeois was expelled from the priesthood last year for attending Janice Sevre-Duszynska's 2008 ordination in Lexington, Ky.
Streck attends St. Vincent DePaul Church in Albany, where a female administrator serves as parish life director and fills all the roles of pastor except performing sacraments.
Other women feel called to the priesthood, Streck said, but she is positioned to take the step.
"I am not going to lose my pension if I do this. I am not going to lose my job to do this," she said. "For me, it's a joyous passage."
The Rev. Kenneth Doyle, chancellor for public information for the Albany diocese, said women play valuable roles in the church but are not recognized as priests. Some two dozen women are running parishes as parish life directors, he said.
"There is no tradition for women priests in the Catholic Church. As popes have regularly stated, there is no theological basis for a woman to be ordained a priest," he said. "Women play other prominent roles in the church but have never been ordained to the priesthood."
Meehan argues there is no theological basis for barring women from the priesthood, and they were ordained in the church's earliest years.
She said Mary Magdelene, the first person to see the risen Jesus Christ, was long viewed as the "apostle to the apostles." Junia, a woman in the Bible's Book of Romans, is also referred to as "outstanding among the apostles."
The church considers a woman who accepts ordination as having excommunicated herself, Doyle said. While the person is not supposed to take communion, he said, it is unlikely a priest or eucharistic minister would withhold it.
Since their ordinations are not recognized, women cannot say Mass in Catholic churches. Instead, some hold services in other churches' buildings, while some say Mass in their own homes as Streck intends to do in her house in Menands.
Steve Powers leads the upstate chapter of Call to Action, a group of Catholics that supports allowing women to become priests. The organization will lead a "witness for women" at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 8, outside the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception during the ordination of a new Catholic priest. They support the man being ordained but advocate allowing women to become priests too.
"We are just thrilled Mary Theresa has started to go on this path," Powers said. "Catholics are looking for spiritual leadership, and these women are providing it."
Why not seek to change the church's view before accepting ordination?
"I don't want to wait another 400 or 500 years," Streck said. "I don't put myself on a par with Rosa Parks, but if she hadn't sat down in the front of the bus, black people would still be sitting in the back. If suffragettes didn't fight for the right to vote, women probably wouldn't be able to vote. I've had people ask 'Why don't you become an Anglican priest?' And I say because I am not Anglican. I am a Roman Catholic."
ARCWP Ordains Debra Meyers as Roman Catholic Woman Priest in First Cincinnati Ordination
CINCINNATI - On Saturday, May 25, 2013, Debra Meyers of Batavia, Ohio was ordained a priest in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan. She was the first woman ordained in Cincinnati. The ceremony took place at St. John's Unitarian Universalist Church which was filled with enthusiastic supporters of the women priest movement. During Justin Meyers' emotional presentation of his mother, he talked about her lifelong devotion to her family, her community, the poor and the marginalized. Paul Tenkotte, Chair of the Department of History and Gender Studies at Northern Kentucky University, praised Dr. Meyers for her promotion of gender justice and women's empowerment.
In her homily, Bridget Mary spoke about the Samaritan woman at the well. "Jesus offered a profound example of Gospel equality that shocked his male apostles then, and continues to shock today -- especially the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Today, God is calling women to be leaders in the church proclaiming freedom and equality in ways that will liberate and heal us from the bondage of sexism and patriarchy."
After Bridget Mary laid hands on Debra in the official ordination rite, the entire community was invited to do the same as the MUSE Choir of Cincinnati sang "Dona Nobis Pacem". Debra and all the priests present co-celebrated Eucharist with Bishop Meehan and the entire assembly.
Newly ordained ARCWP priest Debra plans to celebrate Eucharist at the three-year-old inclusive woman-priest-led Resurrection Community in Cincinnati. Her plans also include outreach to young women who are interested in a renewed priestly ministry in the Roman Catholic Church.
Group to ordain the first female Catholic priest in Cincinnati
This article was reported
by German Lopez
on May 22, 2013 for City Beat.com.
DEBRA MYERS ~ Photo credit: Jesse Fox
CINCINNATI - Despite strong Vatican opposition, one group is preparing to ordain Cincinnati’s first Roman Catholic woman priest on May 25.
The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) already ordained a woman priest in Louisville, Ky., and it’s hoping to carry the movement around the country, including Cincinnati.
The Vatican and local Catholic leaders oppose the movement, and the ordination isn’t technically legal under the Catholic Church’s rules. But ARCWP says its ordinations put pressure on the Vatican to pull back rules that are keeping it in the past.
Locally, Debra Meyers will be ordained as the first Catholic woman priest. Meyers holds a Ph.D. in history and women’s studies and a master’s in religious studies. She is currently a professor of history and women’s studies at Northern Kentucky University, and she also serves the Resurrection Community in Cincinnati where she promotes equality and social justice. For Meyers, this is a chance to break the glass ceiling and prove women can take up the highest roles in Catholic organizations, which she says is a necessary next step for the Church to keep up with the times.
CityBeat interviewed Meyers about her ordination. The full interview, edited here for clarity and brevity, is available below.
CityBeat: What led to this ordination?
Debra Meyers: I have been a minister for a very long time. My primary focus is single moms with children. One of the reasons is that single mothers and their children make up a vast majority of the impoverished people in the United States today. Without an education — an associate or bachelor’s degree at the very minimum — a woman can’t find a job for a living wage, as opposed to some men who take jobs in construction that don’t require as much of an education.
One of my jobs as an adviser was to make sure that single moms have an opportunity to get an education and break out of this cycle of poverty. My dedication to this particular group has extended to my many volunteer activities. So I’ve been a minister for a long time, and ARCWP offers me an opportunity to solidify what I’m doing.
CB: What is ARCWP’s main goal?
DM: I think that ARCWP is really interested in fulfilling what Jesus Christ promised us, what Paul and the New Testament promised us and certainly what the Vatican II promised us, which is that we were all made in the likes of God and we are all qualified to be prophets, priests and shepherds in this world.
In that view, women are created with equal ability and should be allowed to answer God’s call with equal relevance as men do.
That’s really what we’re all about: We’re just looking for equality for women so that they’re not just second-class citizens that are just washing dishes. We are in fact called by God to do some of the things men are doing. We have the right to fulfill that calling.
CB: Why do you think Vatican officials have been resistant to this movement?
DM: Certainly, the Vatican as an entity has a lot to preserve. It’s been a male-dominated organization from the start. By allowing women in with equal footing, that really disrupts a lot of the male domination that’s been going on.
It also would really press the Vatican to fulfill the promise of Vatican II. That is to be inclusive and welcoming of everyone, which the Church hasn’t done a very good job of in the past 60 years.
CB: Of what other groups do you think the Vatican could be more inclusive, besides women?
DM: The Church should take the message forward — that Jesus didn’t exclude anyone. He welcomed everyone to the table. He welcomed everyone to be part of the faithful group. He welcomed everyone into the New Covenant.
What was promised by God, and all He was asking from all of us, was to love one another. That means everyone, whether you’re gay, lesbian, white or black. It’s an inclusive idea that welcomes every single person that wants to partake.
That’s really another thing that ARCWP is very interested in: helping the Church [understand] that it’s heading down the wrong path by excluding people.
CB: So this group could help cover more than women, and it could help other groups that feel left out, such as LGBT individuals?
DM: Absolutely. For the most part, there’s been a real feeling of alienation for a lot of Roman Catholics because most of us have gay relatives, gay friends and women who have been called by God and been excluded from ordination. We all know people like that. We know nuns that are doing fabulous work, and they’re being pressured to conform to certain things from the Vatican as well.
We’re all beginning to question the exclusiveness of the traditional Roman Catholic Church. All we’re saying is we’re Catholic, we want the Church to really embrace the idea that the congregants are the Church and we really believe in Jesus’ message of the inclusion of everyone.
CB: Recently, a Catholic school teacher was fired for getting pregnant out of wedlock. How do you feel about that kind of situation?
DM: We ought not to be judgmental. There needs to be room for healing above all else. When people are in an environment where they find themselves in difficult positions, they need help; they don’t need judgment.
CB: What do you feel personally qualifies you for this ordination and movement?
DM: As I mentioned before, I’ve been ministering to a variety of people for a very long time as a professor, adviser and social worker at volunteer organizations. But I’ve also had, in addition to my other degrees, a religious studies degree with an emphasis in pastoral care. That certainly qualifies me for this position.
But I got all this experience prior to even knowing about ARCWP. I got it on my own because it was the right thing to do. I was called by God to work for God’s people.
CB: What will your ordination change about your personal position?
DM: I don’t think it’s going to change me all that much. I think it is good for me to be a visual example particularly for women about the promise of a more inclusive Church. It helps women know that they really do have the quality, and they don’t have to suppress it. When they’re called by God, here are examples of how they can fulfill God’s love.
It may open up new doors and possibilities to reach people, and that’s my real hope. This isn’t some kind of stunt or anything. I really do believe in this.
CB: Anything else you’d like to add?
DM: People that are really critical of this movement: I would ask them to really think about how important it is to love our neighbors and love the diversity of our neighbors. Allow people when they are called by God to fulfill that calling. They’re being called to fulfill the greater good, not themselves. For people try to quash that progressive movement forward is really shameful.
Kentucky woman ordained as priest in defiance of Roman Catholic Church
This article was reported
by Mary Wisniewski
on April 27, 2013 for REUTERS.
LOUISVILLE - In an emotional ceremony filled with tears and applause, a 70-year-old Kentucky woman was ordained a priest on Saturday as part of a dissident group operating outside of official Roman Catholic Church authority.
Rosemarie Smead is one of about 150 women around the world who have decided not to wait for the Roman Catholic Church to lift its ban on women priests, but to be ordained and start their own congregations.
In an interview before the ceremony, Smead said she is not worried about being excommunicated from the Church - the fate of other women ordained outside of Vatican law.
"It has no sting for me," said Smead, a petite, gray-haired former Carmelite nun with a ready hug for strangers. "It is a Medieval bullying stick the bishops used to keep control over people and to keep the voices of women silent. I am way beyond letting octogenarian men tell us how to live our lives."
The ordination of women as priests, along with the issues of married priests and birth control, represents one of the big divides between U.S. Catholics and the Vatican hierarchy. Seventy percent of U.S. Catholics believe that women should be allowed to be priests, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll earlier this year.
The former pope, Benedict XVI, reaffirmed the Catholic Church's ban on women priests and warned that he would not tolerate disobedience by clerics on fundamental teachings. Male priests have been stripped of their holy orders for participating in ordination ceremonies for women.
In a statement last week, Louisville Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz called the planned ceremony by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests a "simulated ordination" in opposition to Catholic teaching.
"The simulation of a sacrament carries very serious penal sanctions in Church law, and Catholics should not support or participate in Saturday's event," Kurtz said.
The Catholic Church teaches that it has no authority to allow women to be priests because Jesus Christ chose only men as his apostles. Proponents of a female priesthood said Jesus was acting only according to the customs of his time.
They also note that he chose women, like Mary Magdalene, as disciples, and that the early Church had women priests, deacons and bishops.
The ceremony, held at St. Andrew United Church of Christ in Louisville, was attended by about 200 men and women. Many identified themselves to a Reuters reporter as Catholics, but some declined to give their names or their churches.
'NEW ERA OF INCLUSIVITY'
The modern woman priest movement started in Austria in 2002, when seven women were ordained by the Danube River by an independent Catholic bishop. Other women were later ordained as bishops, who went on to ordain more women priests and deacons.
"As a woman priest, Rosemarie is leading, not leaving the Catholic Church, into a new era of inclusivity," said Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan during her sermon Saturday. "As the Irish writer James Joyce reminded us, the word 'Catholic' means 'Here comes everybody!'"
Smead had to leave the rigorous Carmelite life due to health reasons, and earned a bachelor's degree in theology and a doctorate in counseling psychology. She taught at Indiana University for 26 years, and works as a couples and family therapist.
During the ordination ceremony, Smead wept openly as nearly everyone in the audience came up and laid their hands on her head in blessing. Some whispered, "Thanks for doing this for us."
During the communion service, Smead and other woman priests lifted the plates and cups containing the sacramental bread and wine to bless them.
A woman in the audience murmured, "Girl, lift those plates. I've been waiting a long time for this."
One of those attending the service was Stewart Pawley, 32, of Louisville, who said he was raised Catholic and now only attends on Christmas and Easter. But he said he would attend services with Smead when she starts to offer them in Louisville.
"People like me know it's something the Catholic Church will have to do," said Pawley.
(Editing by Tim Gaynor and Mohammad Zargham)
Group to ordain woman as priest in Kentucky
This article, reported
by Peter Smith,
appeared in the April 21, 2013 issue of the The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal.
Rosemarie Smead admits her action is a flagrant defiance of Roman Catholic law.
LOUISVILLE - Rosemarie Smead sees herself as preparing all her life for the step she's about to take.
She was brought up a devout Catholic. She lived for a short time as a cloistered nun. She has theology and counseling degrees. She marched for civil rights in Selma, Ala. -- then worked with troubled children there for years. She forged a career as an Indiana University Southeast professor, training school counselors.
Now the petite 70-year-old from Bedford, Ky., is preparing for what she freely admits is a flagrant defiance of Roman Catholic law -- specifically Canon 1024, which restricts the priesthood to baptized men.
On Saturday, Smead is scheduled to be ordained by the dissident Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. The service will take place in a Protestant sanctuary.
It will be the first such ordination in Louisville by the decade-old Women Priests group, which has been holding such services around the world.
"It's illegal, but it's valid," said Smead. "In order to challenge this law, we have to break it."
National and Kentucky polls have shown around two-thirds of all Catholics -- but a minority of those who frequently attend Mass -- support ordaining women. But church leaders insist that public opinion won't alter Catholic doctrine.
"Despite the name, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests is not an entity of the Roman Catholic Church or the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville," Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said in a statement. "Its action in carrying out a simulated ordination of Dr. Rosemarie Smead stands in direct opposition to the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on the priesthood."
Kurtz said the "simulation of a sacrament carries very serious penal sanctions in Church law, and Catholics should not support or participate."
In 2008, the Vatican stated that any woman who attempts ordination, and anyone seeking to confer it on her, faces automatic excommunication.
The association's 2008 ordination of a Lexington, Ky., woman, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, led to the defrocking of a Roman Catholic priest who took a prominent role in the ceremony.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says Jesus chose men as his apostles and that they chose men as their successors.
"The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord Himself. For this reason, the ordination of women is not possible," it says.
In the face of such opposition, Smead admits she hesitated to seek ordination at a retirement age, a decision "that would require me to have a great deal of courage and to stand up to the dudes."
But, she added, "I have never been a stay-in-the-box person. Because of my relationship with God, I have no fear of excommunication."
The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests traces its roots to 2002 and says it has ordained about 100 women priests worldwide, including several bishops, many leading small congregations independent from Vatican authority.
Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the association said its first bishops were ordained by a Roman Catholic bishop whose name has not been disclosed, giving them valid orders in the line of succession from the apostles.
Advocates for women's ordination contend there is evidence in ancient texts, burial art and other sources that early churches ordained women.
"We're reclaiming that earlier tradition," said Meehan, who will preside at Smead's ordination. She also cited gospel accounts of Jesus first appearing to women after his resurrection and telling them to bring the good news to others.
"That's the meaning of the word apostle, (one commissioned to) go and tell," she said.
Meehan said Smead has had "a lifelong call" to serving others and that ordination "would enhance and expand her ministry."
Smead attended Catholic schools while growing up in Ohio in the 1940s and 1950s. She said she felt a call to serve God and others, but the notion of a woman priest was never discussed then.
"I felt like the best thing I could possibly be is a contemplative nun in a monastery," Smead said.
She spent about three years at a Carmelite convent but left after her health broke down. "We went to bed at 11 o'clock at night. We got up at 4:30 in the morning," she said. "I could not deal with the sleep deprivation."
Eventually she went to Marquette University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in theology. In 1965, she and fellow students took part in the historic march through Selma in support of the Rev. Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists.
After a brief marriage, Smead began working toward a doctorate in counseling psychology at Auburn University while starting a clinic in nearby Montgomery, Ala., for children with severe learning disabilities and emotional problems.
She later returned to Selma to direct a treatment program for juvenile delinquents.
"They were lost in the system, but we took them," she said.
Seeking to train others in similar work, she became professor of counseling education at IUS in New Albany in 1981 and published how-to textbooks on group therapy for children.
Heart attacks in the 1990s prompted Smead to scale back her stressful regimen of teaching, publishing and conference travel. She pursued a new avocation -- raising Australian shepherds and bringing them to dog shows, then training children on how to do the same. Smead retired from IUS in 2007.
"All this time I was going to my Catholic church on Sundays, following what I believe is my spiritual life," she said.
But, she added, "doing couples counseling and family counseling for 40 years, you get pretty darn liberal. ... I've counseled so many women who would come in crying. They had six kids, and the husband and the priest were saying, 'Sorry, you cannot use birth control,' when she was at her wit's end."
When Smead learned about Bourgeois' plight, she looked up the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests online.
She contacted members, began attending its meetings in Cincinnati and was urged to apply for ordination. She said that was an answer to her prayer for direction after retirement.
"I'm in good health," she said. "I'm not going to sit on my duff. I never have. I need to be giving back."
Smead took correspondence courses in theology and was ordained a deacon by the association last fall.
Many women priests host small churches, as Smead has begun doing in recent months, calling it Christ Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community. Starting May 11, she'll be leading monthly services, using space at St. Andrew.
St. Andrew's pastor, the Rev. Jimmy Watson, said hosting the service was natural for a congregation that welcomes openly gay members and whose denomination was a pioneer in ordaining women.
"These acts reflect the United Church of Christ's extravagant sense of hospitality and inclusion," Watson said.
PHOTOS CREDIT: Michael Clevenger, The (Louisville, Ky.) Courier-Journal)
'Collisions with clericalism' put woman on path to ordination
This article, reported
by Jason Berry,
appeared in the November 10, 2012 issue of the National Catholic Reporter.
ATLANTA - Diane Dougherty, 67, who has short silver hair and stands barely 5 feet tall, became a fleeting media sensation Oct. 20 with her ordination in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.
The forces that drove Dougherty to profess priestly vows are a parable of today's church, as divided in America as in Europe, where 144 theologians in Germany, Austria and Switzerland signed a 2011 declaration defying Pope Benedict XVI in support of women's ordination. Dougherty, who spent 23 years as a nun earlier in her life, followed a pull of conscience to "the same basic calling" in violation of church law.
Five other women, well along the road of middle life, were ordained as deacons in the same Mass held at First Metropolitan Community Church, which historically serves gays and lesbians. Bridget Mary Meehan, a bishop affiliated with the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, came from her home in Virginia to preside. About 300 people attended, among them relatives of the newly ordained, a few scampering grandchildren; groups from Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Kentucky and Louisiana; 15 other women priests in the movement; and two women in black robes of the Episcopal clergy.
The ceremony was the latest held by the association. Since 2004 when a male bishop, who has remained anonymous, ordained seven women on a ship in the middle of the Danube River, about 100 women have joined the movement in America and about 150 worldwide. Unlike the male hierarchy, the association is decentralized. The women hold liturgies in homes, on college campuses and in non-Catholic sacred spaces; they have small teaching and outreach ministries.
The official church has not accepted them. "I can say I'm the queen of England and it doesn't make it so," Mercy Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI have banned even the discussion of women priests. Benedict has said John Paul's prohibition on women priests is infallible teaching, though some church scholars dispute it.
In 2007, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith declared: "One who attempts to confer sacred ordination on a woman, and she who attempts to receive sacred ordination, incurs a latae sententiae excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See."
"It means that excommunication takes place immediately," New Jersey canon lawyer Fr. Kenneth Lasch told NCR.
"There is a hitch, though," said canonist Dominican Fr. Tom Doyle. "Automatic excommunication basically means that it is not publicized. Only the excommunicated one knows it for sure and is obliged in conscience to observe the penalty. … Most of the women priests I have helped were concerned [about the excommunication] and then got to the point -- a healthy one, I think -- where it did not matter."
The same Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith document singles out clerics who molest children "to be punished according to the gravity of his crime, not excluding dismissal" from the priesthood. In 2006 the Vatican ordered the Legion of Christ founder, Fr. Marcial Maciel Degollado, a notorious pedophile who fathered children with two women, to "a reserved life of prayer and penitence." Maciel, who died in 2008, was never excommunicated.
The Legion, which now functions under a unique Vatican receivership, faces a lawsuit in Connecticut over alleged incest by Maciel. Another lawsuit in Rhode Island, accusing the order of defrauding a widow of $60 million, was recently dismissed; the complainant is considering an appeal.
With the Legion selling real estate in the Northeast, Atlanta has become its most important geographic center in the U.S. Fr. Luis Garza, who was formerly the vicar general and second in command in Rome, is listed on the Atlanta roster as "territorial director" for North America. Legion priests run the archdiocesan retreat center, a school and a parish. Regnum Christi is active in many Atlanta parishes. Under Archbishop John Donoghue's 1993-2004 tenure, Regnum Christi members staffed key archdiocesan offices.
In 1997, the Atlanta archdiocese hired Dougherty as director of early childhood/elementary catechesis. She soon recoiled from Regnum Christi's tactics of psychological coercion and its enormous focus on fundraising and the luring of wealthy supporters.
She sought help from Atlanta priests, to no avail. In summer courses at Boston College for a master's in theology, she wrote papers detailing the steamroller tactics. She wrote memos to Atlanta priests raising alarm bells.
She lost her job in 2001 under a restructuring by the senior administrator, a Regnum Christi deacon who has since retired. Documents Dougherty provided NCR confirm that she negotiated a 14-week severance check and letters of recommendation.
The archdiocese's director of human resources, Zoe A. Johnson, was sacked not long after Dougherty. She wrote Dougherty in 2003: "So many have suffered because of this tyrannical administration." The letter from Johnson, who has since died, continues:
Fear dictates actions and decisions. The pleas of help I received regarding dismissals subsequent to my [departure] are astonishing. My sincere sympathy goes out to those wonderful people whose futures and faith have been shattered. I pray the blood-bath is over. … The administration and fundraisers have brazenly deceived the Catholic community.
Donoghue retired in 2004 and died last year. Wilton Gregory succeeded him as Atlanta archbishop.
With a master's degree in education and years of experience as a teaching nun, Dougherty landed a job as a Georgia public school teacher in 2001. Last year, she retired on Social Security and a modest pension from the Georgia schools. After the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests correspondence courses and personal sessions with leaders of the movement, she moved toward ordination.
Dougherty grew up in a large family in Painesville, Ohio. "Dad quit school in eighth grade. He worked on a railroad and in his brother's bar," she recalled. "Mother graduated high school. They pounded into our heads: Get an education. I sang the Latin Mass in choir. My two sisters and I had scholarships for high school at Villa Angela Academy in Cleveland -- 60 miles, three buses each day. I had Ursulines there, but when I graduated I joined the Sisters of Humility, who taught me in elementary school. They were happy, they laughed." When she was laid out with a back injury at age 14, making up lessons at home, those were the nuns who visited her.
She entered the Sisters of Humility convent in Villa Maria, Pa., in the fall of 1963, a year after the opening of the Second Vatican Council. "I'd never experienced an atmosphere so bright and intellectually stimulating," she continued. "The process of change had begun before I got there. The nuns wanted a renewed community. There was lots of conversation with sisters who did not want to change. We studied, prayed and voted, reaching a consensus" for greater social outreach.
She attended St. John's College in Cleveland, and in 1967 she began teaching at a largely white, blue-collar parish, Blessed Sacrament, with 48 students in a class. "They were very tough children. Two years later I went to a parish in Bay Village [Ohio], which was middle to upper class, with only 37 children in the class. The contrast was amazing."
The sisters at Blessed Sacrament, she recalled, "were my mentors. I was the youngest nun at 23, the oldest was 37. We visited the homes of children if needs arose."
Of the 25 women with whom she made final vows, five are left. Several died; most, like Dougherty, became disenchanted and left.
In summers off from teaching she earned a master's degree in education with extra courses in counseling, dyslexia and family education. After five years of parish work in Pittsburgh, in 1980 she went back to her hometown and her old parish grade school, St. Mary's. One night a teacher showed up at the door of the four nuns, asking for a meal. "Her salary didn't cover enough at the end of the month to eat," Dougherty said. "The pastor hired two teachers with far less experience but was paying them more than other teachers in the school with more experience. ... He said if we didn't like his decision, we could leave."
The sisters' superior appealed to Cleveland Bishop Anthony Pilla, arguing that the pastor failed to follow the diocesan salary scale, to no avail. After a 107-year history at the parish, the sisters left. "Parishioners were upset with us for leaving but we could not tell them why -- a devastating lesson about power," Dougherty said.
She went back to Blessed Sacrament in Cleveland, which had become a magnet for Mexican and Salvadoran immigrants, in a community of 11 socially conscious nuns. The sister doing Hispanic ministry ran afoul the pastor. "It was a collision of class and culture, clerics and sisters," Dougherty said. "People who donated to the parish did not want the ministry." The pastor ordered the nun in Hispanic ministry to leave. All 11 left in solidarity.
In 1983, Dougherty took a job as a family life minister in Lithia Springs, Ga., organizing religious education. Then the priest who hired her was transferred; the new pastor resisted the idea of lay leadership. As people resigned, he offered Dougherty a contract, but she refused. "His actions were simply too harsh toward dedicated laypeople," she said.
The impact of three trampling pastors caused her to leave religious life in 1987. "My superior and I wept," she recalled. "I told her that my first 12 years as a sister were happy, working for institutions the nuns operated. Then I had to work for priests and had no voice: The parish belonged to the pastor. Sisters of Humility of Mary revised their constitution under Vatican II and Rome approved. We were a Gospel voice to people we served."
In 1987 she moved to Marietta, Ga., working in a progressive parish as a teacher and family life minister. She flourished. In 1997, the Atlanta archdiocese hired her to oversee catechism and early childhood classes.
In 1999, the archdiocese sold a private Catholic school, Donnellan, to the Legionaries for $8 million. Gerald Renner reported about the Legion's takeover of the Atlanta school for NCR in 2000. Four Donnellan staffers were fired for resisting the Legion methodology. Police marched them from their offices during school hours. The guidance counselor had refused Legion Fr. John Hopkins' order "to report on confidential conversations she had with students" and "to provide Hopkins with weekly lists of meetings with students and tell him what they said," Renner wrote.
The ex-employees sued, eventually settling out of court. As many parents withdrew their children, the renamed Holy Spirit Academy nevertheless enjoyed resurgent attendance, thanks to Regnum Christi fundraising.
As Donoghue gave the Legion and Regnum Christi greater authority in his archdiocese, Dougherty saw people around her getting fired or leaving under duress.
It was that "series of collisions with clericalism, a culture I didn't know existed," that put Dougherty on the path to the priesthood, she told NCR. "I have priest friends, very good men, passionate about the church, who would never mistreat people. But if you take someone's son, and put him in that clerical culture, he becomes less human.
"When I was put in my role as a young nun, I was put back into humanity. We were expected to grow with humanity as people of God; God is part of all of us. Clericalism is a spreading virus, an internal illness in the body of the church that affects the well-meaning clerics who are forced against their consciences to go along with what they know is wrong. Women's ordination is a prime example. Many priests will not even enter into a discussion because the pope says no. Their underlying fear is loss of pension, their good name, no place to go in clerical society. They are loaded with fears."
On Oct. 20, the women who gathered in Atlanta professed their vows and family members and members of the community laid hands upon them.
"Fifty years ago I walked with Pope John XXIII," said the new priest to the people gathered. "I am Diane Dougherty and the doors of our church and clergy are open for all."
Cowetan to be ordained today in Atlanta
This article, reported
by W. Winston Skinner,
appeared in the October 20, 2012 issue of the Atlanta, Georgia Times-Herald.
Photo by W. Winston Skinner
Diane Dougherty holds the beautiful
vestments - stitched by women in South
America - that she will wear for her
A fleeting shadow of sadness crosses Diane Dougherty's face as she reflects that she will no longer be able to take communion when she visits her sister.
Dougherty will not be allowed to participate in communion in the Catholic parish where she grew up and was nurtured spiritually. To do so would risk a rebuff from the priest – or trouble for the priest if he gave her a eucharistic wafer.
If there are moments of sadness, however, Dougherty remains resolute – joyful even. Today she will be ordained as a Roman Catholic woman priest.
The Vatican does not recognize the ordination of women. Canon law specifically states "only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination," and the Vatican issued a 2007 decree proclaiming automatic excommunication for women undergoing ordination and priests performing ordination.
For Dougherty, a cradle Catholic who spent 23 years as a nun, women serving as priests comes naturally from basic Catholic, Christian teaching.
A woman whose independence and intelligence show clearly in her eyes and face, Dougherty is well aware that Pope Benedict XVI disagrees with her theological position.
"We can follow the Lord's call. Sometimes the pope misdirects us," Doughtery stated.
Dougherty will be ordained a priest in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests today at 1 p.m. at First Metropolitan Community Church, 1379 Tullie Road, Atlanta, Georgia 30329.
Five women – Barbara Anne Duff, Debra Meyers, Joleane Presley, Rosemarie Smead and Irene Scaramazza – will be ordained deacons in ARCWP at the same service. The presiding bishop will be Bridget Mary Meehan.
Dougherty, an educator who most recently taught for 10 years in Fayette County, served Catholic communities as a Sister of Humility of Mary for 23 years. As a lay ecclesial minister she served in Catholic schools and parishes as a master educator and catechist and in the Religious Education and Faith Formation office for the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
"I consider my journey toward priesthood as the next phase in my vocation to serve within the Catholic tradition, said Dougherty. "By becoming a woman priest my original call to serve Christ through the church is fulfilled and I hope my ordination will open the door to the many women Christ is calling to serve."
She said she will "advocate for women's ordination."
The Ohio native grew up in a conservative Catholic family. She did not, however, set out to become a nun.
"I never liked nuns. The lifestyle of the nuns – I didn't like it," Dougherty recalled. She grew up two blocks from the church and often helped out when nuns or priests needed help with a project.
She remembered that – in those days – priests and nuns "were all separate from us." Her involvement in her parish and neighborhood, led her to believe God wanted her to do something for Him.
"I knew I had a vocation, and I had to do something with it," she said. She decided to spend six months in a novitiate program "just to try it" – believing she would come home at the end of that time.
Dougherty, however, had come of age in the era of Vatican II, when winds of modernism were moving through every corner of Catholic life.
She began her college studies – and the next stage of her religious pilgrimage. "I was put in a really intensive study group of the documents of Vatican II," Dougherty said.
The trend was toward nuns being in the community – connecting with people as teachers, social workers and other professionals. Dougherty liked the academic challenge, but she also liked being part of the group of young women who were considering becoming sisters.
"We prayed. We laughed," she said with a vibrant smile. "We had fun together."
Activities in which the young women were involved – visiting elderly people and working at a summer camp for inner-city children – proved to be transformative for Dougherty. "That was a load of fun," she said of the camp.
"I thought, 'I could do this for the rest of my life,'" she remembered. So she made the commitment to join the Sisters of Humility of Mary.
"They put me in teaching. I wanted to be a nurse, but I'm a natural-born teacher. I love children," she said.
As she began her service, life for nuns was changing. "We were moving out," she said, connecting with the world in a way nuns had not before.
The nuns who were her mentors "were quite educated" and "were thinkers," she said. "They wanted us to invest ourselves" in the communities where they lived and worked.
She remembered the aggravation of woolen habits that got wet, and how they were soon abandoned. "Everytime I got sick of something, it changed," Dougherty said with a high spirited laugh.
In teaching and serving children and their families, Dougherty came to what she calls "my excellent understanding of what the gospel is."
A more active role for nuns, however, was not the only change taking place in American Catholicism. Many parishes which had maintained schools were moving away from that model. In one parish where Dougherty taught, the laypeople eventually raised money independently to keep their school open. Many others closed.
She found that priests often had hidden agendas and that nuns – trained to run schools and educated at the church's expense – were neither consulted nor appreciated. Even when priests were not following church teachings, their superiors generally would not reprimand them – leaving parish matters in their hands.
She recalled one parish where there was great dissension as large numbers of Latinos came into the area. At one point, the Spanish-speaking Catholics were not allowed to have services in the church.
"That's when my heart was split in two," Dougherty said.
Through all the difficulties, living with other nuns brought happiness to Dougherty's life. "Supper would last three hours. We'd sit and talk and laugh," she remembered.
In the late 1980s, forces within the church were moving in a conservative direction. Dougherty gradually came to feel certain priests were seeking to turn the clock back with regard to some Vatican II innovations. "You felt like you were walking on eggshells," she recalled.
"The average Catholic did not have an understanding" that those changes were taking place, she said.
After she became a nun, Dougherty had a number of educational opportunities, including earning a master's degree from Boston College. "Through education, people move away from that conservatism," she said, remembering the strictures of her childhood.
The education provided to her by the Catholic Church led her to "a broader notion of Catholicism," she said.
When she left the convent, Dougherty knew she needed to find a way to support herself and make some provision for retirement. "I was living at that time in Acworth," she said.
Dougherty had a valid Georgia teaching certificate. She heard about a job in Fayette County as a permanent substitute teacher. "The very day my severance ended, I was full-time in Fayetteville," she said.
That was the "gift and grace of God," Dougherty concluded.
Dougherty found teaching there a good experience, and she said she sees both the Fayette and Coweta systems as good ones. The schools are run "very much like the sisters would run a school," she said, teaching children values such as creativity, kindness and service "without using any religious words."
Dougherty ran across the ARCWP website on the Internet. "I thought, 'Well, that's interesting,'" she remembered. "I called and found out about it."
She went through the ARCWP's ordination process and is now looking forward to serving "within the tradition of the church as a priestly minister."
While the Vatican seems unlikely to relax ordination rules anytime soon, some Catholic theologians have been urging that women be allowed to serve as priests for decades. The ARCWP is growing, even while facing official disapproval from the faith its members follow.
The group began in Europe in 2002 and now numbers 140 clergy.
"The women priests movement in the Roman Catholic Church advocates a new model of priestly ministry united with the people with whom we minister. We stand in prophetic obedience to Jesus who calls women and men to be disciples and equals," said Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a spokeswoman for ARCWP who was ordained in 2008.
The first women bishops were ordained by a male Roman Catholic bishop in apostolic succession and in communion with the pope. "The Vatican states that we are excommunicated, however, we do not accept this and affirm that we are loyal members of the church," Sevre-Duszynska said.
Sevre-Duszynska said ARCWP priests "work in solidarity with the poor and marginalized for transformative justice in partnership with all believers." She explained, "Our vision is to live as a community of equals in decision making both as an organization and within all our faith communities."
“Nothing can stop the movement of the spirit toward human rights, justice and equality in our world and in our church,” Meehan said. “The full equality of women is the voice of God in our time.”
"Today, women priests continue to follow the tradition of women disciples living and preaching the gospel taught to them by Jesus," Sevre-Duszynska reflected.
For Diane Dougherty, tomorrow begins a new facet of that tradition. She plans to start with a small group meeting at her Coweta County home – and see what God has in store.
She said she feels a little "like Rosa Parks," but stressed she is not bitter, but excited about the opportunities to continue serving God in a new way.
"I'm not mad. I'm glad," she said.
"I want to start Catholic intentional communities that are inclusive. It's important to get all of our voices together," Dougherty said.
"Maybe this was my first calling – to be a priest, but it wasn't an option," she said. "I couldn't even entertain the idea."
Former nun to be ordained as first female Catholic priest in Georgia
This article, reported
by Ben Nelms,
appeared in the October 14, 2012 issue of the Atlanta, Georgia The Citizen.
For Diane Dougherty, it is a way to live up to her calling and to challenge the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. It is a hierarchy that Dougherty maintains is sexist. Though not recognized by the Vatican, the Coweta County resident and longtime former nun will be ordained next week and will become the first female Catholic priest in Georgia.
Dougherty on Oct. 20 will be ordained a priest in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) at a ceremony at First Metropolitan Community Church in Atlanta. Asked earlier this week at her home near Newnan if the ordination is valid, Dougherty said, “I’m being validly ordained in the line of Peter, but it is not recognized by the church hierarchy.”
The ordination service will be performed by female bishop, Dougherty said. The woman who ordained the bishop had been ordained by a male bishop, though his name has not been released, Dougherty added.
“The male hierarchy will not recognize the ordinations even though not all of them believe that women cannot be priests,” Dougherty said.
Once ordained, Dougherty will continue serving at First Metropolitan Community Church, as well as developing Intentional Faith Communities in Newnan and throughout the Atlanta area, empowering women to lead within the church and advocating for women’s ordination. Intentional Faith Communities include both Catholics and non-Catholics, she said.
Dougherty also spent time in Fayetteville where, for 10 years, she taught second grade at Hood Avenue Primary School. Having retired in 2011, Dougherty called Hood Avenue Primary the best kept secret in Fayette County.
Prior to her years as a school teacher in Fayetteville, Dougherty served in the Religious Education and Faith Formation office at the Archdiocese of Atlanta. As a lay minister, she served in Catholic schools and parishes as a master educator and catechist. An Ohio native holding a number of academic degrees, Dougherty also served for 23 years as a Sister of the Humility of Mary in Pennsylvania.
From Dougherty’s perspective, she has the training and the experience to serve in the priesthood. But why do it, given that the Vatican does not recognize women as priests?
“I’m passionate about discipleship. I didn’t ask for my vocation to serve as a disciple. I have worked in the church for nearly all my life except when I taught school in Fayetteville,” Dougherty said, explaining why she is taking the next step that will result in her ordination as a priest. “I’m doing this for the children of the next generation of women who think they cannot fully participate in the Catholic tradition. It is the biggest systemic oppressor of women in the world. I’m not above or below anyone. The most important thing is that I’ve been called to do this. It was my original call.”
As for the Catholic Church not recognizing women in the priesthood, Dougherty maintains that such an approach is tantamount to sexism that needs to come to an end in the 21st century.
“I am choosing to make a stand against sexism, an illness that is killing the very heart of our church,” Dougherty said. ”I do not want the children of the next generation to believe this is what God would have them do. I do not want little boys to grow up believing they are somehow ‘better’ than girls. Nor do I want little girls growing up to believe God would never call them into the fullness of discipleship because they are women. Separate but equal has been proven to be a false foundation for any culture and most particularly, any religion.”
Dougherty maintains that archeological evidence has been found that women served as priests in France, the British Isles and in the Mediterranean area. Fast forward to today, Dougherty insists that she is not part of a breakaway or renegade group.
“We are authentic women living out our gospel call within the Catholic Church. We stand as equals with all clergy through this ordination,” she said. “Sexism is now and always has been divisive. You cannot take half a religious denomination, make them second class, and say this is the will and intent of Jesus. The gospels and experience of the early church clearly indicate women have been called to full discipleship. There is historical and archeological evidence that verified women were priests and deacons for the first 1,200 years of its existence. That is also how long it took to make a hierarchy to say we never existed. Oppressed for the last 800 years, we are now rising up to say once again, we are here, we have been here and we will always be here, because God calls us all to be God’s presence on earth — both male and female.”
Above all, Dougherty insists that she became a religious woman to answer God’s call and served in parishes, schools, archdioceses and other Catholic institutions.
“I have never left the church. When this opportunity arrived, I saw it as a fuller pathway of service,” she said. ”I am passionate about women called to be disciples. I hope to open doors within the Catholic tradition to allow this to happen.”
Newnan woman challenges Catholic Church on female priests
This article, reported
by Shelia Poole,
appeared in the October 16, 2012 issue of the The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
On Saturday, Diane Dougherty will defy centuries-old Roman Catholic tradition when she is ordained a priest in a ceremony that her church will neither recognize nor accept.
Nevertheless, the first invitation she sent was to Atlanta Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory.
She doesn’t expect him to attend.
Dougherty is part of a controversial movement to ordain women as priests and deacons. The women are doing so despite the fact the church has said they will be automatically excommunicated, which means they will not be able to participate in any church sacraments.
“He won’t [attend] because of the pope and this is a hierarchical institution,” said the 67-year-old former teacher and nun, who will be ordained by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. “I don’t know if he wants to attend, but he is a black man. He understands social justice. He’s a very sensitive and loving individual. I just can’t imagine he doesn’t have empathy, although he has written that he does not.”
In a statement, the archbishop stood firm, saying the church has no authority to ordain women as priests “since among His twelve Apostles, Jesus Christ did not include any women in spite of His open association and friendship with women throughout His ministry.”
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, is more blunt.
“I can say I’m the queen of England and it doesn’t make it so,” she said.
Still, Dougherty plans to go ahead with the ordination at First Metropolitan Community Church in Atlanta. Another Georgian, Barbara Anne Duff of Macon, will be ordained a deacon.
The women claim valid orders because an unnamed bishop with apostolic succession ordained the first female bishops, said Bridget Mary Meehan, a bishop of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests who will perform the ordination Saturday.
Dougherty, who is not registered in a parish, will initially preach in her Newnan home.
So far, about 150 women globally have been declared priests or deacons, although the Vatican doesn’t recognize them.
“Priesthood means as a disciple, I stand with all people in the name of Christ, sharing the love of God,” Dougherty said. “And this is why this hurts. They say we can do ministry but can’t stand at the altar.”
The role of women is a big issue in the church, said Eugene Bianchi, a professor emeritus of religion at Emory University.
“It’s a big shakeup in some ways,” he said. “There’s an element of power involved. The Catholic Church has been male, and all of a sudden you’re asking them to let women into the decision-making area of the church. They’re going to be resistant.”
Times, however, are changing, he said.
As early as 2005, the year John Paul II died, a Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll showed a majority of U.S. Catholics, 55 percent, felt the next pope should allow women to be priests. Forty-four percent opposed the ordination of women.
The subject has created conflict even within Dougherty’s family. Her sister, Mary Bray, says she was “shocked and a little torn” when she first heard about her sister’s decision.
But Bray, who lives in Ohio, changed her mind after numerous conversations with her sister.
“If they feel God is calling them to do something,” Bray said, “they shouldn’t be prohibited from doing that just because of their gender.”
Others are taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I follow my church’s teachings,” said Gordon Shenkle, a computer consultant from Tyrone. “It’s not something that’s up for debate as far as I’m concerned.”
If the Vatican decided to accept women as priests, Shenkle said, “then I would accept it as well.”
“Part of belonging to a church,” he said, “is accepting the church’s teachings on morality and leadership.”
Women Priests Movement
10th Anniversary of Historic Ordination of 7 Women
on the Danube on June 29,2002
to these Courageous Pioneers Who Paved the Way
for a Renewed Priestly Ministry in the Catholic Church
Lexington woman ordained as priest
This article, reported by Bill Estep, appeared in the June 9, 2012 issue of the Lexington, Kentucky Herald-Leader.
To the Vatican, Donna LeMaster Rougeux, a married mother of three who works as a hospice chaplain, is part of a revolt.
But Rougeux and others believe she is following a spiritual calling.
Rougeux, 52, was ordained through the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests on Saturday in Lexington, becoming one of only two such female priests in Kentucky and 130 in the world.
Bridget Mary Meehan, a bishop with the same association who presided over the ceremony, called it part of a "new spiritual uprising in the church."
"It's part of a big justice movement that recognizes we all are images of God," Meehan said.
The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize Rougeux's ordination. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington issued a statement calling it a "provocative and headline-grabbing fiction."
The church's position is that only men can be ordained. That's not sexist, but biblical, said Tom Shaughnessy, spokesman for the diocese.
As Pope John Paul II pointed out, "if the church is faithfully to follow the example of Jesus, who chose twelve men as his first priests/bishops, then the Roman Catholic Church is not free to ordain women," Shaughnessy said in a statement.
Rougeux chose automatic excommunication when she was ordained a deacon earlier, according to the church's position.
Rougeux and others involved in the women's ordination movement, however, don't acknowledge the excommunication.
"We believe the church is the people of God," not the male-dominated hierarchy, said Janice Sevre-Duszynska of Jessamine County, who in 2008 became the first Kentucky woman ordained as a priest.
The controversy over ordaining women is part of a larger debate in the church over the role of women, the propriety of contraception and other issues.
This year, for instance, the Vatican strongly criticized the nation's leading organization of nuns, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, for not speaking strongly enough against ordination of women, among other things, prompting a show of support for the nuns.
And debates over issues such as whom to ordain are not unique to the Roman Catholic Church.
People who support ordaining female Roman Catholic priests say it is a step toward correcting centuries of incorrect teaching and practice by the institutional church, based on misogyny.
One of the Scriptures read at Rougeux's ordination ceremony at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington was from the Gospel of Luke, about Jesus healing a woman who had been unable to stand up straight for 18 years.
"The institutional church is trying to keep women bent over when it refuses to recognize our call to priesthood," Meehan said in her homily. "Women are silent, and invisible, and subordinate no more."
People involved said the communities involving women priests use male and female images of God and inclusive language and liturgies.
Part of the goal is to "de-clericalize" and create a community of equals, Meehan said.
"Christ calls both men and women to the priesthood," said Sevre-Duszynska. "When it's in you, it's there. It doesn't leave."
Rougeux said the call to ministry was definitely in her.
She grew up in the United Church of Christ but converted to Roman Catholicism in the 1980s. She taught in a Catholic school, then she said she felt a pull to attend seminary, and finally a call to ministry.
She found out about the women priest movement on the Internet.
"It's like God has revealed it one step at a time," she said.
Rougeux has a degree in pastoral studies from Lexington Theological Seminary, has completed additional work in clinical pastoral education, and is a chaplain at Hospice of the Bluegrass.
"I think I bring a whole other bag of experiences to helping people," she said. "I think we are all needed."
Rougeux said she wants to help the community of like-minded Catholics grow in Lexington.
"I want them to grow together as a community of God helping the world," she said.
Rougeux said she was excited to be part of the movement to reform the church.
"I think my granddaughters are going to look back at this and think history was being formed."
PHOTOS CREDIT: Mark Ashley, Herald-Leader
'a holy shake-up whose time has come'"
This article, reported by ANNIE MARTIN, Staff writer, appeared in the April 15, 2012 issue of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
ORMOND BEACH -- Two Palm Coast women who "stand on the margins" were ushered in Saturday to a role that's been reserved for men for hundreds of years.
Miriam Picconi and Wanda Russell were ordained into the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, a group that's urging the Catholic Church to welcome women into its clergy. About 150 people attended the ceremony Saturday afternoon at the Unitarian Universalist Society in Ormond Beach.
Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, who presided over the ceremony, said the movement is "a holy shake-up whose time has come."
"One could say this is the church's best-kept secret," Meehan said. "But no more."
The Catholic Church won't recognize the women's ordination as valid, but Picconi and Russell say they plan to worship out of their home with a small group of people.
Meehan said her group is seeking justice for all people, particularly for women in the Catholic Church. The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests has ordained about 130 women worldwide since 2002.
At the start of the ceremony, others presented the soon-to-be priests to Meehan and the rest of the group. Russell's daughter, Monica Leavitt, recalled that as a young child, she often stayed late at her church, waiting for her mother to emerge from her Bible study group or wrap up other business there. The church is Russell's passion, she said.
"This was meant to be," Leavitt said. "My mother was born a priest. I know that from the bottom of my soul."
Since the two women moved to Palm Coast nearly three years ago, they've attended St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Palm Coast. Picconi teaches adult Sunday school classes and occasionally preaches to the congregation there.
"She is a wise woman, and we benefit greatly from her presence," the Rev. Bradley Hauff, the pastor of St. Thomas, said during the ceremony.
Picconi and Russell said finding a congregation to host their ordination ceremony wasn't easy. Some told the women they supported their cause but didn't want to offend Catholics or their clergy.
But Bud Murphy, the pastor of the Unitarian Universalist Society in Ormond Beach, said his denomination is "radically hospitable or inclusive."
"We felt very comfortable with what is happening here because, in a way, they're doing what should have been done years ago," Murphy said.
He also said the Unitarian movement emerged when some Christians, who were considered heretics at the time, broke with their church.
"We feel a kinship because they are speaking truth to power," Murphy said.
Fran Leavitt, whose son is married to Monica Leavitt, traveled from New Hampshire to attend the ceremony and spend a few days in Florida. A Catholic since age 19, Fran Leavitt said in an interview she's "amazed at the positive reception," that Picconi and Russell have received from other people.
"I think it's wonderful," Leavitt said about the two women's decision to be ordained. "I think it's inspirational."
At the end of the ceremony, Picconi and Russell changed into their new priests' robes, taking Meehan's hands and raising their arms before the audience.
Picconi cried "tears of joy," telling the crowd "my cup runneth over."
"My heart could burst right out of my body," Picconi said.
PHOTOS CREDIT: Nigel Cook, News-Journal
"Palm Coast women
to become ordained as priests"
This article, reported by ANNIE MARTIN, Staff writer, appeared in the April 13, 2012 issue of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.
PALM COAST -- Miriam Picconi remembers sitting before a life-sized crucifix adorned with the body of Christ at her church as a young teenager.
"I would just see Jesus on the cross and I kept thinking, 'If you did that for me, what can I do for you?' " she said.
Picconi, 68, said she was "called to minister" early in life. By age 16, she was teaching disabled children about Christ and visiting isolated people who were unable to leave nursing homes and hospitals. She said she became a nun at age 20, delivering communion and praying with people who were too ill to attend church.
"I always had a deep love for the Eucharist, in the way Jesus shares himself with us," Picconi said.
There was one thing she couldn't do -- becoming a priest was off limits.
The Catholic Church doesn't ordain women but some are seeking to change that. Picconi and Wanda Russell, both of Palm Coast, will be ordained into the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Society in Ormond Beach.
Together they're challenging a centuries-old tradition of an all-male clergy within the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations. The ceremony will include the same rite used to ordain male Catholic priests.
'A DESPERATE PUSH'
The Catholic Church won't recognize the ordination as being valid, according to a statement from the Diocese of St. Augustine.
"The Catholic Church is very clear and doesn't take positions unilaterally and without substantiation," according to a statement emailed from director of communications Kathleen Bagg. "And the Church does not discourage dialogue, except on the question of the ordination of women."
Catholic leaders have repeatedly made it clear they have no intention of allowing women to join the priesthood. In his homily on Holy Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI denounced priests who have questioned the church's policies on celibacy and ordaining women. He suggested dissenters were making "a desperate push to do something to change the church in accordance with (their) own preferences and ideas."
But Picconi and Russell, who call each other "best friends," say they're not seeking the priesthood for the sake of protest. They believe God has been preparing them for this role for years and they're ready to embrace it.
"If we were doing this just to revolt, we wouldn't be accepted," said Russell, 67. "You don't do something like this just in revolt."
About 130 women worldwide have been ordained into the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests since 2002, Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan said. The movement campaigns for "justice for all," not just women, she said. To be ordained, women must earn a master's degree in pastoral ministry or an equivalent.
The two Palm Coast women and others say there's historical and biblical support for a female priesthood. Many Protestant denominations ordain women and some have done so for decades. Russell remembers walking through the catacombs in Rome and seeing an image of a feminine priest wearing earrings.
Archeological evidence suggests the early church included female clergy, said Dorothy Irvin, an independent scholar with a doctorate in theology. Though Irvin said many lay people believe women are fit for the priesthood, Catholic church leaders squelch research or support for that cause, she said.
Picconi and Russell blame a climate of clericalism: Many Catholics grow up believing their church, and its leadership, are infallible. Fearing retribution, Catholics and their clergy don't question authority. The women say several priests have told them privately that they support their cause.
"I don't disparage them for not having the courage to speak the truth because I understand the dilemma," Picconi said.
They were hard-pressed to find local churches, even those from other denominations, that would host their ordination. Some congregations said they supported the women's mission, but they didn't want to offend Catholic leaders and members.
A WAY OF LIFE
Though they take exception with parts of the church, Picconi and Russell say they are "cradle Catholics." Picconi compared being Catholic to being Italian -- it's in her blood, she said. She said she joined the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity in Philadelphia when she was 20. She was a sister for 25 years.
Even after she joined the ministry, she couldn't shake the feeling she would "fall short of the ideal." That changed about 10 years later as she sat on a beach and watched waves roll to the shore during a retreat in Puerto Rico.
"Once I discovered God's profound, unconditional love, it became a passion," Picconi said. "It's not a matter of obeying laws or rules, even though there are guidelines. But ultimately, it is responding to God's love. Not out of fear. Not out of obligation. But out of love."
Picconi later served as a pastoral director and associate at a church in Frankfort, Ky., but she says she was "forced out" in 2008 when there was a changeover in church leadership. She was devastated, but she now thinks that period eventually helped lead her to the priesthood.
"Crosses are not always easy to bear but if you can bear them, it leads to resurrection," she said.
Like Picconi, Russell also joined the ministry after high school. She joined the joined the Sisters of Loretto, a Catholic women's community in Nerinx, Ky., for 13 months, though she didn't take her final vows. Growing up during the Civil Rights era, Russell said she was inspired by the bravery of black Americans as they fought racial discrimination.
"I always knew I wanted to save the world," she said.
But back then, career paths for women were limited, she said. She couldn't stomach becoming a nurse and didn't think teaching would suit her. After she left the ministry, she married, had a daughter and became a social worker. She retired after 25 years because she was "tired of putting Band-Aids on problems."
She recalled going to church with her husband when she was in her 20s. The couple often grumbled about the sermons during the car ride home.
One Sunday morning, Russell said she was stunned by the priest's message: If you don't believe every word the church says, go home. She left for three years.
But she says God "expects you to go back to your roots" and Russell returned to the Catholic church. She had "an adult conversion" in her early 30s. She described that moment as a door opening and God's love instantly encompassing her.
"I just fell in love with God's people -- all kinds of people," she said.
'WE CAN'T WAIT'
Since moving to Palm Coast nearly three years ago, Picconi and Russell have attended St. Thomas Episcopal Church, which they say has supported their calling. Seeking the priesthood was a hard decision, they say, partly because they feel the church leaders and some of the members that they grew up with will reject them. But Russell says she fears only "the awesomeness of the responsibility."
Even their own friends and family members have resisted their decision. Russell's mother and sister told her they still love her, but won't attend the ordination because they don't understand it and won't support it, she said.
Afterward, they plan to celebrate mass in their home with a small group of other believers. They envision a collegial relationship with the rest of the congregation. People will take turns giving meaningful sermons -- a far cry from the "dead rituals" Russell said she experienced in some churches.
"God is present where two or more people are gathering in Jesus' name," she said.
Most of all, the two women say they dream of an affirming environment where all people, even those of other religious backgrounds, can worship together.
Though their path hasn't been easy, the two women say it must be done.
"We have to do it now," Picconi said. "We can't wait for the next generation."
"If we wait for Rome to change, it probably would never happen," Russell added.
"Fort Myers Woman
to be Ordained Roman Catholic Priest"
This article, reported by Mary Wozniak, appeared in the Sunday, January 15, 2012 issue of the Fort Myers News-Press.
Judy Beaumont plans to take a historic step Saturday, one that will jeopardize her immortal soul.
Beaumont, 74, of Fort Myers, is defying centuries-old doctrine in becoming the first woman in Southwest Florida to be ordained a Roman Catholic priest. The church decrees this role is reserved for men. Bishop Frank Dewane of the Diocese of Venice, which oversees the Catholic faithful in 10 counties, including all of Southwest Florida, has warned her not to cross that patriarchal line.
“It has been brought to my attention that you purportedly reside in the Diocese of Venice in Florida and may attempt to be ‘ordained’ to the ministerial priesthood here within this Diocese,” Dewane wrote in a letter to Beaumont. “This is a most grave and serious matter of consequence for your soul.”
The consequence is automatic excommunication, or expulsion from the church, the bishop wrote. The same penalty applies to anyone who participates in the ordination ceremony.
Beaumont says she will follow her conscience and take the consequences. The ordination will be held at 3 p.m. at Lamb of God Church, a Lutheran-Episcopal congregation on Cypress View Drive in Fort Myers.
“Of course, we all reject that excommunication, because it’s a man-made rule that does not really follow what we know of Jesus, what Jesus would do,” said Beaumont, who entered the convent at 17 and was a Benedictine nun for 35 years. “How can any group of human beings say to God, ‘You can’t call a woman.’?”
She is one of more than 124 women priests and 10 woman bishops who say they have been called to serve in the Catholic Church. Most are in the United States, but others are found in South America, Germany, Austria, France, Ireland, Canada and other countries. The movement began in 2002 with the ordination of seven women by a male priest on the Danube River....
But the idea women can’t be priests also is a man-made rule, said Bridget Mary Meehan, a woman Catholic bishop who is based in Sarasota and will preside over Beaumont’s ordination.Women priests, their supporters and some scholars claim scripture and other documentation shows women as well as men were called by Jesus and shared equally as his followers. They particularly note a 2007 book by Jesuit scholar Gary Macy called “The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination.”The bishop’s letter reflects “the misogynist tradition in the Roman Catholic Church” about women’s rights, Meehan said.“Women priests are the Rosa Parks of the Catholic Church,” she said. “We are no longer going to sit in the back of the Catholic bus in subordination to the hierarchy. We are not leaving the church. We are leading the church into a new era of justice and equality for women.”
Beaumont said the gospels that name the 12 men came out of a time when men dominated the culture.
“There were women in the first 1,200 years of the church
who were serving in the ministerial roles of deacon, priest and
bishop,” she said. “There is documented history for
that, even though the bishops reject that scholarship.”
View the complete video of Judy's ordination.