Group claims to ordain women priests in unsanctioned ceremony

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Michael Paulson
Globe Staff / July 20, 2008

A group advocating for the ordination of women this afternoon held a ceremony in a packed Protestant church in Boston at which it declared three women to be Catholic priests and a fourth woman to be a deacon.

The ceremony, like several others that have taken place around the world over the last six years, was denounced by the Roman Catholic church, and critics said the event was a stunt with no religious significance. The Catholic Church has consistently taught that only men can be ordained as priests, and the Archdiocese of Boston said that the women who participated in today’s ceremony had automatically excommunicated themselves by participating in what it said was an invalid ordination ceremony.

But the women who participated in the event, along with the several hundred people who spent nearly three hours in the sweltering, non-air-conditioned Church of the Covenant, said they rejected the excommunications, and believed that the women had been validly ordained. The women were vested with white chasubles and red stoles and greeted with a standing ovation as they were declared to be priests; they then helped preside over a service at which they declared bread and wine to be consecrated and offered what they said was Communion to anyone who wished to receive it.

The ceremony was organized by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that is not recognized by the Roman Catholic church. Catholic church officials say the women are not Catholic, their ordinations are not real, and any sacraments they attempt to celebrate, including today’s Eucharist, are invalid.

The Womenpriests organization says their ordinations are legitimate because Catholic bishops in good standing ordained their first members to become female priests and bishops. Therefore, they argue, the women being ordained can claim apostolic succession, or direct descent from Jesus’s apostles.

The organization has not released the name of the bishops it says consecrated the first women bishops, saying they would face sanction by the Vatican, but says it will release the names once the male bishops die.

Critics say today’s ordinations are not valid because women can not be ordained.

C.J. Doyle, of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, called the ceremony “a sacrilegious parody of Holy Orders conducted at a Protestant church by a collection of apostates misappropriating the Catholic name.”

“One must not only be a male to be a Catholic priest, one must be a Catholic,'' Doyle said. "The performers in this theater of propaganda are neither. These women ought to have the intellectual honesty to admit that they left the Catholic Church some time ago. Whatever publicity value today's exercise has, it must be measured against both the manifest fraudulence and the irredeemable hopelessness of their cause.”

But the women make the contested claim that there is historical evidence of female priests in the early church, so that the ordination of women is “nothing new.”

“Why is Rome so upset about us? Because they know the ordinations are valid,’’ said Bridget Mary Meehan, spokeswoman for Roman Catholic Womenpriests. “We are not intimidated. We feel so strongly. Nothing can stop the Holy Spirit.’’

Three women were declared to be priests at the ceremony today: Gloria Carpeneto of Baltimore, Judy Lee of Fort Myers, Florida, and Gabriella Velardi Ward of New York City. A fourth woman, Mary Ann McCarthy Schoettly of Newton, NJ, was declared a deacon.

The women did not pledge obedience or chastity – the promises made by Roman Catholic priests. One was introduced to the congregation by her daughter; another by her husband.

The ceremony was presided over by Dana Reynolds of California and Ida Raming of Germany, both of whom have been declared bishops by Roman Catholic Womenpriests. But Catholic church officials say the women are neither bishops nor Catholic – that they too have been automatically excommunicated as a result of their actions.

“We know only too well in how many ways Vatican church leaders refuse to acknowledge the equality in Christ that God has established between men and women, and how they constantly try to reimpose the precedence of men over women, which is unchristian,’’ Raming said. “We give witness to the whole world that it is not male gender which is the prerequisite for a valid ordination, but faith and baptism, the foundation of our dignity and equality.’’

Reynolds called the ceremony an act of “prophetic obedience,” declared that “today we are turning another page of history in the Roman Catholic Church,” and urged the gathering “Let us begin a revolution of hope here and now in Jesus’ name.’’

The ceremony was held in a venerable Protestant church, the Church of the Covenant, which is affiliated with both the Presbyterian Church and the United Church of Christ.

The interim pastor of the church, the Rev. Jennifer Wegter-McNelly, declared the ordination of women “an important part of this church’s identity,’’ and said “we stand with you today.’’

The former president of the Massachusetts conference of the United Church of Christ, the state’s largest Protestant denomination, was among several Protestant clergy who attended the ceremony to express their support for the women seeking ordination as Catholic priests.

“If it looks like discrimination, if it acts like discrimination, and if it feels like discrimination, it is discrimination,’’ said the Rev. Nancy S. Taylor, the former conference president, who is now senior minister of Old South Church. “Prejudice in liturgical clothing is still prejudice.’’

Michael Paulson can be reached at

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