A group advocating for the ordination of women held a ceremony yesterday in a packed Protestant church 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 past 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 yesterday’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 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 called 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 yesterday’s Eucharist, are invalid.
“The organization calling itself Roman Catholic Womenpriests is not recognized as an entity of the Catholic Church,” the Archdiocese of Boston said in a statement Thursday. “Catholics who attempt to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the women who attempt to receive a sacred order, are by their own actions separating themselves from the Church.”
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.
C.J. Doyle, of the Catholic Action League of Massachusetts, in an e-mail yesterday called the ceremony “a sacrilegious parody of Holy Orders conducted at a Protestant church by a collection of apostates misappropriating the Catholic name.” Three women were declared to be priests at the ceremony yesterday: Gloria Carpeneto of Baltimore, Judy Lee of Fort Myers, Fla., and Gabriella Velardi Ward of New York City. A fourth woman, Mary Ann McCarthy Schoettly of Newton, N.J., was declared a deacon.
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 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.”
“We are a threat to the structures of the church,” said Bridget Mary Meehan, the group’s spokeswoman. “We are leading the Roman Catholic Church into a new era of equality for women. We are trying to change the hierarchy of the church into a more participatory and inclusive church.”
The group, which was formed in 2002, has conducted similar ceremonies in the U.S. and other parts of the world.
In 2005, nine women took part in what the group called an ordination ceremony in Ontario. One of those women, Dana Reynolds, planned to preside over the ceremony in Boston.
The following year, the group held its first ceremony in the U.S. in Pittsburgh where it said it ordained eight women as priests and four as deacons.
The group has captured the attention of leaders at the highest levels of the Catholic church.
In March, the archbishop of St. Louis excommunicated three women – two Americans and a South African who were part of the Womenpriests movement – for participating in a woman’s ordination.
And in May the Vatican defended the prohibition on women priests, saying it was following Christian tradition.
A spokesman said the church doesn’t feel it has the authority to change the will of Jesus Christ. The reference is to Christ’s having chosen only men as his Apostles.
The statement followed what top Vatican officials described as a series of “so-called ordinations” held in various parts of the world.
Pope Benedict XVI, like his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, has rebuffed calls to change traditional church teachings on divorce, abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage and the requirement that priests be male and celibate.
The Catholic Church includes countless doctrines, rituals and practices which have no Biblical foundation. Most Protestant Christians reject the authority the Catholic Church claims for itself, and many Christians consider the Catholic Church to be — theologically — a cult of Christianity.
Apologetics Index provides a number of research resources on the subject of Women in Christian Ministry.