Female Priests Defy Catholic Church At The Altar

Roman Catholic "Womenpriests" on their ordination day, June 4, at St. John's United Church of Christ in Catonsville, Md. i i

hide captionRoman Catholic "Womenpriests" on their ordination day, June 4, at St. John's United Church of Christ in Catonsville, Md.

Courtesy of Gene Renner
Roman Catholic "Womenpriests" on their ordination day, June 4, at St. John's United Church of Christ in Catonsville, Md.

Roman Catholic "Womenpriests" on their ordination day, June 4, at St. John's United Church of Christ in Catonsville, Md.

Courtesy of Gene Renner

In 2002, seven women were secretly ordained as priests by two Roman Catholic bishops in Germany. After their ordination, a kind of domino effect ensued.

Those seven women went on to ordain other women, and a movement to ordain female priests all around the world was born. The movement, named Roman Catholic Womenpriests, says more than a hundred women have been ordained since 2002, and two-thirds of them are in the U.S.

In the "laying on of hands" during the ordination ceremony, the priests place their hands on the candidates before they are officially ordained. The future priests are (from left): Ann Penick, Marellen Mayers, Patricia "Patti" LaRosa and  Caryl Johnson. i i

hide captionIn the "laying on of hands" during the ordination ceremony, the priests place their hands on the candidates before they are officially ordained. The future priests are (from left): Ann Penick, Marellen Mayers, Patricia "Patti" LaRosa and Caryl Johnson.

Courtesy of Gene Renner
In the "laying on of hands" during the ordination ceremony, the priests place their hands on the candidates before they are officially ordained. The future priests are (from left): Ann Penick, Marellen Mayers, Patricia "Patti" LaRosa and  Caryl Johnson.

In the "laying on of hands" during the ordination ceremony, the priests place their hands on the candidates before they are officially ordained. The future priests are (from left): Ann Penick, Marellen Mayers, Patricia "Patti" LaRosa and Caryl Johnson.

Courtesy of Gene Renner

On a recent June day in Maryland, four more women were ordained as priests. The gallery at St. John's United Church of Christ was filled with Catholic priests and nuns, there to support the women and the ordination movement — though visitors were asked not to photograph them. Witnessing the ceremony was enough to risk excommunication.

The audience turned to watch as the women made their way down the aisle, beaming like brides. The two-and-a-half-hour ceremony ended with Holy Communion — the moment they'd been waiting for. Each woman performed the rites for the first time as a priest, breaking bread and serving wine as tears of joy flowed down their faces.

Marellen Mayers is one of the women ordained that day, and like her fellow ordinands, she was raised in the Catholic Church. Her mother had an altar at home, and when Mayers was a child, she would stand in front of it, wearing a cloth as her vestments and saying the Latin Mass.

"My brother and sister would be kneeling behind me, and if I said, 'Dominus vobiscum,' I would turn around and say, 'You're supposed to say 'Et cum spiritu tuo,' " Mayers recalls.

Marellen Mayers (front, second from left) and Patti LaRosa (front, far right) join hands with fellow members of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement on their ordination day. i i

hide captionMarellen Mayers (front, second from left) and Patti LaRosa (front, far right) join hands with fellow members of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement on their ordination day.

Courtesy of Gene Renner
Marellen Mayers (front, second from left) and Patti LaRosa (front, far right) join hands with fellow members of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement on their ordination day.

Marellen Mayers (front, second from left) and Patti LaRosa (front, far right) join hands with fellow members of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement on their ordination day.

Courtesy of Gene Renner

Fellow ordinand Patti LaRosa had a similar experience growing up. She came from a close-knit Italian family and always felt comfortable in the Catholic Church. In the late '70s she got married, had two kids and was working as an assistant at a law firm in Rochester, N.Y.

Several times a week she would go to church during her lunch break, and one day she realized, "I'm supposed to be a priest."

As members of the Roman Catholic Church, these female priests are all breaking church rules, which allow ordination only to baptized males. No member of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests has been excommunicated by the Church, but they have felt repercussions. They've not only been threatened but also have lost friends and colleagues within the Church — many of whom fear they will lose their jobs if they support the women's ordination movement openly.

LaRosa recognizes they are breaking Church law — specifically Canon 10:24 — but says, "when you have an unjust law, sometimes it needs to be broken before it can be changed."

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