American women threatened with excommunication over "ordination"

Twelve American Catholic women, who were to be "ordained" as priests and deacons aboard a boat in a Pittsburgh ceremony yesterday, claim to be returning to the practices of the early Church but the local bishop has told them they are a threat to unity.

Joan Houk, who has ministered to the sick and needy, and run two Catholic parishes that were without priests, now feels her calling is to be a priest, according to a report in The Boston Globe.

Ms Houk is one of a dozen women participating in a ceremony yesterday in which eight women were to be "ordained" as priests and four to be deacons.

The ceremony will not be recognised by the Church. Similar ceremonies conducted by the group Roman Catholic Womenpriests have been held in other countries, and most of the participants have been excommunicated. It is the first time that Roman Catholic Womenpriests is holding a ceremony in the US.

The Pittsburgh Diocese issued a statement saying that the ordination would not be valid.

"This unfortunate ceremony will take place outside the Church and undermines the unity of the Church. Those attempting to confer Holy Orders have, by their own actions, removed themselves from the Church, as have those who present themselves for such an invalid ritual," according to the statement released by the Rev Ronald Lengwin, a spokesman for the diocese.

The diocese said they will welcome back anyone who chooses to leave the group.

Womenpriests said a male priest presided over the first ordination of seven women sponsored by the group in 2002 in Austria; the women were excommunicated by the Vatican in 2003.

"We need to claim for women their equal right with men to be ordained," Patricia Fresen said last year at a conference in Philadelphia on women in the church.

Ms Fresen is a member of the group, in which she carries the title of "Bishop", and is one of three people presiding over the Pittsburgh ceremony.

Fresen said the unauthorised ordination was being done as a means to break what she called an unjust law.

"I grew up in apartheid years in South Africa, and I learned that when a law is unjust it must be changed," said Fresen, 65. "If you think of Nazi times, people said they just did what they were told. If you can't get it changed, you must break it."

The group says there are many examples of women with prominent roles in Jesus' ministry, including his mother, Mary, and Mary Magdalene.

Women face potential excommunication (Lexington Herald Leader 31/7/06)
Women priests defy Catholic traditions (South Coast Today 31/7/06)
Excommunication looms over female ordination (Boston Globe 31/7/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Roman Catholic Womenpriests

Cardinal Pell affirms ban on women priests (CathNews 21/3/05)
Bishops says let women hear confession and grant absolution (CathNews 29/8/03)
Vatican rejects appeal by women priests (CathNews 28/1/03)
Vatican comments on excommunications of women 'priests' (CathNews 8/8/02)

1 Aug 2006