Monday, July 23, 2007

Three women ordained as priests


Yesterday, Juanita Cordero, a nurse and college professor from San Jose, became a Roman Catholic priest.
Cordero is one of three women who gathered at an interfaith center near Santa Barbara for an ordination ceremony, joining an international group of activists hoping to return women to the church hierarchy.

Similar ceremonies held this year in Quebec, New York, Portland, Toronto and Minneapolis, combined with yesterday’s, will ordain a total of 21 women, nine as priests and 12 as deacons.
The women, part of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, feel they are ready to reclaim their leadership role in the church, a role they said existed for women in the earliest centuries of the church, before the rites of ordination became defined.
The most recent movement for women to join the priesthood dates back to 1997, Bishop Patricia Fresen, who ordained the three women yesterday, told the Daily Sound. However, it wasn’t until 2002 that they found someone to bring them into the church hierarchy.
“Nobody was brave enough,” Fresen said.
In 2002, a renegade bishop, Romulo Braschi of Argentina, finally agreed to ordain seven women as priests on the Danube River in Austria, now known by the Womenpriests as the Danube Seven. Two of those later rose to the rank of bishop in secret ceremonies performed by several male bishops in good standing with the Roman Catholic Church.
The identities of those male bishops will remain secret until their deaths to protect them from reprisals from Vatican authorities, Fresen said. Following the ordinations, the Vatican quickly excommunicated all seven women, a decision the Womenpriests argue is invalid.
“We regard excommunication as an unjust punishment for an unjust law,” Fresen said. Canon law does not include being an ordained woman as a cause for excommunication, she said.
However, excommunication does not remove them from the church, Fresen added, it only prevents them from receiving sacraments. Those ordained as bishops have the power to ordain others as priests, deacons or bishops, and they have used that power to bring more than 50 women into the clerical system.
Their goal is a totally inclusive church, one that welcomes not only women as equals, but gays, lesbians, progressives and those who are divorced or remarried. Many of the Womenpriests, made up of ordained priests and deacons, candidates for ordination and ordinands, those with an ordination date already set, fall into one or more of those categories.
Toni Tortorilla, ordained a deacon yesterday, knew she wanted to be a Roman Catholic priest since she was 5 years old.
“I know it will be life-changing,” Tortorilla said. Her life partner, who testified on her behalf at the ordination ceremony, said Tortorilla has the “strongest and clearest calling to the priesthood” she has ever seen.
A counselor and psychotherapist for 27 years, Tortorilla plans to start a faith community in her hometown of Portland, after she joins the priesthood in a ceremony there next week. Deacons can baptize and witness marriages, but cannot hear confessions or hold Mass.
At a grassroots level, members of the Womenpriests said their movement is overwhelmingly supported. Only two or three people protested an ordination ceremony in Pittsburgh last year, while 400 people joined the women on board in support, Kathleen Kunster, an ordained priest, told the Daily Sound.
“I’ve been really amazed at the number of people, especially women, who thank me for taking this step,” said Jean Marchant, also an ordained priest.
Those currently in power in the church make up the majority of people who are opposed to women entering leadership roles in the church, the Womenpriests said.
“The clerical system rewards men who are ordained in it with special privileges, and once you have privileges, it’s hard to give them up,” Marchant said.
Others attending the ceremony yesterday said the system currently set up in the church rewards blind obedience and is essentially institutionalized duplicity, in which priests preach one thing and practice another. Even those who support women’s ordination cannot express that support publicly, for fear of losing their priesthood as did Ed Cachia, a Canadian priest, when he came out in support of the movement a few years ago.
However, their movement, they believe, will eventually bring a new vision to the church, one of hope and total inclusiveness.
“One day in the future, perhaps in the next generation or two, there may well be a return to the practice in the very early church, when there was no ordination of priests: people in the community took turns in leading the Eucharist, often depending on whose home they were meeting in,” Fresen wrote on the Womenpriests website. “For now, I believe strongly that we need to break the unjust law which excludes women from ordination.”

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