Church Filmed Woman's Ordination


July 10, 2008

St Louis archdiocesan investigators videoed the ordination ceremony of a US woman to use as evidence against a Catholic nun who attended the service.

National Catholic Reporter says the archdiocese of St Louis authorised the video recording of a Catholic women's ordination ceremony that took place in a synagogue last November.

It then used the video, along with photographs apparently taken from the video, as evidence to punish a Catholic nun who attended the liturgy, according to several people familiar with the case.

Sister of Charity Louise Lears was forced out of all Church ministerial roles and banned from receiving sacraments within the archdiocese by an edict of St Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke announced June 26.

The next day the archdiocese announced that Burke had been reassigned to a position at the Vatican as prefect of the Church’s highest canonical court, the Apostolic Signatura.

Lears, 58, has been a member of the pastoral team at St Cronan Parish in South St Louis for the past three years, and a coordinator of religious education in the archdiocese.

She refused to speak to an NCR reporter.

However, several people familiar with the documents, prepared by the archdiocese that made up the case against her, strongly criticised what they called the "surveillance" video taping.

One of the confidential archdiocesan documents, according to knowledgeable sources, was an affidavit giving permission to an individual to attend the ceremony in order to record it. The record of the ceremony is contained on two electronic discs in Lears' file.

NCR made several unsuccessful attempts to reach Burke for comment through the archdiocese and the Apostolic Signatura in Rome, but he was unavailable. There is no evidence that Burke knew about or ordered the taping. However, Catholics familiar with the workings of the archdiocese say it would be unlikely it could have happened without his authorization.

John Terranova, executive director of the synagogue where the ceremony took place, said he did not recall the archdiocese asking permission to video the liturgy. "I cannot say we were aware that they were taping. If they chose to do that it was their choice."

The two Catholic women ordained in the synagogue were part of the Womenpriests movement, efforts by Roman Catholic women to gain equality of ministry within the Catholic Church. They were Elsie Hainz McGrath, a retired writer and editor for a Catholic publishing house, and Rose Marie Dunn Hudson, a former teacher.

In March, Burke excommunicated the women.


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