3 Women to Be Ordained Catholic Priests in Boston
Excommunication Automatic, Church Warns

By Michael Paulson
Boston Globe
July 18, 2008 women_to_be_ordained_catholic_priests_in_boston/

Three aspiring Catholic priests will be anointed and prayed over this weekend in an ordination liturgy that will resemble the traditional in most ways but one: The three being ordained are women.

The ordination ceremony Sunday, at a historic Protestant church in the Back Bay, is the first such event to take place in Boston, one of the most Catholic cities in the nation.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, in accord with Vatican teaching, says the participants in the ordination ceremony will be automatically excommunicating themselves.

But the women being ordained say they are acting because they feel called to the priesthood and compelled to resist what they view as a wrong church teaching.

"We're part of a prophetic tradition of disobeying an unjust law," said Gabriella Velardi Ward, a 61-year-old Staten Island architect with two children and five grandchildren, who will be ordained along with Gloria Carpeneto of Baltimore and Mary Ann McCarthy Schoettly of Newton, N.J.

Ward said she has wanted to be a priest since age 5, and that she actively considered becoming a nun before deciding that the priesthood was her calling because she wants to be able to celebrate Catholic sacraments.

"Excommunication or not, I will still be a validly ordained priest and still will be able to serve the people of God," she said.

The women are to be ordained by Dana Reynolds, a California woman who was consecrated as a bishop in Germany in April.

Reynolds and the others are part of an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which has been holding ordination ceremonies for women since 2002; the organization says there are now 28 women Catholic priests in the United States.

Among those already ordained is Jean Marchant, a former director of healthcare ministry for the Archdiocese of Boston, who with her husband presides over a small congregation that has a weekly Catholic Eucharist in a Protestant church in Weston.

The organization says its ordinations are valid because its first bishops were ordained by Catholic bishops in good standing - bishops whose names have not been released because they would face sanction by the Vatican.

But the Vatican says the ordinations are illegal under church law and yesterday the Archdiocese of Boston sent an e-mail to all priests declaring that women play key roles in the church, but cannot be priests.

"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 archdiocese said. "As a faith community rooted in the loving ministry of Jesus Christ, we pray for those who have willingly fallen away from the church by participating in such activities."

The ordination will be Sunday afternoon in Church of the Covenant on Newbury Street in Boston's Back Bay. The church is affiliated with two Protestant denominations, the Presbyterian Church (USA) and the United Church of Christ.

The interim pastor of Church of the Covenant, the Rev. Jennifer Wegter-McNelly, said the congregation decided to rent its historic space, with Tiffany windows depicting women of the Bible, at a nominal fee to show support.

"It's our effort to encourage and celebrate with them," Wegter-McNelly said. "This church's commitment to women goes back a long time."

The ceremony has been scheduled to coincide with the first joint conference of four organizations pushing for the admission of married men, as well as of women, to the priesthood. That conference begins today at the Hyatt Harborside.

In St. Louis, a recent Catholic women's ordination ceremony at a synagogue led to a rift in Catholic-Jewish relations.

The Boston archdiocese declined to comment about the Protestant church's decision to allow the dissident Catholics to meet there.

The Vatican has repeatedly said that women cannot be priests because Jesus did not have female apostles.

In 1994, in the most definitive recent Vatican statement on the issue, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter in which he wrote, "I declare that the church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women."

In its own statement, sent to priests by a vicar general, the Rev. Richard M. Erikson, the archdiocese said, "The ordination of men to the priesthood is not merely a matter of practice or discipline within the Catholic Church, but rather, it is part of the unalterable Deposit of Faith handed down by Christ through his apostles."

But the archdiocese also said it hopes the women involved will seek "reconciliation" with the Catholic Church, and said, "Following our devotion to Mary, the church is committed to, and sustained by the many important contributions of women each and every day."

Michael Paulson can be reached at

Clarification: The main headline on a report in yesterday's City and Region section may have led to the erroneous impression that three women will be recognized as priests by the Roman Catholic Church after their ordination tomorrow. As the report and a subordinate headline made clear, the women's status after the ordination is a matter of dispute. Although the organization hosting the ceremony will consider the women to be Catholic priests, the Vatican and the Archdiocese of Boston will regard them as having excommunicated themselves and therefore as being neither Catholic nor priests.


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