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Posted Friday Aug. 4, 2006 at 11:56 a.m. CDT

This story appears in the Aug. 11 issue of National Catholic Reporter

Twelve women ordained in Pittsburgh on riverboat

Religion News Service

Vested in white albs, and ultimately donning brilliantly colored silk stoles, 12 women were ordained July 31 as deacons and priests aboard a riverboat here by a group that claims they are valid Roman Catholic ordinations.

After the ritual, the eight who had been proclaimed priests by the group Roman Catholic Womenpriests danced and sang "We Are Chosen," holding hands with their female bishops. More than 350 guests cheered and applauded.

The Pittsburgh diocese, however, has declared that none of the ordinations is legitimate, and warned that those involved have excommunicated themselves.

"This is both a political and a sacramental action," said Patricia Fresen, one of three co-consecrators. She says she was ordained a bishop in secret by an active Roman Catholic bishop in Europe.

"These women being ordained today are ... being called by name and sent out, as Mary Magdalene was, to proclaim the good news of Jesus' life, message and resurrection, his message of the innate dignity of every human person created in God's image," Fresen said.

"I am utterly convinced that our ordinations are valid," she said at an earlier news conference. "Although they break the [church] law, we believe we are breaking an unjust law. I come from South Africa. We learned from Nelson Mandela and others that if a law is unjust, it must be changed. And if you cannot change it, you must break it."

This is the fourth rite that Roman Catholic Womenpriests has held since 2002, and the first in the United States. All took place on riverboats because a cathedral was not an option, and they cited the imagery of the church as the ship of faith.

After bishops in Europe said the first group had excommunicated themselves, the women appealed their case to the Vatican. In 2003 Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger -- now Pope Benedict XVI -- upheld the excommunication.

On Monday, the Fr. Ronald Lengwin, spokesman for the Catholic diocese of Pittsburgh, called the ceremony "a sad moment for us."

"It has fostered even greater disunity in the church than what existed before this day began. We pray for reconciliation. We pray for unity," Lengwin said.

Most of the ordinands were either grandmothers or old enough to be so. Those ordained for priesthood were Eileen McCafferty DiFranco of Philadelphia; Olivia Doko of Pismo Beach, Calif.; Joan Clark Houk of McCandless, Pa.; Kathleen Strack Kunster of Emeryville, Calif.; Bridget Mary Meehan of Sarasota, Fla.; Rebecca McGuyver of Millbrook, Ala.; Dana Reynolds of Carmel, Calif.; and Kathy Sullivan Vandenberg of Waukesha, Wis.

Ordained as deacons were Cheryl Bristol of Mount Clements, Mich.; Juanita Cordero of Los Gatos, Calif.; Mary Ellen Robertson of Muskegon, Mich.; and Janice Sevre-Duszynska of Lexington, Ky. http://johnallen.ncrcafe.orgJoin a discussion of this story.
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Two are well known in Catholic circles. Meehan is the author of many books on spirituality. Sevre-Duszynska is noted for her "ministry of irritation" in which she has been known to speak out at ordinations and meetings of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Also present was Jean Marchant, whom the group ordained under a pseudonym last year in Canada because, until she resigned last week, she was director of health care ministries for the Boston archdiocese.

Roman Catholic Womenpriests says that 130 people -- including a few men -- are now either clergy or candidates in their preparation program, and that 80 of those are from the United States.

The group advocates changes in the church far beyond women's ordination. They called for a church that would be "non-hierarchical and non-clerical." The bishops pledged to practice "servant leadership." Those ordained did not promise obedience to any bishop.

The ceremony opened with each woman bringing a vial of water from someplace special to her, and mingling the waters in a bowl that would later be poured into the river.

"Today we give honor to our mother God," said Dagmar Celeste, a priest of the group and former first lady of Ohio. "Just as the water broke in the womb of our mother, so we open the waters of mother church."

In the most traditional part of the rite, the women prostrated themselves before a makeshift altar, while the congregation sang a litany of saints, invoking many traditional holy men and women. But they also named non-Catholics, including some whose causes were at odds with church teaching -- such as the murdered San Francisco politician and gay activist Harvey Milk.

As they concelebrated their first Eucharist, the women offered their prayers "together with Benedict, our pope, and with all our bishops, men and women."

Houk, 66, has a degree that would  lead to ordination as an Episcopal priest. She chose the riverboat "because I'm Catholic," she said. She expects God to recognize her ordination, even if the church does not.

But she also said she will abide by church restrictions on her, and will not go forward for Communion in her parish. "I will remain in my pew and pray for all of those others who also cannot receive Communion," she said.

Gifts and statements of support came from several like-minded groups, including the Women's Ordination Conference. But some Catholic advocates of women's ordination had reservations.

Phyllis Zagano, a senior research associate at Hofstra University on Long Island, is a Catholic theologian who focuses on advocating women's ordination to the diaconate because the pope has not closed that discussion.

Although she said the riverboat rituals get more people talking about ordination, she cited reservations about some of the candidates.

"From what I have read of their biographies, some of the women are not much interested in much of what the Roman Catholic church teaches. So there is a conundrum there. How can you be ordained to serve a community of believers if you don't agree with them?" she said.

August 4, 2006, National Catholic Reporter

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