It’s not anchorlady, it’s anchorman. And that’s a fact.

womenpriests2A few readers sent along Kim Vo’s Mercury News piece about a renegade group of Roman Catholic women who have been ordained.

The fledgling congregation gathered in a circle at Sunday Mass at Spartan Memorial Chapel to introduce themselves. A woman in a long, white robe spoke first.

“My name is Victoria Rue,” she said. “And I am a Roman Catholic woman priest.”

Rue belongs to a renegade movement that is ordaining women as Catholic priests, in defiance of the Vatican. Today, Rue celebrates Mass at the non-denominational chapel at San Jose State University.

Joining her at the altar on Sundays — also in clerical robes — have been a married man, his wife and another woman. The ceremonies prompted the Diocese of San Jose this month to warn Catholics that the sacraments there would be invalid.

Vo says increasing numbers of women are joining the ordination movement, citing the dozen who will be ordained in Pittsburgh on July 31 as part of a program called Roman Catholic Womenpriests. There are actually a number of groups with historic or current roots in Rome that have ordained women or advocate for it. The history of the Old Catholic Church is particularly interesting for more on this.

The piece is frustratingly low on proper nouns and other specifics, but Vo sums up the church’s opposition in an abbreviated, easy-to-understand way:

The church says the movement is built on a falsehood: Women can’t be priests, so whatever ceremonies they hold are moot.

The women say they’re reforming the church by defying it, hoping to bring about a more inclusive institution that welcomes women, married men and gays in all of its ranks.

Vo says that the program to ordain women gained notoriety when a sympathetic bishop ordained seven women in 2002. She doesn’t mention it but the bishop, Romulo Braschi of Argentina, was not Roman Catholic at the time he ordained the women. She mentions that the women were excommunicated. This is important, so bear with me:

Still, some bishops went on to illicitly ordain two of those women as bishops, and they in turn have ordained other women. Local dioceses say those ordinations are hollow, citing canon law and the Vatican’s actions against the original seven.

Both sides turn to historical precedent and theology to support their views.

The group claims that because the women were initially ordained by bishops in good standing, their own ordinations are valid. Supporters say their stance has precedent in the early church, citing artifacts showing women at the Eucharist table and references to presbytera or episcopa — feminizations for priest and bishop.

Valid ordination is such an important issue in the Roman Catholic church that Vo’s line that “some bishops went on to illicitly ordain two of those women” needs to be parsed. Only bishops can validly administer the sacrament of holy orders. To this day, no one knows who ordained these excommunicated women or whether it even happened. There are no public witnesses. Since she is just taking the women’s ordination people at their word, she should note that. Not that it really matters from a Roman Catholic view, which she just presents as one of two sides in the ordination debate.

Now, as to the line about the women being ordained by bishops in good standing . . . Braschi was ordained in 1966 but left Rome to work with the Charismatic Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. He then, he says, received another ordination from Bishop Roberto Padin, who left the church but whose roots trace back to the 15th century. Braschi says he was ordained again by Jeronimo Podesta, an Argentinian bishop who served a few years in the 1960s before being removed as bishop. He continued to serve as priest until he married in 1972. Braschi also married. But the organizers say he’s a bona fide bishop since he can validly claim apostolic succession — even though the Vatican doesn’t recognize him.

Braschi, for his part, says he never presented himself as a Roman Catholic bishop. Again, not like this matters since Rome doesn’t consider ordinations of women to be valid. Back to Vo:

Polls show that a majority of American Catholics support women’s ordination, he said, but it’s unclear if they would support a maverick movement to bring it about.

What polls are these? I looked a bit and couldn’t find any. Which is why the reporter should specifically name the multiple polls she is summarizing.

Again, though, the presentation of this story fails to educate readers about how little renegade ordination activity really changes the church. As a result, the story reads a bit like a Womenpriests press release.

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  • Dcn. Andrew

    On the Womenpriests site is boldly displayed the famous mosaic of “Episcopa Theodora,” whom the group claims as being a female bishop in the 9th century. Yet even a cursory websearch reveals that “episcopa” was a title used not for female bishops, but rather most often for the wives of bishops (just as “presbytera” and “diakonissa” are used for the wives of presbyters and deacons in the Orthodox Church to this day).

    In this case, Theodora was the mother of Pope Paschal I and therefore probably had the honorific title by virtue of her son’s exalted position. The church which includes the mosaic was dedicated to Theodora by her son.

    All this would have made worthy mention in the article, since it’s one of the frequent cornerstones of the women’s ordination argument.

  • Corban

    Communion wine from a GLASS? Do they know nuthin’?

  • Paul Barnes

    I’m sorry, but whatever they are wearing in the picture is gaudy. Besides the fact that they are women, I don’t think I would ever be a repeat atendee of their service.

    One angle that I would like to see the media cover with women ordination is this: how does the movement affect men. I look at it like this: nearly all the lay organizations and parish ministries are predominately done by women. Therefore, when something is held, it has a definite female touch to it. Besides the whole ‘women are from venus’ angle, I am not overly sentimental. I am kinda macho, in that I love to drink beer, play sports, and debate (very heated debates) philosophy, religion, politics, and history. I have not found many women who have similar interests.

    So, how is someone like me (or, maybe just someone who likes to drink and play sports) going to relate to these ‘woman priests’? (Is not the proper term priestess?) I doubt I would.

    In the end, I think that many journalists fail to comprehend this point. Much of the parishes are overly effeminate. I’m sorry, but that does nothing for my spirituality. Men are just as spiritual as women, but there is a strong emphasis away from that in the modern church.

  • Susan

    Paul, you do realize that most faiths do have female religious leaders and that they haven’t necessarily created a “guy gap.” If you couldn’t relate to a woman priest, imgaine how a woman must feel when she talks to a celibate male priest who has been surrounded almost exclusively by men for years and years about her struggles with being a good wife or about her concerns about birth control.

  • Deborah


    You’d love David Murrow’s new book “Why Men Hate Going to Church” ( He says pretty much the same thing: that current evangelical culture is tilted toward female tastes in terms of worship style, programming, etc. He said, as an ad exec, the average church culture would be exactly what he would prescribe if their target market was 50-ish women. Ouch.

    I once heard Jack Hayford (of Church on the Way in Van Nuys) preach about why women could not be ordained. One of his reasons was, in essence, that restricting leadership to men was basically the only way to get them interested in church at all. Although he did not mean to be humorous, I had a good chuckle.

  • Jonathan S

    It took me a while to figure out the headline reference – nice Ron Burgundy quote! :-)

  • Cheryl

    When the writer says:

    “…Rue belongs to a renegade movement that is ordaining women as Catholic priests…”
    Sounds pretty definitive when it’s put that way. However, it would be more accurate to say that the renegade movement pretending to ordain women as Catholic priests, and/or that the women themselves are pretending to be ordained.

    But actually ordained? Um, no. It really is as simple as that.

  • Paul Barnes


    I am aware of other religious organizations ordaining women. For some reason, I feel dumb stating that. The reason why I focused on the Catholic Church is that a) I am Catholic b) I am a convert (from Pentecostalism) c) the article was on woman priests.

    Nearly every church is made of predominately women, at least, they are the ones who volunteer for most of the ministries. Why is that? How does it affect those ministries AND what ministries are offered?

    While I have not read ‘Why Men Hate Going to Church,’ I have heard about and read reviews of it. From what I have read, I strongly agree with it. Yet, I look at the broader ‘Catholic’ culture and I think that it is very effeminate. As previously mentioned, this is very frustrating for someone who thinks farting is the height of humour (Ok, not really, but you get the point I hope).

    How exactly is the Church oppressing women by not ordaining them? Journalists, please spell this out for me, because I don’t get it.

    Finally, I think an interesting news angle IS that the majority of church-goers are female. This shapes faith communities. Furthermore, this shaping of communities seems to (unintentially?) exclude ‘average joes’ from that community. I tend to think that this exclusion is a religion ghost that is missed by journalists.

  • Scott Allen

    Susan, I agree with you that celibate male priests who have set themselves apart are hard for women to “relate to.” You should also consider that it is hard for most (if not all) other people to “relate to” them.
    Nonetheless, I must disagree with you if “relatability” is your standard for what makes a good minister or priest.
    Nor should popularity be our standard for what makes a good minister or priest. Speculations by Paul, Deborah, and authors on how the leadership of women affects male attendance are entertaining, but merely reflect the “flip side” of a feminist political approach.
    So what is the proper standard for church leadership? The Bible. Why? If the Bible is not true, then why should we claim “Christianity” is anything other than another “do gooder” club?
    If Christ is real, and we are to trust Him to save us spiritually and resurrect us physically, surely we can expect Him to preserve His Word.
    By Biblical standards, celibacy is certainly not required of leaders, either in the old or new testaments. Conversely, male leadership is consistently asserted and demonstrated while female leadership is an exception, and most often a judgment on the failings of a particular generation of men.
    While we should accept the authority of the Scripture, this does not mean that we should suspend our thinking. It is arguable that the Bible reflects profound wisdom regarding male leadership. A key character trait of women is compromise — if I may generalize, women value socializing. Men are instinctively competitive, more ideological, and less willing to compromise. While we are all equal before the Lord, this could be the reason why leadership by men is the rule in both the old and new testaments.
    I am not catholic, and am not impartial. Nonetheless I believe that any impartial observer would agree that all denominations that have compromised on male leadership have subsequently compromised on the authority of the Bible in many (if not most) matters.
    Overall, I assert that true Christians want leaders who are faithful to the Word, no matter what the cost in condemnation by the world. I sympathize with the frustration catholics have with their leadership, but I believe that women priests are not a step forward in Biblical fidelity.

  • Stephen A.

    I’ve got to agree about the fashion sense of these priestesses. What are they wearing, red garbage bags?

    I kind of know where Paul’s coming from. Whenever a woman minister was called and came to our Presbyterian church as a minister, it seemed as if their vestments suddenly went from the “seasonal” color to rainbows, sunbeams and butterflies. With that change usually came a slightly more liberal and permissive version of the gospel and religion in general. Such “feminizations” are worthy of deeper reporting.

    I also wonder (and perhaps some Catholics can clear this up for me) about the validity of sacraments given by these womanpriests. (See: Donatist controversy for what triggered this line of thought.)

    In the time after Diocletion’s persecution, Christian Priests returning were told by Donatists that the sacraments they performed were invalid. The Church disagreed, and let them stand.

    Maybe it’s a point worth exploring in this case. Are the baptisms they perform automatically invalid in the eyes of the Church? And will they be allowed to perform weddings by the state as “clergy” since the validity of their ordinations is being denied by their Church?

  • Deborah

    “… if I may generalize, women value socializing. Men are instinctively competitive, more ideological, and less willing to compromise.”

    I think, to put a finer point on it, Scott, the difference you’re reaching for here is focusing on relative closeness of relationship is more a “feminine” trait, while focusing on the hierarchical aspect of relationship (who’s above whom – the “competitive” aspect) is a more “masculine” trait. (It’s dicey to do the “men are” and “women are” thing too literally, since most people have a mix of masculine and feminine traits.)

    Both are valid perspectives, but “named leadership” would be more important to the one valuing hierarchy, while the more functional and relational aspects of service would be more important to the one valuing closeness and intimacy of relationship. Such would partially explain why most of the hands-on work in churches (like teaching Sunday School) *tends* to be done by women.

    I disagree with Scott’s point that the question of how leadership affects male church participation is merely a “‘flip side’ of a feminist political approach.” I think Scripture’s position on male leadership reflects (and respects) the reality of how men and women in a fallen world really interact.

  • Cheryl

    I’m a cradle Catholic and used to be in the pro-female ordination camp, a line of thinking that is illustrated quite nicely by Susan’s comment.

    However, when I started reading up on what the Church teaches on this subject and why, I found that (much to my surprise!) it actually makes a lot of sense. It’s simply very difficult for we modern women to accept, but this is not about power. (This is true regardless of how many male clergy have abused their power over the centuries.) It’s also interesting to read about the early Church (books like the Rise of Christianity)…women were the ones pushing Christianity in the very beginning in part because it afforded them equal dignity and offered a very attractive alternative to a culture that practiced infanticide, etc.

    A priest is not someone who DOES something, a priest is someone who IS something, namely, an icon of Christ in the world. There is a big difference between rights and gifts. Ordination is not a right, it is a gift. Women have been given gifts from God that are not available to men (childbirth springs to mind).

    Beyond these enduring truths (and that is what they are), there are plenty of practical reasons why ordaining women to be Catholic priests is not a good idea, and Paul has hit upon some of them. It’s true that women are already completely immersed in parish life and administration. If they were to assume the “father” role in a parish, I think there would be more than a few guys who would simply pack it in because of overwhelming “feminization.” Generally speaking, men seem to need the strong male role models when it comes to sprituality. Our very orthodox, “regular guy” pastor started up a parish softball team and four of the guys ended up joining RCIA.

    Women were at the foot of the Cross until the very end, and a woman (Mary Magdalene) was the first to go to Christ’s tomb and proclaim the Good News. It’s worth thinking about.

  • Paul Druce

    Are the baptisms they perform automatically invalid in the eyes of the Church? And will they be allowed to perform weddings by the state as “clergy” since the validity of their ordinations is being denied by their Church?

    A valid baptism can be performed by anyone, even an atheist, so long as it is Trinitarian and intends, at least implicitly, to do what the Church does in baptism. If two Catholics were to attempt marriage at a ceremony officiated by these “priestesses” the Church would not recognize their marriage as valid.

  • Scott Allen

    Deborah, your comments all make sense. I just hope that we primarily focus on what is faithful to the Word, instead of how well it is received by any particular demographic (men, women, jews, gentiles, heterosexual, homosexual, rich, poor, etc.). While I worry about doing the “popular” thing just because it is perceived to be more appropriate (and ironically, how many liberal changes were made with the argument that “more people will feel welcome here” and subsequently reduced actual attendance due to compromise with Scripture?), I am mindful of Christ’s command not to hinder little ones from coming to Him (Matt 18:6) and examples like Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23.

  • Charles

    Wow. So this is their vision of the “liturgy” of the future..?? These people simply don’t get it. Colored toga like bags as vestments, a glass chalice, possibly leavened bread, a camera jammed up behind them to record the entire scene.. The “mass” as performance art and political theatre.

    An expression of the “spirit” of Vatican II par excellence. No reverence for the Eucharist there. Liturgy is just all about us and our politics, right ladies? Or ought I say “Mothers”?? Mothers. Right on. Good stuff.

    They should be glad they are incapable of consecrating the species. Else they would be just compounding their sacrilege.

    By the way, speaking as a (cradle) Catholic, it’s good to have you aboard the barque Paul. I second everything you say.

  • tmatt

    A quick note: We have two different issues here.

    It is one thing to say that a church led by these women and, let’s say, openly gay Catholics and/or married priests is not a recognized Roman Catholic flock.

    But they could, if they wished, start a new church — the American Catholic Church, Inc., or something like that. There are literally hundreds of Anglican and Orthodox and Old Catholic splinters around and they are legal, in the eyes of the state. Their weddings are legal, tax exemptions are sound, etc.

    But that does not appear to be an issue in this story.

    Wouldn’t be a bad thing for reporters to ask about, however.

  • Tom Breen

    Maybe it’s only interesting to a theology dork like me, but the whole question of “valid but illicit” regarding the sacraments is fascinating. The female ordination movement isn’t the only group benefiting from odd decisions of bishops: the radical Catholic traditionalist underground is rife with priests and bishops tracing their ordination to one disgruntled bishop or another.

    It might have made a worthwhile addition to the story to talk about what the church means when it says something is licit or illicit and valid or invalid.

  • Marcus

    Mormons have a great deal in common with Catholics. One commonality is that we do not ordain women, either. Why? Primarily because it is God’s church, and until he says otherwise, those are the rules.

    As it is, woman have a great deal of power and authority in the Church. My currently calling is Primary Pianist. This puts me directly under the Primary President, a woman. I get my direction from her, and the female Primary Chorister as well. I’ve got no problem with it.

    When I lived in Michigan, we had a change in bishops. The old bishop was released and given a new calling as Nursery Leader in the Primary. That placed him under the authority of the female Primary President. In point of fact, I think he actually reported to one of her conselors, another woman who reported to the Primary President. This sort of thing happens all the time in the Church. Most members say, “How neat!”

    We also have in common with the Catholics the problem of renegade members occasionally trying to force change by ordaining woman. Since it was not a proper ordaination, it is null and void. Since their ordaination was null and void, any rites and ordinances performed by the woman involved have no validity.

  • Will

    I recall that a poster on the “Independent Catholic” list (when I was still subscribing) relayed a report that Bishop Patricia Ford (presumably not the model) of the Servant Catholic Church (Not to be confused with the Google-returned “Christ the Servant Catholic Church”) was addressing a group of Marynoll Sisters who were carrying on about how they were so OPPRESSED because they can’t be ordained. Finally she could not stand any more and announced “You want to be ordained? Just step up and I’ll ordain you right now.” Did they step forward? Did they blazes. Evidently, what interests them is the assets and goodwill of the brand name Roman Catholicism Inc., and “other bodies which ordain women” will not do.

    As for the issue of “validity”… groups in the shadowy world of “wandering bishops” (See Ansons BISHOPS AT LARGE and similar works) get downright obsessive about it, to the point of cognitive dissonance. I keep asking my own associates if they really think that that anyone who worries about such things will stick around us heretics long enough to find out whether their orders are “valid” or not before he flees screaming.

  • Patrick O’Hannigan

    “Roman Catholic woman priest” would seem to be an impossibility, given what the late John Paul II and the then-cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said about the church not having the authority to confirm women in the ordained priesthood (as opposed, of course, to the “priesthood of all believers.”) You GetReligion folk are normally attuned to this sort of thing– so shouldn’t “ordained” in this context be in quotes?

  • Micah Weedman

    “The “mass” as performance art and political theatre.”

    umm, ever read von balthasar or william cavanuagh? the mass as performance art and political theatre is/are concept(s) that find much acceptance in widespread Catholic theology, actually.

  • Bob Koch

    The picture looks disturbingly like a Hidu goddess; arms everywhere….Perhaps appropriately so. Years ago, a very liberal Episcopal cleric related his experience in teaching in the diocisan theological school for late vocation types in the Diocese of Olympia in Washington State. He noted that as women began taking classes in the 70′s, men stopped. It wasn’t liberal women coming in and conservative men departing; there never were that many conservative types to start with. It just worked out that way, when it became an all woman thing, the guys left.

  • Fr. Giryus

    First thing first: they are ‘Priestesses’!
    Why do these feminists always avoid the word? You see, this isn’t about valuing women, this is about erasing the differences, creating an ‘effeminized’ environment, rather than genuinely masculine and feminine.

    Absolut Rubbish

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