A 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.