By Lou Baldwin

Special to The CS&T

In an April 24 statement Cardinal Justin Rigali denounced the invalid ceremony of the priestly ordination of a New Jersey woman at a Philadelphia synagogue on April 26. (See the entire statement at the end of this article).

“It is most unfortunate that this pseudo-ordination has occurred within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I am concerned pastorally for the souls of those involved and for the Catholic faithful who may be confused,” the Cardinal said.

During the ceremony, held at Mishkan Shalom Reconstructionist Synagogue in the Manayunk section of the city, Mary Ann McCarthy Schoettly of the Newton, New Jersey area, participated in a ritual of ordination for the priesthood. Presiding at the ceremony were invalidly ordained bishops Patricia Fresan and Andrea Johnson, members of a dissident group, Womenpriests. Also included was an ordination ceremony for the diaconate of Chava (Michelle) Redonnet of Rochester, N.Y.

Schoettly, 66, is a retired public school biology teacher and the spanorced mother of three grown children. In previous years she was actively involved in her local parish.

“I truly believe that all people benefit from the spiritual ministries of both women and men, and to limit those ministries denies to all people – women and men – the fullness of spirituality,” she said in a news release.

Although the women involved assert the ceremonies make them validly ordained Roman Catholic clerics, in fact, participation in the ritual for the ordination of a woman bishop, priest or deacon carries an automatic excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.

The penalty holds for “those who falsely present themselves for ordination in such an invalid ceremony – as well as those who falsely claim to be ordaining the women,” Cardinal Rigali said in his statement, citing the General Decree regarding the delict (offense) of attempted sacred ordination of a woman, issued by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, Dec. 19, 2007.

Schoettly would have incurred this penalty when she presented herself for the diaconate in Boston last year.

The position of the Church that women cannot be ordained to sacred ministry was explained in detail in the Oct. 15, 1976 document Inter Insignores (Among the Characteristics), issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as ordered by Pope Paul VI.

“The Catholic Church has never felt that priestly or episcopal ordination can be validly conferred on women,” the document begins. “A few heretical sects in the first centuries, especially Gnostic ones, entrusted the exercise of the priestly ministry to women: This innovation was immediately noted and condemned by the Fathers, who considered it as unacceptable in the Church.”

The document explains, “That by calling only men to the priestly order and ministry in its true sense, the Church intends to remain faithful to the type of ordained ministry willed by the Lord Jesus Christ and carefully maintained by the Apostles.”

The document refutes the argument that Christ did not ordain women because the customs of the times would not permit it by citing the many times Christ departed from Mosaic Law to assist women.

“Jesus Christ did not call any women to become part of the twelve,” Inter Insignores says. “If He acted in this way, it was not in order to conform to the customs of His time, for His attitude towards women was quite different from that of His milieu, and He deliberately and courageously broke with it.”

The document, which was issued on the Feast of St. Teresa of Avila, a Doctor of the Church, took note of the many roles women do play in the Church.

“Today their role is of capital importance, both for the renewal and humanization of society and for the rediscovery of believers of the true face of the Church,” the document said.

Since its issuance of Inter Insignores the Church has further reiterated the exclusively male priesthood.

The 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, issued during the pontificate of John Paul II, states (1577) “Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination. The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.”

On May 29 of that same year Pope John Paul, in the Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (Priestly Ordination) said, “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

“This particular action of pseudo ordination reminds all of us to embrace the Church’s teaching on this issue of ordination and to understand it and teach it,” commented Father Dennis Gill, Director of the Archdiocesan Office for Worship. “We need to have thoughtful teaching and reflection all of the time and in every area of the Church, not just by priests, but by parents, religious, teachers, all of us.”

Lou Baldwin is a member of St. Leo Parish and a freelance writer.

Statement from Cardinal Justin Rigali

on the invalid ceremony of the ordination
of women in Philadelphia

It is most unfortunate that this pseudo-Ordination has occurred within the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. I am concerned pastorally for the souls of those involved and for the Catholic faithful who may be confused. Those who present themselves for ordination at such an invalid ceremony – as well as those who falsely claim to be ordaining the women – are, by their actions, automatically excommunicated from the Church. (General Decree regarding the delict of attempted sacred ordination of a woman, Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, December 19, 2007)

Such a ceremony is in violation of the constant teaching of the Church, based on Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Both clearly indicate that Jesus called only men to follow Him as Apostles, and the Church has always regarded His choice in this matter as normative for all time. Therefore, she has always followed Jesus’ example by choosing only men for the ministry of Holy Orders. This teaching has been confirmed by the supreme authority of the Catholic Church as definitive and irreformable. Consequently, the Church is not authorized by Christ to confer Holy Orders upon women, and cannot do so, no matter how ardent a person’s desire may be.

All Catholic men and women bring different yet equally valuable gifts to the Church. The Church is strongest when the gifts given by Christ to all her members are celebrated and respected. Our late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, said, “The presence and the role of women in the life of the Church, although not linked to the ministerial priesthood, remain absolutely necessary and irreplaceable.” (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, 1994).

God’s gifts, however, are never given to inspaniduals merely for their own fulfillment, but for the unfolding of His plan of salvation in the Church for the benefit of the whole community of the faithful, and no one’s true personal dignity in the Church can be fostered in opposition to the will of Christ Himself. Consequently, such a pseudo-ordination ceremony denigrates the truth entrusted to the Church by Christ Himself, and demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the respect and dignity accorded to women by Christ and His Church.