The Roman Catholic Womenpriests gained their 121st American member on Saturday, when candidate Ann Poelking Klonowski was ordained as a priest in Brecksville, Ohio — not that the Catholic Church recognizes the ceremony. Canon law 1024 states explicitly that "a baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly." In May 2008, Pope Benedict XVI, then a bishop, declared involvement with the Womenpriests a reason for automatic excommunication.
The Womenpriests, who have 145 women members worldwide, don't let the canon law bother them. "It doesn't have any meaning because no one really pays attention to it," Suzanne A. Thiel, a representative of the organization and one of the ordained, told The Atlantic Wire. "I think most of us just ignore it." The first ordinations performed by the Womenpriests occurred in 2002, when a male bishop ordained seven women in Germany's Danube River. The organization argues that their ordinations are legitimate due to apostolic succession — basically, the male bishop who ordained the original womenbishops gave them the ability to ordain others. Thiel called their work illicit, but valid.
It's possible to ignore canon laws, but not excommunication. Jennifer O'Malley was ordained as a priest in Los Angeles earlier this year, and said that she was "really grieved about not being able to be buried in a Catholic cemetery. That was sort of the ultimate exclusion." At the same time, she described her rebellion against the Church as following God's will:
You know, it’s a call from God, and I believe it to be a true call, so those other things have to be put aside. And if that means breaking a law within the church, I know within myself, within my intellect and emotionally, that it is the right thing to do.
Part of the Womenpriests' mission is to try to balance the priesthood, and tap into the "feminine" side of worship, Thiel said. Unlike their male counterparts, the Womenpriests don't have a church or diocese to look after, so have more freedom to work among the people by anointing the sick and by marrying people, including same-sex couples, she added. When people say the Womenpriests operate outside of "The Church," she argues that it depends on your definition of the Church. "Are you looking at the Church as the Vatican, the Pope, the hierarchy, or are you looking at it as the people?" Thiel said. "We're flourishing and the people have accepted us."
For those who define the Church as the Vatican — like, for instance, the Vatican — that's not quite good enough. Various groups have been calling for the Church to grant women access to the priesthood for decades. When the Church met to elect a new pope earlier this year members of the Women's Ordinance Conference protested with pink smoke. Even so, Pope Francis nipped the idea of female priests in the bud early on in his papacy. "The Church has spoken and says no … that door is closed," he said in July. But then, what else is new?
(Photos via Associated Press.)