Two women are ready to be the new face of the priesthood, even as Archbishop Raymond Burke moved to formally penalize them for violating church law.
Rose Marie Dunn Hudson, 67, and Elsie Hainz McGrath, 69, were ordained Sunday as Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a reform movement begun in 2002.
The movement defies church doctrine that reserves ordination of priests and deacons to only men as unjust and discriminatory.
"After all these years, it's a great feeling to be a priest," Hudson said Monday.
She and McGrath will co-pastor a faith community starting Dec. 1 in space offered by a local Unitarian church.
The women said that at the end of Sunday's ceremony, attended by more than 600 people, they were served with a summons and letter from Burke ordering them to appear before a church tribunal Dec. 3.
Burke's three-page letter admonished the women to "renounce any attempts" to celebrate Mass, hear confessions or officiate at any other sacrament under the "penalty of interdict."
Interdiction is the withholding of Holy Communion and other church sacraments "until they acknowledge what they've done is wrong," said the Rev. Arthur Espelage, executive coordinator for the Canon Law Society of America.
On Nov. 5, Burke warned the women, also by letter, that they would be excommunicated if they proceeded with the ordination.
Burke is in Rome this week and cannot be reached for comment.
An archdiocesan spokeswoman said Burke would "never comment publicly on private correspondence" anyway.
Burke wrote in the archdiocesan newspaper Friday that the women will confuse and lead others astray by their "sinful action."
"He loves to do this," Hudson said. "But nobody's paying attention. Some of these laws have to be changed. The church has been practicing gender apartheid for centuries."
Neither woman plans to appear before the tribunal, which McGrath called a "canonical kangaroo court," referring to canon or church law.
"Why put yourself through such ridiculous grief?" she asked.
Espelage said the actions of Burke, a church lawyer who served on a Vatican supreme court, are "extremely formal" measures.
He said each rite the women preside over creates a deeper separation from the church.
"He knows the law very well," he said. "He's a very conservative archbishop, he's going to take a severe stand here. But even if you had a very liberal bishop, you'd have the same response.
"Civil disobedience doesn't change laws in the church."
McGrath said the two women are helping to "bring about badly needed reforms," to heal the church's "dysfunction."
She said she is doing the "bidding of my God, to further the cause of all the people who have been marginalized by this church."
Frank Flinn, adjunct professor of religious studies at Washington University who wrote "The Encyclopedia of Catholicism," called Sunday's event "a watershed."
"The church is going to have to change on this issue and these women were ahead of the curve."
He said scholars agree that women were fully functioning members of the early church, but the hierarchy wants to "preserve the male patriarchal model."
A former nun from South Africa who now lives in Germany ordained the women at a synagogue in St. Louis. Patricia Fresen, who has ordained other women, says she was ordained as a bishop in Germany in 2005 by an unnamed male bishop in good standing with the pope. She is not recognized as a bishop by the church hierarchy.
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