The ordination last weekend in Catonsville of four women as Roman Catholic priests is just one indication of continued expansion of a movement begun in 2002 on the Danube River in Germany, according to one of its leaders.
That movement is “a renewed vision of the church and a renewed vision of priestly ministry,” said Gloria Carpeneto, who co-pastors the Living Water Community, the reform community in Catonsville that organized the event.
The community has grown from about 20 to 100 members since 2008 and operates from Catonsville.
The ordination took place at the St. John’s United Church of Christ in Catonsville, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The Roman Catholic Women Priests, an international reform group whose members consider themselves part of the Roman Catholic church, organized the event. The organization came into being after seven women were surreptitiously ordained by several male Roman Catholic bishops aboard a boat on the Danube River in 2002.
The newly ordained priests are: Patricia LaRosa of Rochester, N.Y; Caryl Johnson of Philadelphia, Ann Penick of La Plata, MD; Marellen Nayers of Forest Hill in Bel Air, MD. They were ordained at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Catonsville by Bishop Andrea Johnson from Annapolis.
Nayers said she “became aware that Christ was calling me to be involved in full ministry in the church,” about 10 years ago, although she has been involved in ministry through health and education for the past 35 years.
“It seemed to be the very next logical step for me to take,” Nayers said.
Nayers, LaRosa, Johnson and Penick join about 80 other U.S. priests, deacons and bishops ordained over the last nine years by the organization, Carpeneto said. There’s soon to be a bishop ordained in Canada and two women have been ordained as priests in Bogota, Columbia as well as others in Europe, she said.
“There are another 40 in the pipeline,” said Carpeneto.
However, the Catholic church does not recognize the group of women priests, although they perform all the same sacraments as male counterparts. Carpeneto acknowledged significant progress in the Roman Catholic Church but said there’s still the issue of church law that forbids ordination of women priests.
Carpeneto said she and others are often asked why they don’t just join the Episcopal Church which allows women priests.
“In our opinion we are still very much members of the Catholic Church. I’m not Episcopal,” is her answer. “We believe there can be diversity in the Roman Catholic Church without disrupting its unity.”
“Women have long held positions of leadership and authority in the archdiocese,” Sean Caine, the spokesman for the Archdiocese of Baltimore told The Baltimore Sun, which first reported the ordinations. Caine did not specifically answer questions about the RCWP movement or the ordinations.
“We are looking for a Roman Catholic Church that is inclusive and welcoming” and that “will bring the church back to what it was when it first started,” said Carpeneto.
Even though the women priests have no relationship or communication with the local archdiocese or the Vatican presently, Carpenet noted there is an abundance of archaeological evidence that women were priests, deacons and bishops in the early church. The home page of the organization’s website shows a photo of a mosaic from the Church of St. Praxedis in Rome with four women leaders of the early church in Rome.
“Our consciences have called us to break an unjust law,” she said.
She also noted that when male priests are ordained they make a promise of obedience to their bishops. “We make a promise of obedience to our calling and our God,” she said.
Carpeneto acknowledged some significant changes in the church, especially during Vatican II, but she doesn’t expect much more structural change in her lifetime. However she said she thinks that under the weight of all the problems and controversies such as sexual abuse by priests that the Roman Catholic Church is facing, “It will discover that 'one size fits all' can’t work forever.”