Women of the Cloth

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Boston was again the center of controversy in the Catholic church this weekend, as three women who want to be Catholic priests went through a ceremony in the Back Bay yesterday. Catholics who hope to pressure the Church into dropping its prohibition on women priests say the three women are now ordained.

WBUR's Fred Thys reports.


FRED THYS: A dramatic thunderstorm drenched the Back Bay as people darted across Newbury Street in their Sunday finest, hoping to make it to the church doors without getting their clothes soaked. Within a few minutes, the water was overflowing from the street onto the sidewalk. It flooded the basement of the Church of the Covenant, a protestant church. But none of that was about to stop the momentous events inside. There is considerable debate as to the exact meaning of what transpired over the next three hours. From the perspective of those present, these women were being ordained as Catholic priests, and the way they see it, no one can deny them that right, not even the Pope. The women were being ordained by bishops who claim that they were themselves secretly ordained by a bishop in good standing in the Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston declined to offer anyone to discuss the ceremony. But a spokesman from the church made it clear that these women are not priests in eyes of the Church, and in a statement, the Archdiocese says the women excommunicated themselves by their actions.


Judy Lee, of Fort Myers, Florida, was one of the women ordained.

JUDY LEE: The Pope feels he has the authority to excommunicate us, but we do not accept it. We feel that it is an unjust law.

THYS: Given the stakes, you might have expected a small a small ceremony out of sight. Instead, 2500 people filled one of the largest churches in Boston. They came from all over the country, many of them friends of three women ordained, but there were also people such as Ann McDonald, a Catholic from Rockland.

ANN MCDONALD: I have a lot of faith in God. I wanted to understand what this was all about, because I did not have a good understanding of it, and I am so pleased that now, women are able to do what they do as far as God and delivering his message is concerned.

THYS: None of the women ordained were from New England. Judy Lee is from Fort Myers, Florida, Gloria Carpeneto came from Baltimore, and Gabriella Velardi Ward lives in New York City. The ceremony coincided with a weekend-convention in the city gathering Catholics who support the ordination of women and of married men as priests.

Inside the sanctuary, it was sweltering. Fans of all kinds were at work: big electric fans, their propellers roaring, small battery-operated fans, and the old-fashioned fanning of church programs, white pamphlets waving to and fro as if in unison across the pews.

The women lay prostrate in the center aisle as singers chanted the names of prophets and saints whose praises were sung for laying the way for the rebels inside the church.

The mass was very much like a traditional Catholic mass, with some exceptions.

PRIEST: Our Mother and Father, who art in heaven...

THYS: Instead of the wafers that normally serve as hosts during Catholic communion, the bread broken looked more like giant cookies.

PRIEST: Our sacred bread is gluten free, so it is safe for those with a sensitivity to wheat, and there is white grape juice along with the red wine, which has also been consecrated.

THYS: The ceremony took place under one of the glories of Boston, an enormous Tiffany lantern with female angels holding light bulbs wired at the dawn of the electric age, supposedly by Thomas Edison himself. The angels lifted their lighted bulbs over a congregation that embraced with joy the radical acts that had just taken place.

This program aired on July 21, 2008. The audio for this program is not available.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reported on politics and higher education for WBUR.