Yesterday in St. Louis, two more women were ordained as Catholic priests. Yes, two more women. (And in a synagogue, no less.)
Rose Marie Hudson, 67, and Elsie Hainz McGrath, 69, were ordained by an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which defines itself as "as an international initiative within the Roman Catholic Church." (Click here for a PDF with more background.)
St. Louis' Central Reform Congregation hosted the event. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, "To members of the diverse crowd [of 600] -- the dozen ministers in robes and stoles of different colors, those wearing yarmulkes, and some wearing buttons saying 'God loves us, just ask her' -- the ceremony showed unity and understanding."
To certain others, not so much. "The event of today is really very sad because the name Roman Catholic has been misused and misapplied," Dr. Lawrence J. Welch, a Kenrick-Glennon Seminary theology professor, told the paper. "There's been no ordination of Roman Catholic priests. In fact, there has been a profaning of something Roman Catholics believe is very sacred."
The ordination of women is (long story short) currently forbidden by the church; Hudson and McGrath have been threatened with excommunication. Of the roughly 100 women who have been ordained as priests or deacons worldwide -- 37 in the U.S. -- only the first seven have been formally excommunicated; others have basically received angry letters.
Still, as Salon reported last year, the "women priests" movement "is the most flamboyant and incendiary challenge to the Roman Catholic Church's unrelenting discrimination against women." (Read the whole piece; it's fascinating.) "They are asking, Is sexism a sin? How does the church reconcile its teaching that women and men are created in God's image, that once baptized, there is 'no male or female' and 'all are one in Christ Jesus,' with its contention that women cannot represent the ultimate sacred or hold ultimate power through ordination because they are, literally, the wrong 'substance'?"
Changing the church hierarchy, even symbolically, from the sidelines, or in secret, is not only about opening sacristy doors to women. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports: "As Hudson and McGrath welcomed hugs and congratulations in their new white vestments, Andrew Wolf, 34, made his way to Hudson. He said that as a homosexual, he fell away from Catholicism when he was 17. He recently wanted to return but wasn't sure how -- until Sunday. 'I look forward to coming to your service,' he told her. 'You have given me hope.'"