Women celebrate Mass, challenge the Vatican's refusal to ordain

Sunday, May 4, 2003

PHILADELPHIA -- The Rev. Judith Heffernan doesn't let herself worry about whether celebrating Mass will mean getting excommunicated.

Papal rulings to the contrary, Heffernan has performed baptisms, heard confessions, celebrated Mass and participated in last rites as a Catholic priest for 23 years, since a Jesuit priest ordained her before her church, the Community of the Christian Spirit in Philadelphia.

"I don't want to be excommunicated, but I decided that you can't be excommunicated from something you are," Heffernan said. "And the doctrine of the church is that we are the church."

Heffernan was one of several women priests who gathered Saturday to talk about their unauthorized ordinations at a gathering sponsored by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women's Ordination Conference. About 200 people attended.

Catherine Rossi, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, declined to comment on whether the archdiocese would take any action concerning the meeting.

Some participants, including the keynote speaker, the Rev. Ida Raming, already have been excommunicated.

Raming, a German theologian and author, was among seven women ordained June 29 on a boat on the Danube River between Germany and Austria. The Vatican excommunicated them and prohibited them from celebrating Mass or receiving the sacraments.

Despite that, Raming said their ordination was a step toward changing church law that says that because Jesus chose only men to be his apostles, only males can be priests.

"The presence of these ordained women is very much a step toward liberation of women and ordination of women in the church," Raming said. "If we want them to be accepted, we must make them present."

Pope John Paul II has repeatedly ruled out any discussion of changing the ban on female priests.

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