Kathy Vandenberg Ordination Issue

The following is Archbishop Dolan's statement regarding this activity:

Archdiocese of Milwaukee

With sadness I have heard the reports that a woman of the archdiocese, Kathy

Vandenberg, has attempted a simulated and invalid ceremony of ordination in

Pittsburgh. I regret it when anyone publicly jeopardizes his or her

relationship with the Church, which Ms. Vandenberg, by her action, has now

unfortunately done.

As my duty, I must notify the Apostolic See of this unfortunate even. If the

past is any guide, I would anticipate that the Congregation for the Doctrine

of Faith in Rome will soon inform the participants in this exercise that,

sadly, they are excommunicated from the Church.

I am also disappointed because Ms. Vandenberg and I had begun a fruitful

dialogue on the matter last fall. At that time, in company with the

Chancellor of the archdiocese, Dr. Barbara Anne Cusack, I had advised her that

any attempted ordination would affect her relationship with the Church. I

believed her sincerity when she assured me that she was unaware of such a

consequence, and did not want that to happen. I invited her to reflect on the

gravity of such a decision, to renounce it, and to return to the Church. She

asked for time to consider, which I gladly gave her, reminding her that, in

the meantime, she should refrain from the sacraments and any public role in

the Church. She promised she would confer with me about the next step. In

two subsequent letters, I have asked for her decision. Her regrettable

participation in the protest gives me her unfortunate answer.

The ultimate goal is to encourage repentance and reconciliation with the


My prayers for this result remain fervent.

Most Reverend Timothy M.


Archbishop of Milwaukee.

The very same day by sheer coincidence the following article appeared in the

Milwaukee/Journal Sentinel> (it is interesting to know that since Dolan arrived this gentleman speaks

from Rome in regard to local issues

And obtains space in the Editorial section of the newspaper)

Understanding the priestly role


I do not have an email address for him

Last week, eight women rode a boat down a river in Pittsburgh while taking

part in an ordination ceremony that, for the most part, resembled the Roman

Catholic rite.

The Catholic Church does not believe that women can be validly ordained, so

church leaders consider the ceremony to be both futile and reckless. Actually,

the Vatican has already excommunicated some of the women who took part in a

similar ceremony in 2002.

But members of the group, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, don't see it that way.

To them, the church's refusal to ordain women is unjust and discriminatory, on

par with apartheid.

One of the group's members, Kathy Sullivan Vandenberg of Waukesha, said that

she has felt called to the priesthood for about 30 years.

Although she says she will remain in her pew when it comes time for communion,

she also says she's "decided not to leave the church because I feel it is

important that good people stay so that we can change the church from within."

This is, of course, not the first time that the question has been raised.

In response to mounting pressure, the Vatican published an exhaustive

treatment of women's ordination under Pope Paul VI in 1976. At that time, he

pointed out that the Catholic Church had never before believed itself

authorized to ordain women. The heart of the matter, the document insisted, is

one's understanding of the priesthood itself.

In the Catholic tradition, priests are not seen as one type of minister among

others. Priestly ordination is professed to confer an identity. The priest

stands as an icon of Christ at crucial moments in the life of the community.

That is not to say, however, that women weren't involved in the life of the

Christian community during Jesus' time or that they aren't an important part

of its mission today.

We know that Jesus was accompanied by a group of women during his public life.

According to the biblical narrative, after the crucifixion, Christ appeared

first to a woman and then she proclaimed the paschal message to the rest of

his followers.

Jesus' attitude toward women departed sharply from that of his own cultural

milieu. From the Samaritan woman to the woman caught in adultery, his ministry

was consistently countercultural and free of unjust discrimination, which is,

after all, a sin.

As it turns out, there were female priests in other religions at the time.

Nevertheless, Christ did not call a single woman to become part of the 12

apostles, whom Catholics see as prototypes for the priesthood. And that

decision was considered normative by early Christians, as well as the church's

entire teaching authority up until the present.

Even today, women's ordination is entertained as a viable question by only a

segment of Catholics found mostly in the Western world.

Historically, the church has not claimed to be the master of its doctrines or

sacramental practices. Instead, it sees itself as their recipient and, as

such, it must be faithful to the essence of what has been handed down over the


Thus, when the otherwise prolific John Paul II wrote about women's ordination,

the document was less than two pages long. His predecessors had already spoken

definitively on the matter, and he was only pointing to an already sizable

body of controlling authority. Further discussion, he felt, would be fruitless

and might create the false impression that the church's position was


One of the questions raised by the Catholic Church's position is whether

equality can endure despite distinct identities.

Pope John Paul II was one of the people who believed it could. He defended the

absolute human, moral and civil equality of women even as he distinguished

different religious roles.

Today, when I take visitors to Rome on a tour of St. Peter's Basilica, I tell

them that it was designed to be symbolic and instructive during a time when

most pilgrims could neither read nor write.

One of the first things I point out after entering the church are the two rows

of statues carved into the pillars that support the great structure.

On the outer perimeter, obscured from view, are memorials honoring outstanding

popes. But on the inner, more prominently placed main aisle are sculptures of

men and women who are remembered as saints.

I tell each tour that these are the people who support the church from the

inside. They are its strength.

In other words, the highest places of honor in the Catholic Church are now,

and always have been, open to everyone. The most important Christians are not

the priests or even the popes.

They are the women and men who have struggled to love God and neighbor while

acting as the temporary custodians of a religious tradition that is,

ultimately, not of their own making.

Joseph Shimek is a seminarian for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee studying at the

Pontifical North American College in Rome.

This article was responded below by Marjorie Reiley Maguire, Ph.D., J.D.

Women and the Priestly Role


Marjorie Reiley Maguire, Ph.D., J.D.

The August 6 issue of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (p. 3J) published an article

by a Catholic seminarian living in Rome, which criticized the ordination of

eight women as Roman Catholic priests and four as deacons on July 31 in

Pittsburgh. Joseph Shimek was not at the ordination. I was. As a Catholic

woman theologian, I can attest to the validity of the ordination of these

women and to its solid grounding in history and Scripture.

What Mr. Shimek overlooked is the Roman Catholic theology of apostolic

succession. This is a kind of ecclesiastical genealogy whereby every Roman

Catholic bishop can trace back to at least the early centuries of the Church

(although not as far as an actual apostle) the bishops who were in the direct

line of the bishop who ordained him by the laying on of hands. It is this

apostolic succession that Catholics believe gives a bishop the authority to

ordain priests. It is this authority which will validate Mr. Shimek's own

ordination when that occurs.

The women bishops who performed the ordinations in Pittsburgh are also part of

this line of authority. They were ordained bishops by an unnamed, male bishop

in Europe, who presides over a diocese and is in full communion with the

Vatican. Two other male bishops assisted. This male bishop had the courage to

act on his belief that the Church needs women priests at this time and also

needs women bishops who can ensure that the ordination of women will continue.

When this male bishop ordained the women bishops, he solemnly said over them,

"This is not being done for you. This is so the work of justice may continue

in the Church."

The papers proving the ordination of the women bishops and the episcopal

genealogy behind it are locked in a bank vault in Europe until the unnamed

male bishop dies. This in itself is a sad commentary on the state of the


Because the women in Pittsburgh were ordained by three women bishops who are

in the long line of apostolic succession of bishops, the ordinations are

valid. The eight women are truly priests. They can celebrate Mass. They can

change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. However, the

ordinations are illicit, or unlawful, because the Vatican has not yet approved

the ordination of women in its canon law. Thus, none of the women expects to

be assigned to parish work by the local bishop.

As an argument for his criticism of the women's ordination, Mr. Shimek

repeated the erroneous historical claim that women have never been ordained

priests in the history of the Church. However, modern scholars have shown the

opposite. For instance, Biblical scholar and archeologist, Dorothy Irvin, has

published archeological and textual evidence from throughout Europe testifying

to women's ministries as both priests and bishops in the early Church. As late

as 820 A.D. there was a Bishop Theodora whose icon with her title can still be

seen in the Church of St. Praxedis in Rome. Unfortunately, Mr. Shimek is

probably not being taught this history in his seminary classes in Rome.

The claim of Mr. Shimek that the twelve apostles were the only ones Christ

originally called to be priests is also erroneous. Catholics trace the

institution of the priesthood to the Last Supper, not to the call of the

twelve apostles. In spite of the influence of artists who have shaped the

popular imagination by picturing only twelve men at the table with Jesus, the

Gospels actually say that Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with his

"disciples." The priest at a Catholic Mass solemnly says that Jesus said the

words of Consecration over the bread and wine to his "disciples." In the

Orthodox liturgy, the priest says that Jesus said these words to His "holy

apostles and disciples." Women were among the "disciples" of Jesus. Thus women

were among those ordained by Jesus as the first priests at the Last Supper.

Perhaps the most disturbing claim of Mr. Shimek, but not unique to him, is the

claim that only a man can be a priest because only a man can be an icon of

Jesus. This extremely radical theology reduces Jesus to phallus par

excellence, instead of human par excellence. It also reduces the priesthood to

a phallic symbol.

The women I saw ordained in Pittsburgh are holy, bright, and dedicated women.

Most of them are mothers and grandmothers. Most of them have yearned for

ordination for years. They have gotten theological degrees at their own

expense while raising families or doing healing work in the community. They

have not enjoyed the luxury of study in Rome paid for by the local bishop from

diocesan funds.

It would be scandalous if a Church which has not excommunicated priests who

are child molesters were to excommunicate these good women priests or deny

them communion at their parish churches. It is also scandalous for anyone in

the Church to continue to claim that God is not free to call these good women

to the priesthood.

Marjorie Reiley Maguire, Ph.D. (Catholic University), J.D. (University of

Wisconsin) is a Catholic theologian and attorney in Milwaukee.

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