Woman Faces Excommunication

Waukesha resident Kathy Sullivan Vandenberg faces excommunication for seeking the priesthood in an unsanctioned ordination ceremony, Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan said in a statement handed out at weekend Masses at Vandenberg's home parish.

Dolan wrote to parishioners at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Waukesha that it was his duty to notify the Vatican of Vandenberg's action. Dolan said her excommunication could come soon. The Roman Catholic Church prohibits women from becoming priests.

Vandenberg, 64, said Monday that she was "startled" by the letter and surprised that Dolan had "spent so much time and energy" on it when "other important things" might demand his attention.

In his letter to the parish, Dolan said he was "disappointed because Ms. Vandenberg and I had begun a fruitful dialogue on the matter last fall. At that time, . . . 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."

Vandenberg said Dolan requested the September 2005 meeting, and in a letter the month before it, he told her that "in the interim, you should not be exercising any liturgical or pastoral ministry in the Catholic church lest confusion or scandal arise among the people."

The next day, she said, she resigned her positions as a eucharistic minister and lector. "I cooperated with the archbishop," she said.

Vandenberg called her meeting with Dolan "very cordial . . . very respectful. . . . I told him about my call to ordination . . . and he was trying to give me some reasons to stay" in the church.

She was stung that Dolan made details of their talk public. "We both agreed that the meeting would be private," she said.

Dolan and Vandenberg disagree on what happened after the meeting.

"She promised she would confer with me about her next step," Dolan wrote to the parish. "In two subsequent letters, I have asked for her decision. Her regrettable participation in the protest gives me her unfortunate answer."

Vandenberg said that "wasn't quite accurate."

"I did respond to him in a letter," she said. "And I said . . . I (was) still deciding what I should do."

On July 31, Vandenberg and 11 other women took part in an ordination ceremony in Pittsburgh - eight to become priests and four to be deacons.

Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which organized the event, has held similar ceremonies in Canada and Europe.

The group claimed last week's ordinations were valid, performed by women "bishops" secretly ordained by anonymous male bishops. Dolan termed them "simulated and invalid."

Of official efforts to sever her ties to the church. Vandenberg said: "Excommunication is simply a punishment. That doesn't mean I'm excluded from the church. Only I can exclude myself."

And that she is not planning to do.

"I want to always be respectful of the church and the bishop," she said, "but there are times when you have to be obedient to God and not the bishop."

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