Catholics who thought they never would live to see the ordination of women priests can witness it right here in Morristown, on Saturday, April 25, 2015.
The Vatican does not recognize females as priests, and has warned women that the ritual amounts to automatic excommunication, according to the Rev. Marellen Mayers, who has traveled from Baltimore for Saturday’s ceremony.
“Jesus calls both men and women,” Mayers countered.
Established in Germany in 2002, Roman Catholic Womenpriests now numbers about 200 women priests, mostly in the U.S., Mayers said. They have staked a claim to “apostolic succession” — theological legitimacy — based on ordinations they say were performed by Catholic bishops who they decline to name.
Asked in 2013 about the ordination of women, Pope Francis declared: “The church has spoken and says no… That door is closed.”
Wouldn’t it be easier for women to switch to the Episcopal Church, where they would be welcomed into the priesthood?
“I’m born and raised a Roman Catholic,” Mayers said. “As much as I appreciate the Episcopal Church and all they have done to further social justice, I’m Roman Catholic and want to further change in my church.”
One of the seven women to be ordained, Susan Schessler, is a retired school administrator from High Bridge, Mayers said. The others hail from Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Maryland.
About 200 people, including 25 priests from the sect, are anticipated to attend the two-hour service.
Morristown was chosen because it’s central to the ministry’s eastern region, which extends from Nova Scotia to Florida, and because it’s near where the Rev. Mary Ann Schoettly preached until her death last year, Mayers said.
The Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community worships in Harding and Sparta.
Services celebrated by the Roman Catholic Womenpriests differ from traditional Catholic masses in more than priestly gender. Anyone can take communion. And the liturgical language is more “inclusive,” Mayers said.
Instead of parishes or congregations, these women priests lead “inclusive communities,” which gather in rented halls or homes, as early Christians did, Mayers said.
There are no seminaries for these women. Requirements for the priesthood generally include a master’s degree in divinity/ theology, parish experience, and psychological screening, Mayers said.
Many of the candidates are former nuns, Mayers said. Others are retirees or work day jobs, because they are not paid for their ministries. Mayers works as a preschool administrator; she had to forego her career as a Catholic school theology teacher when she pursued the priesthood.
The Vatican’s insistence on celibate male priests, stretching back centuries, is rooted not in theology, but rather in protecting church property from being handed down to heirs of clergy, Mayers said.
Yet she contends the modern church would have saved enormous sums — and spared many children from trauma — by ordaining women.
“If men and women were in the ministry all along, the pedophile scandal never would have happened,” Mayers said. “Women would have held men accountable.”