Group to ordain woman as priest in Kentucky
Rosemarie Smead admits her action is a flagrant defiance of Roman Catholic law.LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Rosemarie Smead sees herself as preparing all her life for the step she's about to take.
She was brought up a devout Catholic. She lived for a short time as a cloistered nun. She has theology and counseling degrees. She marched for civil rights in Selma, Ala. -- then worked with troubled children there for years. She forged a career as an Indiana University Southeast professor, training school counselors.
Now the petite 70-year-old from Bedford, Ky., is preparing for what she freely admits is a flagrant defiance of Roman Catholic law -- specifically Canon 1024, which restricts the priesthood to baptized men.
On Saturday, Smead is scheduled to be ordained by the dissident Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. The service will take place in a Protestant sanctuary.
It will be the first such ordination in Louisville by the decade-old Women Priests group, which has been holding such services around the world.
"It's illegal, but it's valid," said Smead. "In order to challenge this law, we have to break it."
National and Kentucky polls have shown around two-thirds of all Catholics -- but a minority of those who frequently attend Mass -- support ordaining women. But church leaders insist that public opinion won't alter Catholic doctrine.
"Despite the name, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests is not an entity of the Roman Catholic Church or the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Louisville," Louisville Archbishop Joseph Kurtz said in a statement. "Its action in carrying out a simulated ordination of Dr. Rosemarie Smead stands in direct opposition to the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on the priesthood."
Kurtz said the "simulation of a sacrament carries very serious penal sanctions in Church law, and Catholics should not support or participate."
In 2008, the Vatican stated that any woman who attempts ordination, and anyone seeking to confer it on her, faces automatic excommunication.
The association's 2008 ordination of a Lexington, Ky., woman, Janice Sevre-Duszynska, led to the defrocking of a Roman Catholic priest who took a prominent role in the ceremony.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says Jesus chose men as his apostles and that they chose men as their successors.
"The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord Himself. For this reason, the ordination of women is not possible," it says.
In the face of such opposition, Smead admits she hesitated to seek ordination at a retirement age, a decision "that would require me to have a great deal of courage and to stand up to the dudes."
But, she added, "I have never been a stay-in-the-box person. Because of my relationship with God, I have no fear of excommunication."
The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests traces its roots to 2002 and says it has ordained about 100 women priests worldwide, including several bishops, many leading small congregations independent from Vatican authority.
Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the association said its first bishops were ordained by a Roman Catholic bishop whose name has not been disclosed, giving them valid orders in the line of succession from the apostles.
Advocates for women's ordination contend there is evidence in ancient texts, burial art and other sources that early churches ordained women.
"We're reclaiming that earlier tradition," said Meehan, who will preside at Smead's ordination. She also cited gospel accounts of Jesus first appearing to women after his resurrection and telling them to bring the good news to others.
"That's the meaning of the word apostle, (one commissioned to) go and tell," she said.
Meehan said Smead has had "a lifelong call" to serving others and that ordination "would enhance and expand her ministry."
Smead attended Catholic schools while growing up in Ohio in the 1940s and 1950s. She said she felt a call to serve God and others, but the notion of a woman priest was never discussed then.
"I felt like the best thing I could possibly be is a contemplative nun in a monastery," Smead said.
She spent about three years at a Carmelite convent but left after her health broke down. "We went to bed at 11 o'clock at night. We got up at 4:30 in the morning," she said. "I could not deal with the sleep deprivation."
Eventually she went to Marquette University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in theology. In 1965, she and fellow students took part in the historic march through Selma in support of the Rev. Martin Luther King and other civil rights activists.
After a brief marriage, Smead began working toward a doctorate in counseling psychology at Auburn University while starting a clinic in nearby Montgomery, Ala., for children with severe learning disabilities and emotional problems.
She later returned to Selma to direct a treatment program for juvenile delinquents.
"They were lost in the system, but we took them," she said.
Seeking to train others in similar work, she became professor of counseling education at IUS in New Albany in 1981 and published how-to textbooks on group therapy for children.
Heart attacks in the 1990s prompted Smead to scale back her stressful regimen of teaching, publishing and conference travel. She pursued a new avocation -- raising Australian shepherds and bringing them to dog shows, then training children on how to do the same. Smead retired from IUS in 2007.
"All this time I was going to my Catholic church on Sundays, following what I believe is my spiritual life," she said.
But, she added, "doing couples counseling and family counseling for 40 years, you get pretty darn liberal. ... I've counseled so many women who would come in crying. They had six kids, and the husband and the priest were saying, 'Sorry, you cannot use birth control,' when she was at her wit's end."
When Smead learned about Bourgeois' plight, she looked up the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests online.
She contacted members, began attending its meetings in Cincinnati and was urged to apply for ordination. She said that was an answer to her prayer for direction after retirement.
"I'm in good health," she said. "I'm not going to sit on my duff. I never have. I need to be giving back."
Smead took correspondence courses in theology and was ordained a deacon by the association last fall.
Many women priests host small churches, as Smead has begun doing in recent months, calling it Christ Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community. Starting May 11, she'll be leading monthly services, using space at St. Andrew.
St. Andrew's pastor, the Rev. Jimmy Watson, said hosting the service was natural for a congregation that welcomes openly gay members and whose denomination was a pioneer in ordaining women.
"These acts reflect the United Church of Christ's extravagant sense of hospitality and inclusion," Watson said.