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STLOUIS-ORDAIN Nov-8-2007 (900 words) xxxn

Archbishop says women seeking ordination risk excommunication

By James Rygelski
Catholic News Service

ST. LOUIS (CNS) -- Two women who say they will be ordained Catholic priests Nov. 11 risk excommunication, as do any Catholics aiding them, Archbishop Raymond L. Burke of St. Louis said in his newspaper column two days before the purported ordination.

"The attempted ordination is a violation of what is most sacred to us in the church, one of the sacraments," he wrote in the Nov. 9 edition of the St. Louis Review, archdiocesan newspaper.

"It imperils the eternal salvation of the women seeking the attempted ordination and the woman, claiming to be a Roman Catholic bishop, who proposes to attempt the ordination," Archbishop Burke added. "It generates confusion among the faithful and others who are not Catholic regarding an infallible teaching of the Catholic faith."

Rose Marie Dunn Hudson of Festus, Mo., and Elsie Hainz McGrath of St. Louis are part of a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests. Begun in 2002, it claims to have had "womenpriests" ordained every year since then. The two are to be co-pastors of a congregation that will hold services in the city's central west end, according to a statement from the organization.

Archbishop Burke also said the fact that the ceremony was to take place in a local synagogue "constitutes a grave violation of the mutual respect which should mark the relationship between the Jewish faith and the Roman Catholic faith."

If the attempted ordination did go forward, the archbishop said the church would respond by excommunicating the two women and anyone who might help them. But he also asked Catholics to pray for the two women.

"I urge you, therefore, to offer fervent prayers for the women involved, that they will repent and be reconciled with the church. Please pray, too, for all who will be confused and led astray by their sinful action," he wrote.

Responding to the women's claim to ordination, two Catholic authorities said the Catholic Church ordains only men as priests because Christ chose men to be his apostles and the first priests.

Father Vincent A. Heier, director of the St. Louis Archdiocese's ecumenical and interreligious affairs office, and Lawrence J. Welch, professor of dogmatic theology at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary, also expressed dismay that a synagogue, Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis' central west end, was hosting the alleged ordination.

They said it was disrespectful toward Catholicism and could hinder future Catholic-Jewish relations.

Father Heier, who also is pastor of All Saints Parish in the St. Louis suburb of University City, and Welch said the ordination of men is in keeping with God's sacramental plan for the church and not a put-down of women or their important role in the church.

"This is a teaching of the church that goes back to what we think is the intentional choice of Jesus," Father Heier said of the traditional ordination of men only.

"The church believes in equal rights and equality of the sexes. But we also recognize that within the church there are differences in both ministry and roles," he said.

"The priesthood was founded on the discipleship of Twelve Apostles, all men, the intentional choice of Jesus and the early church," he added. "Because of that we have always maintained that men are called by the community to perform that function. We do not feel authorized to change that."

Welch spoke of the symbolic and theological connection between Christ and the church that went back to the Old Testament's description of God's relationship with Israel.

"In ordaining men, the church wasn't arbitrarily acting but conforming to God's plan for the church. Christ's relationship to the church is marital-spousal. God had a steadfast love for Israel, his bride," Welch said in noting the sacramental nature of the priesthood.

Through the Roman Catholic Womenpriests group, Rabbi Susan Talve said her congregation decided to sponsor the ceremony because "our building was built to be a 'sukkat shalom' -- a shelter of peace -- for those who need it."

But Father Heier said, "We have to respect the teachings of other faiths. We would expect others to respect ours as part of good interfaith relations. They're (Central Reform) not respecting our teachings. We wouldn't do that."

Father Heier said he expressed his disappointment to both Rabbi Talve and the board of directors.

Welch, appointed in 2002 to the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, has been part of interfaith discussions with the Disciples of Christ.

"It doesn't surprise me that non-Catholics do not accept the church's teaching (on male-only ordination), but it does surprise that another congregation would host (the ceremony). One of the basic principles of interreligious dialogue is that you don't sponsor things or people in opposition to the tenets and leadership of another faith," Welch said.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis issued a statement acknowledging that Catholics were upset with Central Reform's decision but stating that Judaism does not have a central authority to control the actions of individual synagogues.


"In the Jewish faith, there is no ecclesiastical hierarchy. Each congregation is free to act in accordance with its own understanding of Jewish tradition and law," the statement said.

"It is our hope that an isolated act on the part of a single congregation will not be allowed to disrupt the long tradition of continued dialogue and mutual respect between our Jewish and Roman Catholic communities," it said.

END


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