This St. Louisan Became A Female Priest
November 15, 2019 1:17 PM   Subscribe

She Defied Centuries Of Catholic Tradition Elsie McGrath never thought of herself as a rulebreaker. But in 2007, she broke one of the most fundamental rules in Roman Catholicism when she became an ordained priest.
posted by robbyrobs (24 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Fundamental to Catholicism (but not Christianity) is the understanding that the church hierarchy is authoritative in part because they claim an unbroken line back to Jesus’ declaration to Simon that established the church:

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

Which is to say, just because they want to be Roman Catholic priests (and I don’t disagree with their desire) doesn’t mean they can simply declare themselves priests and bishop. Part of being a member of a club is recognizing the club’s rules don’t change unless the club as a body agrees to the change.

Good luck to them in their journey but it strikes me as quixotic at best and disingenuous at worst to claim you are a leader in a group that denies your right to exist.

*sigh*. I don’t know. Religion is weird; which is why I dropped that stuff a couple decades back.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 2:13 PM on November 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Previously.
posted by Fukiyama at 3:06 PM on November 15, 2019


As someone who grew up in the St Louis area and was forced to attend 12 years of Catholic school...this is a pretty big deal in the region. Catholicism flavors everything there in a way I haven't seen while living in 5 other US states, and anyone working to modify doctrine is a lightning rod.
posted by Abehammerb Lincoln at 3:17 PM on November 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


As a member of a congregation who ordained a female Episcopal priest in 1981, a delegate who voted to elect my diocese's first female bishop (and as an uncle to a Jesuit Priest) I'm torn in my response to this. McGath was ordained by Patricia Fresen, who was in turn ordained Bishop by Rómulo Antonio Braschi. But Braschi isn't a Roman Catholic Bishop. He is an independent, so I'm unclear how Fresen and thus McGrath consider themselves Roman Catholic priests, nevermind their excommunication. I want to say to her, join us! But I understand and respect her desire to participate fully in the particular church that she knows and loves.
posted by grimjeer at 3:26 PM on November 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Why would anyone want to be ordained in a church as corrupt as the Catholic Church? Even when the current regime and the scores of molester/priests are dead the taint of their actions and the ensuing coverups will remain.
posted by tommasz at 6:05 PM on November 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


I don’t understand how she became an ordained priest when that involves going through an official ceremony and accepted as a priest by the church - which she clearly isn’t. It just sounds like they made up their own ceremony and called themselves priests. Saying you’re one doesn’t make you one.

Also, I clearly understand her frustration at being denied this. I also don’t get why the church doesn’t allow married priests either.
posted by Jubey at 6:12 PM on November 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


I don’t understand how she became an ordained priest when that involves going through an official ceremony and accepted as a priest by the church - which she clearly isn’t.

Narrator: She didn't.
posted by This time is different. at 7:35 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Following the chain of ordination on wikipedia:

Elsie McGrath, ordained as a priest in 2007 by Patricia Fresen
Patricia Fresen ordained (as a bishop?) in 2003 by Rómulo Antonio Braschi
Rómulo Antonio Braschi ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1966, went independent in the 70s, and then consecrated as a bishop twice - by Roberto Garrido Padin and again by Hilarios Karl-Heinz Ungerer, unclear when

Roberto Garrido Padin consecrated as a bishop by Manoel Ceia Laranjeira in 1989
Manoel Ceia Laranjeira consecrated as a bishop by Salomão Barbosa Ferraz in 1951
Salomão Barbosa Ferraz ordained as a bishop by Carlos Duarte Costa 1945
and finally Carlos Duarte Costa consecrated as the Bishop of Botucatu in 1924 after nomination by Pope Pius XI. It was with him that the line of apostolic succession went outside the Roman Catholic church.

The other line, through Hilarios Karl-Heinz Ungerer, also appears to posses a valid chain of apostolic succession, but I can't fully trace it on wikipedia. In outlines it seems to pass through a catholic group from the netherlands that was forced into hiding during the protestant reformation and got a bit dissident before the rest of the church was able to reassert itself over them.

My understanding is that the Roman Catholic church is willing to recognize the validity of most of that succession, even if it's outside of their authority and communion. They draw the line at the ordination of women.

I had a conversation with a friend once about whether the catholic church will accept ordination of women or gay marriage first. I still think that ordination of women is likely to be first, since there's more schismatic activity related to ordination of women than there is related to gay marriage, but I'm willing to be surprised.

I do think they'll eventually accept both, but it will take a very long time.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 7:35 PM on November 15, 2019 [5 favorites]


Less glibly, from the Church's perspective, this is like Hilary Clinton claiming to be president because she won the popular vote. It seems insane to a lot of people outside the United States that Trump could win while losing the popular vote. It seems insane to a lot of people inside the United States. It would make much more sense and be far more just if the popular vote winner was the election winner. We could even change the rules so that the popular vote winner was the election winner. And yet, it would be false for Clinton to say that she's the president. In U.S. law and in the Catholic Church, there are meta-rules that establish what does and doesn't count as winning an election, changing a rule, becoming president, becoming a priest, etc.

As an ex-Catholic, these folks seem more pathetic than brave. It's like running for the Omelas City Council on a reform ticket.
posted by This time is different. at 7:53 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


If you want to trace apostolic succession, Catholic Hierarchy is the place to do it. Though keep in mind the webmaster sticks with approved bishops and doesn't follow the dubious schismatic lines.
posted by Fukiyama at 8:23 PM on November 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


Here's the thing: the excommunications effectively legitimize their priesthoods.

The Roman Catholic Church won't excommunicate a woman for becoming a rabbi or a minister. They'll just sorta shrug and say, "outside our authority." Despite distancing himself from their authority, they consider Rómulo Antonio Braschi to still be a legitimate Catholic authority.

If they thought he was non-Catholic, if they thought the ordinations didn't count or didn't matter, they wouldn't have needed to address them. They were excommunicated for becoming priests.
posted by explosion at 8:53 PM on November 15, 2019 [11 favorites]


They were excommunicated for “participating in an attempted female ordination”. Which I would read not as them actually becoming priests, but taking an action explicitly against church doctrine and challenging its hierarchy. Like getting fired from a company for claiming to be a manager but not actually being promoted.

(FWIW, think the Church should be ordaining women, but that’s not up to me and I haven’t been Catholic for a long while. )
posted by a device for making your enemy change his mind at 10:00 PM on November 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


Excommunication is literally a contract. It's a legal document, and that means that it has to be accepted by both parties for it to actually be in force.

Does anyone know if this makes any sense according to Catholic doctrine?

Really don't get modern Catholics who try to reform the church. Some people already tried that, and the result was some new churches, many of which are very happy to see women as their priests. If the Church is the community of the faithful and not the hierarchy rooted in the Holy See of Rome, then why do you care if you can join that hierarchy? The pederasts don't want you messing with their circle jerk.
posted by dis_integration at 6:35 AM on November 16, 2019


There's a certain sense that excommunication is chosen by the excommunicant through their actions, and in a formal case like this the Church will make the choice explicit with warnings and admonishments, but the choice is to accept Church doctrines and reconcile, or continue rejecting them and be excommunicated. A person can't just unilaterally reject excommunication.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 8:21 AM on November 16, 2019


Here's the thing: the excommunications effectively legitimize their priesthoods.

The Roman Catholic Church won't excommunicate a woman for becoming a rabbi or a minister. They'll just sorta shrug and say, "outside our authority." Despite distancing himself from their authority, they consider Rómulo Antonio Braschi to still be a legitimate Catholic authority.

If they thought he was non-Catholic, if they thought the ordinations didn't count or didn't matter, they wouldn't have needed to address them. They were excommunicated for becoming priests.


Oh, snap! How's that for a gotcha?

Excommunication is literally a contract. It's a legal document, and that means that it has to be accepted by both parties for it to actually be in force.

Does anyone know if this makes any sense according to Catholic doctrine?

Only if there's fringe on the Papal flag...

Normally, excommunication matters if you care about being a Catholic. Which means that you accept the legitimacy of the Church and its institutions, warts and all. If you don't, you find another or start your own. They got their magical priest powers presumably by legitimate line of succession equal to any male priest, and can do all the same hocus pocus as far as they're concerned. The Church just doesn't accept them as their own anymore and made it official.
posted by 2N2222 at 8:27 AM on November 16, 2019


I don't get all the scorn. Actions like this are a way of publicizing and resisting an injustice. You don't have to think Catholicism is worth keeping to see that. Clearly these women do want to keep it, and transform it. They are actually offering the church an option for letting go of harmful beliefs, which at some point, the church might see value in.
posted by emjaybee at 9:07 AM on November 16, 2019 [14 favorites]


In general, schismatic Catholics can do whatever they want to, because they've by definition gone outside one of the hard boundaries the Church has defined, the excommunication's been delivered, and they're on their own. Most of them, by their own recognizance, continue to be practicing, observant Catholics for the 98.5% of church doctrine they have no beef with, but it's on themselves to do so because they've detached themselves from the hierarchy and its enforcement.

Many schisms double-down on their path, implicitly acknowledging their excommunication by continuing to do the thing they were excommunicated for, but denying it (in both what they believe and what they practice) by continuing to declare themselves observant Catholics. This seems to be what Bishop Fresen is doing, and McGrath backs it up by declaring that an excommunication has to be a mutual agreement, although that effectively means to an outside observer that The Church considers McGrath to be excommunicated, regardless of what she thinks; the institution isn't waiting for her acknowledgement as long as she continues declaring herself a priest. Membership in a club is determined solely by those who run it.

Some schisms go the full monty by, instead of fighting their excommunication, recognizing the hierarchy of one of the several Popes-in-exile who support whatever issue their particular beef is about.

In the big tent of mainstream Catholicism, There is room for dissent. Any Catholic can declare and discuss their disagreement with many aspects of doctrine, whether it's regarding the rights of women and their roles in the hierarchy, or women's health, or the ability to divorce and remarry. The Church has been through big changes before, even though the change moves slowly. It's not taboo to disagree (for the most part), only to act on it while doctrine is unchanged. For some people though, merely disagreeing isn't enough, and this is often what happens. The system is not necessarily fair (although it probably thinks it is even while predictably coming down harder on certain classes of people and certain types of heresy), but it's also pretty immense and complex, which will lead to different consequences for the same action in different diocese.
posted by at by at 9:16 AM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


> magical priest powers

Can we not?
posted by at by at 9:17 AM on November 16, 2019 [8 favorites]


I don't get all the scorn. Actions like this are a way of publicizing and resisting an injustice.

Because they aren't just publicizing an injustice, they are making farcical claims about the way this particular religion works and relying on credulous reporters to interpret the religion by applying an alien set of rules to it. One reason you see derisory comments about protestantism in these contexts is because these stunts only make sense if you insist on seeing Catholicism as just a kind of baroque Protestantism. That kind of ethnocentrism is familiar to most American Catholics, which makes these things irritating performances of self-deception and self-loathing. It's also grating to see the lengths that people will go to to avoid being lumped in with the "bad" Catholics who leave the Church. They will protest, but only if they get to still be the good kid.

As for why non-Catholics heap on scorn, I leave to them.
posted by This time is different. at 12:10 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


I think this is awesome. I hadn't realized there was a whole movement of women doing this. Thank you for sharing this!
posted by lazuli at 1:55 PM on November 16, 2019


In my experience doctrinaire American Protestants (especially Baptists and megachurch types) are more likely to consider Catholics non-Christian saint-worshippers than "baroque Protestants."

Which is of course bizarre from the perspective of a secular Jew, but it's till true.

(The claim that the Catholic priesthood is somehow continuous in a self aware way all the way back to it being essentially a Jewish schism is also strange from that perspective.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:42 PM on November 16, 2019 [1 favorite]


The claim that the Catholic priesthood is somehow continuous in a self aware way all the way back to it being essentially a Jewish schism is also strange from that perspective.

As with so many other things nowadays, it doesn’t have to make sense - people just have to believe it.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 8:44 PM on November 16, 2019 [2 favorites]


"Part of being a member of a club is recognizing the club’s rules don’t change unless the club as a body agrees to the change."

To a point, yes.

But if Catholic lay people look at her excommunication and say, stop going to mass, then the club can be forced to take another look at its stupid rules. A club with rapidly shrinking members isn't really a club.

And religion is weird. It's amazing how God becomes less of a factor and his rules become open to interpretation when the donations dry up.
posted by prepmonkey at 7:40 AM on November 18, 2019 [2 favorites]


But if Catholic lay people look at her excommunication and say, stop going to mass, then the club can be forced to take another look at its stupid rules. A club with rapidly shrinking members isn't really a club.

Not necessarily. You castigate the leavers as Catholics In Name Only and double down on the shitty parts that made people leave. It is self-radicalizing.

Take a look at the Catholics in political life nowadays. Biden is about as liberal as it gets (which is to say, not really). Did you know that he was denied communion just a few weeks back because he is insufficiently pro-life?

Do you think William Barr or Kellyanne Conway or Sean Spicer or any of the other Catholics in the current administration have been denied communion?
posted by Big Al 8000 at 10:20 PM on November 18, 2019 [1 favorite]


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