September 16th, 2010
09:31 AM ET
Editor's Note: CNN Correspondent Carol Costello and Producer Bob Ruff filed this report.
If the title makes you want to scratch you head, well, go ahead and scratch.
Catholicism, that's the Roman kind, has reserved its seats of power to men and men alone ever since Christ told Peter: "You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church."
Every Catholic leader from the Pope to the village priest is male. Women are permitted to be sisters, teach Catholicism in schools, and even assist in the Sunday Mass. But they can't actually preside over the Mass. Nor can they administer over most of the sacraments, which are reserved for priests and bishops.
Today, many Catholics are asking why? At a time when the church desperately needs more priests, why not allow women to preside over mass?
Gloria Carpeneto is one of them. She says she was ordained, thanks to an unnamed male bishop who secretly ordained the first female priests and bishops in 2002. Those women then ordained other women like Carpeneto, who says she is now able to hold mass every Sunday, in priestly robes, in front of small, but loyal congregations in Maryland.
"It struck me that I did not want to go to another faith tradition to be ordained," said Carpeneto. "It felt as though I had to leave my family to fulfill a call that I felt from God. And that didn’t feel right. And so the notion of being in the Roman Catholic church within the Roman Catholic tradition meant a lot to me."
According to canon lawyers though, it is impossible for Carpeneto to be a priest. The "secret Bishop" was automatically excommunicated - or banned from participating in the Church - because he knowingly violated church law. And certainly the Vatican made that clear when it re-stated recently that ordaining women as priests was a grave offense – a crime on the same level as pedophilia.
It's something Carpeneto finds horrifying. "I thought to myself, I didn't like the notion of suddenly I'm in the swimming pool with people who had been accused of sexual abuse, crimes against children."
Father Joseph Tobin, appointed last month by Pope Benedict to oversee religious work worldwide, says the comparison was inadvertent and wrong. But, he added, the ordination of women is still a serious crime.
"The Catholic Church," he says, "has traditionally not arrived at a point where it believes it is the will of God.I have to accept that."
Despite that, the movement to ordain women priests is growing. That first group of seven women ordained in 2002 has grown. There are now five bishops, 47 priests, 10 deacons, and 16 candidates for formation to priesthood in the United States.
Andrea Johnson, who considers herself a Catholic bishop, is thrilled by the numbers and undaunted by the fact the Catholic Church considers these women - illegitimate.
"It's Catholicism that needs us," she said. "We need the voices of men and women. We need everyone to work together in community, and I think the more we do of that the healthier the Church will be."
Those who attend services at Carpeneto's church agree. Most are women, who want something more from their Catholic faith. They feel the Church should welcome divorced people and gays, too.
But, Madeleine Rothe, from Baltimore, doubts Pope Benedict will ever bend.
It's a kind of spiritual roadblock that Gloria Carpeneto is trying to remove and the Catholic Church is resisting.
About this blog
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi with daily contributions from CNN's worldwide newsgathering team and frequent posts from religion scholar and author Stephen Prothero.