September 16th, 2010
09:31 AM ET

Roman Catholic Women Priests

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?

Some Catholic women aren't waiting for an answer from the Vatican - they say they've figured out a way around the traditional church and are leading Catholic congregations.

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.
"I don't think he's open and that's a huge roadblock."

It's a kind of spiritual roadblock that Gloria Carpeneto is trying to remove and the Catholic Church is resisting.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Bishops • Catholic Church • Women

soundoff (67 Responses)
  1. Olivia

    I am doing a highschool paper on this for school. It's a required philosophical paper for religion class on the subject of women priests and if it is valid. My opinion is that it is wrong and a form of heresy but I have to show both sides and refute the side philosophically.
    Guess I best keep up the research. Thanks for the information.

    May 14, 2013 at 8:19 pm |
  2. Barb

    Why not women? The Catholic church is too much like a "boys club". We are all made in the image of God and all equal. Although I was raised in the Catholic tradition I find it insulting to be regulated and controlled by men. This "interpretation" of the Bible is just that- a man's interpretation to repress women. I am looking for another Christian faith that truly treats all of God's people equally.

    June 20, 2012 at 12:06 pm |
  3. Vianney

    THERE ARE NO CATHOLIC WOMEN PRIESTS. It is stated that ordination of women as priests in the Roman Catholic church is illegal an therefore invalid. Any one who does it is against the ruling of the Roman Catholic Church and therefore, was he does is against and outside the church.

    Those so called women priests are either of another faith or doing drama within the catholic church. They are not with the Pope. Those who attend their so called mass are on their own drama.

    I am not surprised that they are the same people welcoming the gays among their congregations. Let them announce categorically tha they are separeted brothers and sisters because one who considers themselves catholic MUST be in agreement with the vicar of Christ on earth ie The Holy Father.

    March 21, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  4. jrw

    Truthfully the fundamental issue is the Church is not and has not ever been a democracy. The pope remains the final arbitrar of the Catholic faith. No matter how much we want to vote on if is position of correct in the modern world, this is not the reality of the Catholic faith. I am not surprised to seem them excommunicated, nor am i surprised with the statement that those who attend such at ordination would be excommunicated. I did not attend such a ceremony for that very reason. If you want change in the Church you need to convince the Pope, not force him.

    December 15, 2010 at 2:58 pm |

    A slight correction:
    A)There are no catholic female priests, and there never will be.
    B)The Holy Catholic Church is not Vogue Magazine, and it never will be.

    C) The fact that society changes is of no concern of ours.

    Society may turn into a frog for all we care.

    The Holy Catholich church will not change, or accomodate your fads or fancies.
    Today it is womens rights. Tomorrow there will be frogs rights. We don`t care.

    November 25, 2010 at 11:42 am |
  6. Fidel

    Most of the women advocating for Women Priest are as ambitious as Lucifer who was not content on being a chief Angel but to overthrow God. There is proper order of things. God has ordered things in the way he created man and woman. When that order is violated... things go teribly wrong... You can see that not only do they want women priests, all other aboninations are being advocated for... Divorcees, gays, and what else... Remember when Moses sister Miriam, decided to take on the role of the priest...she ended up with leprousy... and this women are not far from the worst kind of spiritual leprousy. See societies where women have decided to compete with men, families, children have been the victims and eventually the society will reap the foul fruit of that decision.

    November 25, 2010 at 11:10 am |
  7. Telperion

    If you're not Roman Catholic, then it's none of your business...stay out of it. You have no more of a right to tell the Catholics what they should do than you do telling a Muslim or a Hindu. It's their internal issue and these women show their lack of respect for authority by dragging their church's laundry out before the world to try and garner sympathy for their cause. The fact that they know they'll get more support from the secular humanists and atheists that make up the loudest portion of our society than from their own church shows whose side they're really on...i'ld call those wolves in sheep's clothing.

    November 4, 2010 at 1:44 am |
  8. Telperion

    The Roman Catholic church has the same rights as any other religious organization. They can make by-laws that determine the qualifications for leaders just like any of the other religions of the world. It doesn't matter what those outside the religious organization think, nor does it matter what a small minority of people within the organization think about those by-laws. The Roman Catholic church has given women many important roles to play in the life of the church, and, in fact, they give women a much more prominent role than most of the other major world religions (Islam, Judaism, and Hinduism for example). Just because western culture has suddenly decided that male and female roles should be interchangeable doesn't mean that all the religions of the world have to surrender to that notion. These women who are defying their church's by-laws are only showing that they are not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. They say they don't want to go to another church to get what they want, but they have actually just created a schismatic group by defying their leadership. (Just for the record, I am NOT Roman Catholic)

    November 4, 2010 at 1:33 am |
  9. Cade Mitchell

    The media knows very little about Traditional Roman Cathlolicism. They tire themselves over these little stories, but if they would simply look at the time somewhere between 1958-1964 (the novus ordo changes), they would have a much greater story. This church that the media talks about today is what traditionalists call Vatican II, a church that is no longer Catholic.

    October 28, 2010 at 8:48 pm |
  10. Frank

    "They feel the Church should welcome divorced people and gays, too."

    It does. The priest at the Cathedral I attend is divorced, so are many of the laypeople. LGBT people are welcome to attend, as well. No one is barred from attending Mass.

    I wonder what these women think they are doing to help change the Church. Rome does not consider them legitimate so they may as well be from another denomination.

    October 4, 2010 at 4:42 am |
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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 with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.