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. Scott

    Though these women cannot legally in the Catholic faith be priests, they truly should have the right, I would suggest that these women look into possibly the Episcopal Church as I, a Roman Catholic, have gone to an Episcopal Church and find the basic belief and practice identical, however they accept women as ordained priests. The website said that they wanted to keep their Catholic Traditon and the Episcopal Church is very much in Catholic Tradition without the ties to Rome.

    September 29, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
  2. Rachel

    I would also like to point out that these women aren't just saying they are Catholic priests, but their doctrine is off too.

    Please listen to the beginning:

    1. She never met the bishop, she doesn't know who it is. A bishop cannot just make a priest over the phone, he has to be present.

    2. She claims that Mary is PART OF THE TRINITY. That right there is HERETICAL!

    3. They aren't part of the CATHOLIC CHURCH as a whole. They may call themselves Catholic, but they aren't Catholic.

    September 20, 2010 at 12:37 pm |
    • Lyly

      To be a religious minister ( priest, sister, etc) takes years of studying theology to understand the doctrines. So if these women have even the basic foundations wrong ( " Mary is part of the trinity"), how qualified are they to be priests?

      Also, I have to question why they have to be priests? Women have never been looked at as inferior in the Catholic Church because sisters are valued just as priests. LIke Rachel said earlier, women and men have different but equally important roles.

      September 22, 2010 at 1:15 am |
    • Frank

      It is heretical and non-Catholic indeed. I am open to the idea of female priests but they are really shooting themselves in the foot. This is a hold over from the second wave feminism of the '70s, and their age shows it. We can 'thank' people like Mary Daly for this.

      October 4, 2010 at 4:49 am |
  3. Stu

    These women are just a bunch of silly blue-hairs.

    September 19, 2010 at 10:09 pm |
  4. Doug Lawrence

    These women are knowingly perpetrating a fraud on the theologically unschooled. They know better, but their supporters obviously do not. There are no square circles, and there can be no female priests. That's just the way it is. Besides, there's more than enough narcissists in the Catholic priesthood, already.

    September 17, 2010 at 11:41 am |
    • NL

      If there's one thing that women have learned from the suffrage movement it's that men will never voluntarily give them any right. Sometimes, that means going against the established law. It tolerates traditionalist Catholic groups who ignore the reforms of Vatican II, so where is the consistency in enforcing the rules? You may talk of square circles, but the RCC has the ability to make this change. Another pope may be more than just sympathetic.

      September 17, 2010 at 1:11 pm |
  5. Rocky

    I wish American Catholics would just schism already. Breaking ties with Rome is the first step toward being taken seriously.

    September 17, 2010 at 5:52 am |
  6. VeritasBible

    It's not that the pope refuses to ordain women. Rather there is simply nothing in the early Church Tradition or the Holy Bible that allows or even suggests that the pope can sanction it. No pope is going to change this.

    September 17, 2010 at 2:34 am |
  7. Steven D

    These women are not priest's as their sham ordination was performed by a rogue bishop who, along with these women need to be excommunicated. Most of the women looked like those femenist nuns whose Order doesn't wear a habit anymore and practice a very strong femenist, almost pagan theology that is incompatible with Church doctrine. Which makes me wonder why they continue to remain in the Roman Church.

    September 16, 2010 at 5:31 pm |
    • Kate

      @Steven D

      One has to wonder from your wording if your objection is based on some thoughts you have about their apparely/appearance more than any legitimacy of their ordinations ...

      One might even think that the meaning behind your description is they look at little too butch for your liking.

      Oh, as an aside, I wonder what your opinions are on hijab.

      Just thinkin'

      September 16, 2010 at 5:36 pm |
  8. Iqbal khan


    September 16, 2010 at 5:13 pm |
  9. HotAirAce

    It indicates in the article above how women can get ordained as a priest in the RCC, but how do they get to lead a congregation? As in, somebody must "hire" them, right? Isn't the congregation at risk of sanctions (excommunication?) for listening to an illegitemate priest? Is a marriage performed by women priests legal – within the RCC and/or with civil authorities?

    September 16, 2010 at 5:08 pm |
    • Kate


      As long as they have a civil license to perform marriages, they can marry people.

      Just sayin'

      September 16, 2010 at 5:23 pm |
    • NL

      Meanwhile, can't you get the basic qualification to call yourself "minister" or "pastor" within protestant circles by taking on-line courses and then holding service in movie theatres, night clubs, parks or on street corners? Seriously, what's to stop these people from starting their own church? Lots of liberal Catholic groups out there.

      September 16, 2010 at 7:14 pm |
    • Kate


      If I had to guess, I'd say it's like "Why do Sufis call themselves Muslims?" – that might not be the best analogy but it's been a long day, sorry.

      I guess it all boils down to the self identification of the pract|tioners. Their disagreement isn't with the faith itself, it's with the organization. They consider themselves roman catholics, believe in that tradition and path, but they disagree with Ratzinger and all the rest of the dusty dried up men at the pinnacle of the church.

      From that perspective, I can see why they'd consider themselves catholics even though there's no way those in power will ever accept them as equal members of the faith.

      The flip side is, there are hordes of ways they could practice a religion, and use whatever name they wanted to, separate – Westboro Baptist Church calls themselves Baptists but I doubt any Baptist in the world would agree, for example. I don't know how nasty the church lawyers are about copyright infringement though (I heard they're bringing the entire weight of the vatican to bear on some poor sap whose logo looks like the papal key thing).

      It might just boil down to they're doing what they believe is right and necessary, too. The catholic church needs dragging kicking and screaming into the 21st century too. If people from within aren't willing to stand up for what they believe in, then there can't be change – and you could ask yourself if people who aren't willing to make a stand for what they believe in like this, do they believe in anything at all?

      I think this comment thread is handling the topic a lot better than the last time this one was broached on the comments system though. Signal to noise ratio is way better.

      Just musin'

      September 16, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
    • Lily

      No, they cannot. And I am not just Sayin, this is not allowed in the Roman Catholic Church which was what you originally asked. For, you did not ask whether it is valid according to the relativistic world we live in, you asked if it is valid in the RCC.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:26 pm |
    • Kate


      HotAirAce did ask if it was legal in the church and/or to civil authorities.

      Just sayin'

      September 16, 2010 at 11:45 pm |
    • Rachel

      If they don't agree with only men priests, then they do have a problem with the faith because that is part of the Deposit of Faith.

      Women cannot be priests, this is what we believe as part of our faith. It is not the organization that has decided this, it has always been part of our faith.

      You are either Catholic and follow the Catholic Church's doctrines or you aren't Catholic.

      There is no in between.

      September 20, 2010 at 12:19 pm |
  10. Reality

    The larger question is: Why would any woman or man, married or not want to become a leader of any religion considering the flawed histories and theologies of these religions???

    September 16, 2010 at 4:15 pm |
  11. docbrierley

    Let's get the premise straight...men, not God, prohibit the ordination of women. My God is not that small. God does not exclude, men do. God includes , even women.

    September 16, 2010 at 1:52 pm |
    • NL

      Your God does not exclude, eh? Well, is your God big enough to include gays in ordination? How about marriage? Is your God big enough to include them in everything too?

      September 16, 2010 at 6:59 pm |
    • docbrierley

      Reply to NL: Yes, of course. That is what inclusion means. As outsiders, women and gays have the opportunity to bring a refreshingly needed breathe of fresh air to the forum. The question then beomes who will influence whom? Historically, the power problem sees a complete flip as the oppressed (joins with/is co-opted by power and) becomes the oppressor. At least the outsiders can bring a tension to the situation for awhile. If they are strong enough, they may have an opportunity to bring lasting change or at least hopefully have the opportunity to move humans one step out of the cave.

      September 17, 2010 at 5:42 am |
    • Rachel

      You just showed the problem right there though.

      There is only one God. There is not "My God" and "Your God".

      You cannot sit there and say "Well, *my* God says abortion is acceptable". You are deciding what God believes and doesn't based on your own flawed human intellect.

      God does include everyone, I do agree with you on that, but inclusion does not mean synonomyous to each other.

      Men cannot have children–it's a fact and even if you say "My God includes everyone and no one is excluded", God has excluded men from experiencing the joy of motherhood. Of pregnancy. Of nursing and that special bond that only mothers feel with their children.

      This does not mean that men are therefore less than women, it just means they have a different role. And women are not part of the priestly role, it is not our place. That is for men. I do not feel slighted by this, I do not feel held down or oppressed.

      God has given me something that only I can do and God has given men something that only they can do.

      September 20, 2010 at 12:25 pm |
  12. Pakistani Christian

    Don't these guys look kind of like heavy metal Jesus?

    September 16, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
  13. JohnQuest

    Reality thank you for pointing this out, I don't think is means "only men can be priest" it would be just as absurd as arguing that only cats name Peter can be priest.

    Can someone please explain their logic, I don't get it (where is CatholicMom when you need her)?

    September 16, 2010 at 1:50 pm |
    • NL

      Maybe Jesus meant that only cats named Peter can be stones.

      September 16, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  14. Reality

    The topic issue revolves around a single passage in the gospels:

    Matthew, 16:18
    "And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it."

    Again the problem is in the history. Did the simple preacher man aka Jesus, an illiterate rabbi at best make this statement thereby establishing a church? No, based on the lack of historical proof e.g. "Thou art Peter" passage only appears in Matthew's gospel, a single attestation added at a late date by Matthew i.e. as per many NT and historic Jesus exegetes the passage was added by Matthew to give some leadership credence to the growing Christian sect.

    Matthew, whoever he was, was therefore a part founder/"necessary accessory" of the Catholic Church, as was Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James his brother, Mary Magdelene, Mary, Joseph and another father if you believe the ma-mzer stories, the Apostles and Pilate. It was a team effort with Pilate being the strangest "necessary accessory".

    September 16, 2010 at 1:06 pm |
    • GoodNatured

      Reality: First of all Jesus was not an "illiterate" Rabbi but an itinerate Rabbi; he had no temple as a home. He was a well trained Jew as all were during his time.

      September 16, 2010 at 1:45 pm |
    • Reality

      Only for new members:

      The illiteracy of the simple preacher man aka Jesus, as per contemporary experts:

      From Professor Bruce Chilton's commentary in his book, Rabbi Jesus, An Intimate Biography,
      "What Luke misses is that Jesus stood in the synagogue as an illiterate m–amzer in his claim to be the Lord's anointed". Note: Luke 4: 16 is a single attestation. No where else in the NT does it say Jesus could read thereby making said passage historically unreliable.

      Crossan suggests Jesus was an illiterate "Jewish Cynic" from a landless peasant background, initially a follower of John the Baptist.

      The question of Jesus's literacy has also been much discussed in modern scholarship; the Jesus Seminar and others feel references in the Gospels to Jesus reading and writing may well be fictions.

      The only Gospel reference to Jesus writing is John 8:6 in the Pericope Adulterae, widely considered a later addition, where it is not even clear he is forming letters in the dust, and the Greek "εγραφεν" could equally mean he was drawing.

      It is very unfortunate that Jesus was illiterate for it resulted in many gospels and epistles being written years after his death by non-witnesses. This resulted in significant differences in said gospels and epistles and with many embellishments to raise Jesus to the level of a deity to compete with the Roman gods and emperors. See Raymond Brown's book, An Introduction to the New Testament, (Luke 4:16 note on p. 237) for an exhaustive review of the true writers of the gospels and epistles.

      Of course, Muslims believe that Mohammed was also illiterate. This way, they can claim that the only way he could have received the "angelic", koranic passages of death to all infidels and Islamic domination of the globe by any means, was orally since he could not read and write. Google it for verification.

      September 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
    • Jeff

      Seriously, you're basing your opinions on the findings of the Jesus Seminar? That's just funny...

      September 16, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
    • NL

      Can you suggest a better method than the Jesus Seminar to sift the gospels for the things authentic of Jesus?

      September 17, 2010 at 8:08 am |
    • Reality


      Professors Chilton and Brown are/were never members of the Jesus Seminar. Professor Crossan's conclusions are not part of the Seminarians' conclusions but come from his 20+ books on the historic Jesus.


      Some added observations:

      And I do believe that even you will admit that the conclusions of the Jesus Seminarians and others of similar education are slowly but surely "deflawing" Christianity. Their scholarship and reasoning simply trump the 2000 years of orthodox, superst-ition-driven mumbo-jumbo. It is no accident that you see such an outpouring of thinking by such a large number of atheists in these discussions. Most of these non-believers have escaped the clutches of this orthodox Christian mumbo jumbo. Hopefully, one day we will see a huge number of Muslims making their great leap forward. Hirsi Ali and Salman Rushdie are showing the way in this regard.

      September 17, 2010 at 5:35 pm |
    • Frank

      The Jesus Seminar might as well be New Age. They're a joke.

      October 4, 2010 at 5:01 am |
    • God Bless America

      to "Reality"-
      Jesus was not illiterate. Read the Gospels. When he was still a boy he read and explained scripture so well that the learned elders were amazed.

      November 5, 2010 at 6:16 pm |
  15. Sensus Fidei

    Folks, these women have valid orders as the succession is undeniable. That's why the Church actively condemns and doesn't ignore. Much more is to come, have faith!

    September 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
    • Ted

      These women are not priests. They went through what is called "attempted ordination". Ordination requires valid form (the rite of ordination, via a legitimate Catholic bishop) and valid matter (a baptized male). In this case the form was valid but not the matter. So they were not successfully ordained, thus they are not priests.

      By the way, the Church does not deny that women are not as capable as men, on a natural level. But She (The Church) believes that it is the command of the Lord that men should succeed him as priests, since they do they work "in the person of Christ", and Christ (who was not bound by earthly conventions) selected only males. The Church sees his choice not as accidental but as having deep meaning. Females have many other roles in the Church, with the Virgin Mary as a key icon. But The Lord reserved the ordained priesthood to men.

      September 19, 2010 at 7:48 am |
    • Kate


      The Church sees his choice not as accidental but as having deep meaning. [...] But The Lord reserved the ordained priesthood to men.

      How extraordinarily convenient ...

      Just observin'

      September 19, 2010 at 11:25 am |
  16. Frogist

    I did not realise that there were already women priests and bishops especially in such large numbers. Seems to me they have created movement towards change and I applaud them. There is absolutely no valid reason women cannot perform the tasks of a priest. If they feel they were called by god, then the church should welcome them. The church has changed before and it can change again.
    I am shocked and confused that the Vatican would equate women priests with pedophilia. Shows you just how messed up their perspective really is on both topics.

    September 16, 2010 at 10:36 am |
    • Mayor McCheese

      Tha Vatican did not equate women "priests" with pedophilia.

      September 16, 2010 at 1:28 pm |
    • Kay Akers

      The sad fact, no matter how much they deny it, is that the vatican considers womenpriests an even graver sin than child rapists. Womenpriests are automatically excommunicated and no child torturer and rapist has ever been excommunicated. On the contrary, many have been promoted (Cardinal Law for instance).

      September 16, 2010 at 3:23 pm |
    • Rachel

      @ Kay

      That is untrue. Many of the priests who were found to be guilty of pedophelia were defrocked and by their actions were automatically excommunicated.

      The problem though is that most of these cases coming out against Catholic priests who were supposed pedophiles are dead. They cannot be defrocked or brought to court to plead guilty or not guilty because they are dead!

      Look up the statistics, most of these cases happened between 1940 and 1970–most of the priests who suppsedly committed these crimes have passed away.

      September 20, 2010 at 12:32 pm |
  17. dotKomo

    For sacraments to be valid, there must be proper form and matter. In the sacrament of holy orders, the proper "matter" must be male. The ordination of women has about as much validity of passing on apostolic succession as ordaining a Big Mac.

    September 16, 2010 at 10:19 am |
    • Cautionary Tale

      Then they should ordain a Big Mac while they're at it.
      It would make more sense then your ideas of "proper form and matter."

      September 16, 2010 at 10:52 am |
    • JohnQuest

      I'm sorry dotKomo where is this written? I don't think Jesus said anything about this did he?

      September 16, 2010 at 1:44 pm |
    • Disa

      You do realize that in the early Christian church, there were many female priests? They're listed by name in the epistles...

      September 16, 2010 at 5:41 pm |
    • Lily

      Disa, what version are you reading that from, hope is not the ones that came, what? about 1000 years after the original epistles? The matter and form is all over scripture. I dont understand how one could not notice that.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:14 pm |
  18. bostonjim

    I'm an agnostic, with nary a dog in this fight. Still, I gotta say this- if you are a catholic, that means you recognize the central and total authority of Rome. The pope has stated that women cannot be priests. This follows centuries of catholic dogma that agrees. You can dislike this fact. You can argue against it. You can protest. What you cannot do, I'm sorry, is just get yourself ordained a priest. You do that, you no longer are a catholic. Which is fine, by the way, have at it. There are plenty of other christian denominations out there- find one that more readily suits your personal beliefs. You'll probably be happier for it. But a catholic that refuses to acknowledge the authority of the pope is, you know, not a catholic.

    September 16, 2010 at 10:19 am |
    • Grandis

      I am a protestant Christian, and I have to say, I agree. I believe these dissidents have the right to argue for their position, but until the hierarchy of this Most Hierarchical of all organizations accepts the validity of their arguements, they must abide by the position of the Church. OR leave that organization for one which is more in line with their own beliefs.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • GoodNatured

      Bostonjim: Thank you so much for putting a face of reason on this issue. If I want to play golf on a golf course, I need to adhere to the rules of game and no one complains about that. Being Catholic is a CHOICE...aren't we a country all about choice? If you choose to be Catholic, which I am, you have chosen to abide by the teachings of the that organization. If you are in the military, the uniformed services as it were, you must obey the Uniformed Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) or the will boot you. There was line in Full Metal Jacket I think that state (and I paraphrase) that the military exists to project democracy not practice it. No one has said the Catholic Church is a democracy, if it was it would have continued to exist for over 2000 years. Sorry girls, the Anglicans are looking for a few good women if you want to make the switch.

      September 16, 2010 at 1:40 pm |
    • NL

      Being Catholic isn't just about being dictated to by Rome. Most American Catholics treat the Pope like Canadians treat the Queen: Out of mind until they make a visit, or happen to die.

      There's a lot to be said about being a Catholic-brand of Christian. You don't have to live "rapture ready" for one thing and you don't have to automatically be opposed to science (despite what CatholicMom says) either. Rome may be backward, but it still beats the general craziness of evangelicalism.

      September 16, 2010 at 6:45 pm |
  19. Bill

    This is not a news story. This is a blog post that promotes a single sided argument and fails to even remotely attempt to balance the coverage. It is solely an attempt to legitimize a fringe group that believes that public opinion is the basis of theology. If the women priest movement wants to actually address the issues – make theological arguments, based in authoritative sources. Stop using emotional appeals and polling an uneducated populace while creating strawmen to attack your theoretical misogynist hierarchy.

    September 16, 2010 at 10:17 am |
    • Kate


      Ummm, look at the banner graphic – Belief Blog. It's not filed as news, it's filed as a blog entry – which part of that wasn't entirely clear?

      The question should be: What about the article upsets you so much that you can't debate the substance of it, and instead resort to the simple expedient of attacking the legitimacy of the location it was posted in to begin with?

      I mean, the content of your comment makes it clear you have opinions. Would you care to share those with the rest of the class instead of just complaining about the format?

      Just sayin'

      September 16, 2010 at 1:43 pm |
    • Lily

      Bill I totally agree with you. I visited their website and they state that they have scriptural basis on their belifs, then at the end of the page they state that women ordination should not be based on scripture. Who understands them. They contradict themselves. I agree that they are mainly aiming to mere emotions. Something else I find silly is that they classify them as "Roman Catholic Priests" when Roman Catholicism does not accept them.

      September 16, 2010 at 11:08 pm |
    • Michael Fannon

      CNN is a liberal news organization which is why they believe in political theology rather then the Word of God. While I have no opinion on female priests, the Catholic Church is guided by God and therefore must be right in not ordaining woman right now.

      September 19, 2010 at 2:56 pm |
    • Helen Welter

      Those of you who say there is nothing on which to base the ordinations of women should study the history of the early church. Sorry, people, there is much evidence that women took an active role in priestly ministry in the early Church. Refusing to ordain women has nothing to do with what Jesus did (Jesus did not drive a car either but we don't say Catholics can't drive cars))but more to do with old men not wanting to loose their power.

      November 9, 2010 at 8:47 pm |
  20. HitGirl

    Teenage Mutant Roman Catholics! Hooray!

    September 16, 2010 at 9:51 am |
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