Janice Sevre-Duszynska was ordained a priest in 2008. A few months ago, she received a letter from her bishop in Lexington, Kentucky, formally excommunicating her from the Roman Catholic Church.
“For me, it’s a proud moment because I celebrate Eucharists all over the country and in the world and it says to me, this is ridiculous,” she said. “Why waste your energy and time on this? Why not embrace women, certainly like Jesus did in the Gospels?”
Sevre-Duszynska is one of about 500 who attended a conference in Philadelphia over the weekend hosted by Women’s Ordination Worldwide or WOW, an organization that supports the ordination of women as Catholic priests.
According to WOW, 180 women have been ordained in defiance of Vatican doctrine that only men can become priests. Many of them, like Sevre-Duszynska, have been excommunicated. Unlike male priests, these women are allowed to marry. The LGBTQ community is also welcome in their flock.
Sibyl Dana Reynolds is a retired bishop of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an international group that began in Germany with the ordination of seven women in 2002 along the Danube River. She was not raised Catholic, but went to parochial kindergarten. That’s when she first felt called to join the clergy.
“The first day, the sister who was my teacher put my hand in the holy water font and showed me how to cross myself … and I just knew something had happened to me in that moment at 5 years old,” said Reynolds. “From then on, it was absolutely a spiritual quest to know God more deeply.”
In 2004, when she learned of an international movement to ordain women, Reynolds decided to join.
Miriam Duignan, one of the organizers of the Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference, said the group chose Philadelphia for this year’s event to send a message to Catholic leaders ahead of Pope Francis’ visit.
“Nothing will change unless people really speak out and say to their priests and their bishops, ‘I don’t want you to keep saying women can’t be priests because they’ve failed to be male,'” Duignan said.
The group reached out to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia and while they received a warm welcome, Duignan said, they were unsuccessful in arranging a meeting with Archbishop Charles Chaput.
While other Christian denominations allow women to be ordained, the Roman Catholic Church holds that priests must follow the example of Jesus and the disciples who were men.
Sevre-Duszynska and Reynolds both expressed hope that one day, the Holy See will welcome women as clergy. Reynolds compared the Vatican hierarchy to an old, tired dragon, standing in a medieval courtyard, whose “tail is still thrashing, but it can’t blow smoke anymore and it’s lying there dying.
“Something is changing, and I think God is at work in that,” she said. “How that will evolve, I have no idea.”