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Iowa City woman ordained as a bishop

BY CATHRYN SLOANE | JUNE 14, 2010 7:30 AM

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Mary Kay Kusner was raised as a quite traditional Roman Catholic.

On Sunday, she was ordained as a priest — a role for women that is anything but traditional in the Catholic Church.

Kusner’s ordination was made possible by the Roman Catholic Womenpriests organization, a group loyal to the church in its teachings and rituals but denounced by the church for its belief that women, too, can be priests.

“We’re growing very quickly, and the people are accepting us,” Roman Catholic Woman Bishop, Bridget Mary Meehan said.

Meehan, who actively keeps a blog on the movement, was one of the first eight women in the country to be ordained as priests in 2006. Now, there are more than 100 female priests in the nation, she said.

Several people have made it clear that they are strongly against this movement. In a press release from Catholic Online, Bishop Martin Amos of the Diocese of Davenport was firm in his opposition.

“I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful,” he wrote.

Kusner has battled against this belief for most of her life.

Before becoming a priest, Kusner acted as a palliative chaplain, offering end-of-life counseling and an open ear.

The only frustration she had was the fact that she could not continue to do her job once the patients needed sacraments. The Catholic Church required her to send for a priest, but Kusner noticed that her patients wanted to continue talking to her instead.

“I recognized that I was doing a role of a priest,” she said. “It took two years for me to recognize that this is my calling.”

Kusner says that the Vatican’s refusal to recognize the status of woman priests challenges her emotionally, but in the end, it’s her relationship to God that matters, not the Catholic Church’s.

“I think the system has become so invalid itself,” she said. “ Unfortunately, the love for power has overruled gospel values. I believe the spirit of [God’s covenant] needs to take precedence.”

Meehan feels the same way.

Emphasizing that the female priest movement is confronting injustice, Meehan said matters of faith, including the ordination of priests, should be inclusive.

“We’re like the Rosa Parks of the Catholic Church,” Meehan said. “We are leading the way and following Jesus who had both male and female disciples. All are special, and all are welcome.”

She also pointed out that women were allowed to be ordained in the early history of the Catholic Church and said the modern Vatican policies are sexist.

Ordination has not been the only struggle for Kusner. Her parents have not supported her priesthood, either. She said she hopes they will eventually be able to “see things in a different light.”

Currently, the Roman Catholic Womenpriests are sharing their story in hopes of getting more women to follow in their footsteps.

“My faith is what grounds my life,” she said. “To know my truth is leading this, that’s very empowering.”


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