Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

Women’s 'Ordination' Worldwide Conferences, 1& 2

by Donna O’Connor-Hunnisett, ocds


That the actions undertaken by the Womenpriests sect is neither sincere nor admirable, and that the conference organizers, speakers and workshop leaders have departed from the Catholic Church in spirit long since, becomes clear in this report.

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Catholic Insight

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Catholic Insight, October 2005

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From July 22-24, 2005 the second Women’s Ordination Conference took place in Ottawa. It concluded with the so-called ordination of four “priestesses” and five “deaconesses” on the St. Lawrence River. As the Catholic archbishops of Kingston and Ottawa explained, the event had nothing to do with the Catholic Church.

The media thought it did. They spoke of possible excommunications. They praised the women for being “reformers” of the Catholic Church, of being “sincere” and “courageous.” They spoke of “Catholic” women being involved in the Catholic Church, but they were wrong.

In 2002 the “Womenpriest” movement “ordained” seven Catholic women. Rome excommunicated them and told them they were no longer members of the Catholic Church. That was the first and also the final excommunication. Consequently, the 2003 “ordination” of three Womenbishops, the further ordinations on the Danube and the Saone (France) rivers in 2004, and the July 2005 ones on the St. Lawrence (seven Americans, one Canadian) were no concern of the Catholic Church, other than feeling regret about the foolishness of the affair and the evil of apostasy.

That the actions undertaken by the Womenpriests sect is neither sincere nor admirable, and that the conference organizers, speakers and workshop leaders have departed from the Catholic Church in spirit long since, becomes clear in the following report.  --Editor

In June 2001, I attended the first Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference held in Dublin, Ireland. I was one of five observers representing the Dublin diocese. Initially we thought these women, who believed they were called to the priesthood of the Catholic Church, were confused and misguided. Nothing could have been further from the truth, and nothing could have prepared us for what we experienced that weekend!

Dublin Conference

The event was held at University of Dublin, and the sight of a Crucifix, holy picture or statue that would usually identify a conference held in the Catholic tradition, was missing; instead there were four dominant altars to the elements of nature: earth, water, fire, and air. There was also a large linen-covered table with a display of loaves of bread, sheaves of wheat and grapes.

Approximately 300 people attended the conference, most of whom were older women. The largest group came from North America, many from the U.K. and Western Europe. The handful of men who attended were ex-priests, plus a few husbands of delegates. Sadly, there were also two priests in good standing with the diocese who took an active part in the liturgy and events of the conference. We were identifiable as orthodox Catholics, wearing small gold papal keys and pro-life lapel pins. This resulted in angry challenges from some participants, and media interest.

Opening ceremony

The conference was opened with a welcome hopping dance. The participants linked arms and danced in a chain around the hall chanting, “Earth my body, water my blood, fire my spirit….” This went on for some time before the talks began. During the two days of the conference, we sat through one speaker after another seriously distorting the teachings and doctrine of the Church and her history, and expressing anger and sometimes hatred toward the Pope and cardinals, especially Cardinal Ratzinger. We did not engage in their discussions however – until one of the speakers, John Wijngaards, a former priest and “theologian” from the Netherlands, and a frequent contributor to the London Tablet, stated that the Pope was a dictator worse than Hitler because Hitler only killed the body. When a statement of that nature is made against the Holy Father, silence on our part would have implied consent. When asked to retract his statement, he reluctantly did so, and that retraction was recorded on the conference tapes that were distributed.

The conference liturgy was dominated by New Age and occult practices; many of the delegates wore purple stoles, and some were dressed in full priests’ vestments. The most disturbing liturgical practice took place on the Sunday before the conference closed. It was listed as a “eucharist”. Our group left the area and returned just as they were finishing this celebration. The room was filled with incense, drums were beating, and each of the participants held an earthenware chalice and paten with the bread that had been displayed on the table, and the grape juice that had been used in the ritual. The two dissident priests from the diocese had taken part in the ceremony.

The Ottawa Conference

From July 22-24, 2005 I attended the second WOW conference, this one held at Carleton University in Ottawa. Although somewhat larger with 410 participants, the themes and resolutions remained much the same as in Dublin. I was described as a “freelance” writer on the conference media list, and was treated with consternation and suspicion when it was discovered that I was representing Catholic Insight. Helen Kennedy, at the registration desk, identified herself and her colleague Jane Walsh as “lesbian, pro-choice” Catholics, and said they would have to consult Joanna Manning, media registration official. Because she was unavailable, they gave me my pass and I signed in.

Marion Dewar

The conference was opened with a welcome talk by Marion Dewar, former mayor of Ottawa. She was adamant that she would not leave the Catholic Church, despite the refusal of its “hierarchy” to ordain women, because it is “her” church, and she and others have a responsibility to name the injustices they see, and then act to correct them, recognizing their own divinity.

We then heard from keynote speaker Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Professor of Scripture and Interpretation, Harvard Divinity School, who writes extensively on feminist biblical interpretation. In her address, she referred to “Christ Sophia guiding star of Vatican II”, “Wisdom Sophia,” and a form of post-Vatican II theology as the basis from which this Catholic feminist movement is called to reform the “spiritually bankrupt Roman Catholic Church.” She compared the administration of the Catholic Church to the Roman Empire, with an emperor pope. She concluded, “We are the Church who this hierarchy are called to serve. The ecclesia of women.”

Rosemary Ruether

Another keynote speaker to address the conference was feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether, Ph.D., currently the Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology, Berkeley, CA. Her writings include Integrating Ecofeminism and Goddesses and the Divine Feminine. She complained that clericalism in the internal politics of the church controls the people, and in the most hierarchical church, Roman Catholicism, the laity traditionally has no role. While there has been some progress on lay ministry in parishes and lay participation in church councils, she acknowledged that the pastor makes the final decisions. A renewed feminist community church needs liturgical creators, poets, artists, choreographers, preachers and organizers to organize the community for social change.

She discussed her valued position on the board of “Catholics for a Free Choice,” which she has held for more than thirty years. Their main function, she added, is to develop clear guidelines to help Catholic laity defend alternative, more just reproductive and sexual ethics. “Another world is possible. We don’t have to acquiesce to oppressive and dictatorial relationships as the unchangeable order of things.”

Ruether cautioned the delegates that the progressive Catholic movement is in serious danger of dying out if it does not attract more young people, and she admitted that its members are mainly “gray-haired” and over fifty. According to Ruether, the smarter doctoral students that she has met have left the Catholic Church in order to be ordained and find work elsewhere; she also warned that the Vatican was implementing stricter guidelines at Catholic universities, which was causing feminist theologians to find work at other institutions or hide their true beliefs.

Ruether blamed groups like Opus Dei for “brainwashing” young people to bring them into the Church and to World Youth Days. At the press conference, I challenged this statement by asking her how they could possibly hold Opus Dei responsible for the two million people who descended on Rome after the death of John Paul II. She changed the subject.

On July 8, 2005, Ruether had sent out a press release calling for Catholics to reject the Papacy of Benedict XVI. She stated, “This is not our Pope. This papacy may forfeit the respect that modern Popes have won from the non-Catholic world. There needs to be a real debate and action that defies the strategies of silencing and forced submission.” Citing his position as Cardinal Ratzinger at the Holy Office, Ruether said “He questioned the admission of Turkey, a Muslim nation, to the European union, and insists that homosexuality is intrinsically evil.” She urged that Catholics should organize for alternatives “at the grassroots and in their local and national churches and communities.”

Mary Hunt

In a discussion session that followed, Mary Hunt, a feminist theologian, co-founder of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual, USA, and a lesbian, described a parish without a priest that is run by a community which welcomes same-sex couples.

She referred to the Pope as “his nibs under two species: Cardinal Ratzinger and Benedict XVI”. We do not want women’s ordination in this church as it is, she stated, but in a renewed church in which we can truly minister; as ordination encourages inequality of rank, we must put our weight instead behind a true feminist ministry, a “discipleship” of equals, where women can do the work to which they are called. She cited their great disappointment at the results of the “sham conclave” when the doors opened and out came “his nibs.” She concluded by saying that our world must be feminist in every sense of the word, and our choices must be “global, feminist, inter-religious and justice-seeking.”

Myra Pole

Myra Pole, an English sister of the Notre Dame Community, and a long-term, out-spoken member of the Catholic Women’s Ordination of Great Britain, also took part in the discussion. She began by asking if a male saviour can save women. She then went on to explain how she reinforces independence and liberation in women in the institutions where she works by encouraging contraception. She told the bishop, “I am doing it because you don’t.” She was emphatic that she would not leave her congregation because that’s just what this Papacy wants. She said that she did not believe religious life would remain the way it is: “We must be the hairshirt, thorn in the side, and voice of conscience of the Church hierarchy, with a modern interpretation of our vows.” She questioned the notion of women seeking ordination in this Church where their ministry, if accepted, would be controlled by a male hierarchy.

Ida Raming

I attended the workshop entitled “Ordination contra legem: A Way to Overcome Discrimination Against Women in the Roman Catholic Church”, by Ida Raming from Germany, one of the excommunicated seven women “ordained” contra legem (transgression of Church Law) on the Danube, 2002. In her workshop, Raming rejected Canon Law 1024, “Only a baptized man can validly receive ordination”, and John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis (1994) which made this a definitive doctrine of the Catholic Church to be held by all the faithful. This, she said, showed a total lack of respect for the human dignity of women and their Christian existence. The door to the ordination of women was finally slammed shut by the 1995 letter from Cardinal Ratzinger, endorsed by John Paul II, which stated that this doctrine was set forth infallibly by the Magisterium of the Church. Raming concluded, “We totally reject this heretical doctrine that states that women are not made in the image of God!”

Raming identified the “bishop” who had “ordained” the seven women on the Danube as Romulo Antonio Braschi, (a former priest who was excommunicated in 1998 when he broke with the Catholic Church and joined a Brazilian schismatic group). He describes himself today as a bishop of the ‘universal catholic church.’

I reminded her that Canon 1331 n. 2, states that “An excommunicated person is forbidden to celebrate the sacraments”, to which she replied that, since they did not recognize his excommunication, that did not apply. Consequently, I was quite surprised to hear her ask the committee at the business meeting on Sunday, to appeal to the Vatican to rescind the excommunications of her and the others ordained on the Danube.

Joanna Manning

Diane Watts, President, Women for Life, Faith and Family, attended this workshop entitled “Erotic Justice: Commitment to Personal and Global Transformation”. It was full of liberal, sexual, and New-Age concepts. Trinity is “mother, Lord within us”; and the best experience of God is found in mutual sexual relationships. Christian teaching “is frozen into frigidity by fear of sex. We need gays and lesbians – it is “a unique way, the creative energy of God.” And so it went on and on, too vulgar to report here on it any further.

Business Meeting

On Sunday morning I sat in on the conference business meeting. There were eighty delegates present. It began with the recitation of an opening prayer, part of which read:

“We pray for the stripping away of the calcified rituals and rigid legalism. We pray for a truly eucharistic church, for table fellowship where equal disciples break together the Word and the Bread, and raise the cup of Thanksgiving.” It ended with, “Come, Sophia Wisdom, fill the hearts of your faithful and renew the face of the earth. Amen.”

The date and location of the next conference was discussed at length. Most of those voting favoured a third-world country; however, delegate Karin Fitz-Labarge, Witness, USA, was adamant that in the light of the present “intransigent” Papacy, they should take it to Rome. Myra Poole suggested that, although they do need a strong lobby, that would be a “difficult presence” for the Vatican in Rome. However, at this point the women have no host structure in Rome to organize a conference. The final decision was left to the steering committee.

There were deeply entrenched divisions on many issues among the delegates. Some believed that the conference was to focus on women acquiring more significant leadership roles in the Church. Others believed that the “ordination” planned for the St. Lawrence River would only make the situation worse, and they should be focusing on training for the diaconate as a first step. The rest were adamant that nothing less than full acceptance to the priesthood was long overdue and should be insisted on.

Workshop on “ordination”

After the business meeting I sat in on a workshop, Women Called to Ordained Ministry, chaired by a woman from Britain. The purpose of the workshop was to give information, encouragement and advice to women who believe they are “called” to the priesthood of the Catholic Church. “Bishop” Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, one of the Danube seven excommunicated in 2002, attended to answer questions. “Bishop” Dr. Patricia Fresen, also excommunicated and co-ordinator of the training program of preparation for Womenpriests, was also at the workshop to give information on her program.

Thirty women attended and except for two, they all possessed master’s and doctorate degrees in theology and divinity. Many were teaching religion and theology in Catholic high schools and colleges.

One woman with an M.A., Divinity, said she was a chaplain at a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, is a deacon, and officiates at weddings and funerals; another with an M.A. in Divinity administers two parishes in Kentucky. A woman from Hungary who is working on her doctorate in theology works at Covenant House with street children, and another is a high school chaplain in Toronto. These feminist women study for graduate degrees at liberal Catholic colleges and universities, and then they take up positions of trust in Catholic parishes and institutions where they can be influential in implementing their anti-Catholic agendas. One after another, their stories were the same. They were all in responsible positions with the Church, and for the most part, they claimed, better academically educated than the priests and bishops they worked with.


In summing up the weekend, there were fewer women from other churches attending this conference than the first one in Ireland. However, there were many more delegates in Ottawa, both lay and religious, who openly identified themselves as gay and lesbian. The topic of diverse and free sexual lifestyles permeated most aspects of the conference, and formed part of their vision of a new all-inclusive Catholic Church, which would also allow for abortion, contraception and a non-celibate women priesthood. Two American delegates commended Canada for its progressive government and endorsement of same-sex “marriage.” The liturgy and prayers were the same at both conferences, with references to Mother God, Goddess, Wisdom, Sophia Wisdom, spirit and earth, and the closing liturgy included a feminist, ecumenical, community “eucharist.”

In the front of the delegates’ booklet there were three official letters welcoming them to the conference: one from Adrienne Clarkson, Governor General of Canada, one from Linda Frulla, Heritage Minister, and one from Bob Chiarelli, Mayor of Ottawa. Frulla and Chiarelli are Catholics. To officially welcome a conference of this nature and its delegates in light of the directive that was issued by Pope John Paul II, is also an insult to the Catholic Church.  

Some added information with respect to their arguments: Common arguments used by those supporting women’s ordination include the following:

1 - The Church is practising “gender inequality” in maintaining an all-male priesthood.


The Church’s decision in this matter has nothing to do with inequality and everything to do with Christ and the history of the Church. He chose twelve male apostles and they are the foundation of His Church. In the second and third centuries, some people admitted women to at least some priestly functions, not ordination, and this was considered heresy. The response was that this was not what Christ willed, and against apostolic teaching.

The fact that the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God and Mother of the Church, received neither the mission proper to the apostles nor the ministerial priesthood clearly shows that the non-admission of women to priestly ordination cannot mean that women are of lesser dignity, nor can it be construed as a discrimination against them.

2 – The Pope should revoke the ban on the discussion of women’s ordination.


Discussion of this matter has taken place between proponents of women’s ordination, especially the Anglican church and the Secretariat of Christian Unity in Rome since the early 1970s. It has been thoroughly exhausted by every Pope since that time. Each one has tried in depth to explain the Church’s position, the history behind it, and the fact that the Pope does not have the authority to change the rules governing priestly ordination to include women. After 25 years of debate Pope John Paul II wrote a final and definitive Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, On Reserving Priestly Ordination to Men Alone. It stated: “ order that all doubt may be removed in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf.Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgement is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful. May 22, 1994.”

Due to a number of problematic and negative statements from some organizations within the Church that followed Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, wrote a reply, approved by John Paul II, and published in 1995. Part of it reads, “The teaching that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women, which is presented in the Apostolic Letter, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, is to be held definitively and is to be understood as belonging to the deposit of faith.” It concluded, “This teaching requires definitive assent, since, founded on the written Word of God, and from the beginning constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium during the Second Vatican Council, in the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church. Thus, in the present circumstances, the Roman Pontiff, exercising his proper office of confirming the brethren (cf.Lk 22:32), has handed on the same teaching by a formal declaration, explicitly stating what is to be held always, everywhere, and by all, as belonging to the deposit of the faith.”

The position of the Church in this matter has been made abundantly clear; any further discussion would be meaningless and open to misinterpretation.

3 – The Church should restore the diaconate to women as was the practice in the early Church.


There were deaconesses in the early Church, but they were not the female equivalent of deacons. The term comes from the Greek word meaning one who serves or helps. Women deaconesses brought Holy Communion to houses where a priest might not be admitted during the times of persecution. They also helped to anoint the naked bodies of women prior to baptism. Obviously the priest could not do this. When the persecutions were over and adult converts had become rare, the need for these women died away.

In the first Council of Nicea, 315, it was stated that women deacons were not ordained and were to be counted among the laity.

4 – Ministers in all churches are called to adapt the language used in the liturgy to reflect both the female and male images of God, which will create sexual equality.


The campaign for feminist language in scripture translations and in the liturgy has turned out to be a grave attack on the substance of the faith. Such alterations become awkward, unnatural, inconsistent and not inclusive. Father and Son are neutered to parent and child, and the Holy Spirit becomes feminine. However, Satan always remains masculine. Feminist language angers most people, and it even drives some from the Church. It turns the Sacrifice of the Mass into a political statement. Its worst effect is that it distorts revealed dogmas and it redefines Jesus’ loving Father, our personal God, into an abstraction even more removed from us, until He, our God, becomes an impersonal, universal energy. The purpose of these language changes is to alter the meaning of the scriptures and the message of the liturgy to make them compatible with feminist thinking.

A further comment

These women are not solely interested in ordination or finding a bishop to obey; they want a different church from that of Jesus Christ. They evangelize for practices borrowed from New Age spiritualism and they advocate ecclesiastical approval of non-celibate and women priests, divorce and remarriage, contraception, abortion, and homosexual activity. Unfortunately, many priests and laity do not understand that these women have left the Catholic Church both in spirit and in deed.

Canadian leaders of workshops

Regina Coupar (Born Again), Nova Scotia, visual artist. Author of five books;Bernice Santor (feminist Stories), author, Grand Bend, ON; Elaine Guillemin (Women retelling biblical stories), Toronto, teacher at Ryerson University. Formerly Toronto Catholic School Board; Pauline Jacob, Quebec (women called by God to be priests); Christina Cathro (Lesbian Spirituality), Toronto, spiritual director, facilitator, Adjunct Professor, St. Stephen’s College, Edmonton; Joanna Manning (Erotic Justice), Toronto, professional dissenter of Catholic teaching on everything; Rosanna Pellizzari, M.D. Stratford. Pellizzari is health officer, Perth County, Ontario; / Rosemary Ganley, Toronto (Better sexual ethic), Ganley is Assistant Editor, Cath. New Times; volunteers for Catholics for a Free Choice, Canada. Veronica Dunne (Cyberspace), Sister of our Lady of the Missions, doing doctorate of Ministry, St. Stephen’s College (United Church) Edmonton; Jessica Fraser (Ecofeminism), M.A. in theology. Begins doctoral studies in September, St. Paul’s University, Ottawa under the direction of Heather Eaton; Eileen Kerwin-Jones (Sexual Slave Trade), Doctoral Candidate, St. Paul’s University, Ottawa, economic justice; Catherine Adolph / Jackie Frolick (transforming beyond religion), Adolph is in adult education, Frolick, mother of 4 adult sons, is retreat facilitator. Also listed: Mary M. Schaefer, Professor (retired), Atlantic School of Theology, Halifax, N.S.

Editor’s afterword

It is necessary to understand that these women are now no longer Catholics. The same rule applies to others involved in this conference such as Marion Dewar (Ottawa), Marie Bouchin (Sudbury) and persons mentioned in the article. The Canadian woman who was “ordained” into this new sect, Michelle Birch–Conery, 65, is a former nun who teaches feminist literary analysis at North Island College, Port Alberni, Vancouver Island, B.C. Like Rosemary Ruether, she does not believe in the Eucharistic Real Presence (Deborah Gyapong, New Freeman, July 25, 2005).

We have not listed the American, British, German, Australian and French workshop leaders because of lack of space but the same rule applies to them. Priests should not give Communion to them or any known member of Women Ordination Worldwide (WOW), Magdala (Germany), Ordination of Catholic Women Inc (Australia), Women’s Ordination Conference (USA), or similar groups in other countries. These women are no longer Catholic.

We cannot emphasize this point strongly enough. The whole idea of having the “ordinations” on a river with international boundaries is to escape the jurisdiction of the Church. The 300 women on the St. Lawrence desired to deny the jurisdiction of the Canadian Archbishop of Kingston and the American Bishop of Ogdensburg. Thus they withdrew as members of the Catholic Church willingly, freely, and with full knowledge.

They now have joined a protesting (i.e. protestant) sect by name of Womenchurch, one of more than 100,000 independent sects who do their own thing. In 2002, the Vatican excommunicated the first seven women who were “ordained” on the Danube river. Thereafter, the Catholic Church no longer claims jurisdiction over this new sect which now stands on its own two feet. Whatever the members of this group do, or not do, is no longer of concern to the Catholic Church. Consequently, the Church does not take any further action against this now independent Womenchurch. That is why the archbishops of Ottawa and Kingston asked the faithful in their pastoral letters to have nothing whatever to do with this movement.

It is clear that some local priests do not grasp the seriousness of the offence. Marion Dewar continues to be a reader at St. Basil’s Church and Virgina Lafond holds the same position in Our Lady of Fatima Church, both in Ottawa. Their parish priests appear unconcerned.

Many of us are slow to accept the Scriptural teaching that “many are called but few are chosen” (Matt 22:14).

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