In a few days Georgia Walker, at age 67, intends to become a priest, at which point she will be excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.
That doesn’t faze her.
“I don’t accept the legitimacy of that excommunication,” said Walker, who will be the first woman in Kansas City to defy the church and be ordained a priest.
The church in turn will not accept the legitimacy of her ordination because, under canon law, only men can be priests.
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“That’s their problem,” Walker said of the church.
That steadfastness is a trait of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, a growing movement of people who see the church as too authoritarian and unwilling to be inclusive. But instead of leaving the church, they hope to change it from within.
At other stages of her life, Walker has been a sociology professor at the University of Missouri, a financial officer and a hospital manager. In midlife she converted to Catholicism and became a Sister of St. Joseph, although she did not take final vows. She is working on a graduate degree in theology.
Walker also is a peace activist who has been convicted of trespassing at the Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City and at Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo.
She now works with men and women coming out of prison to help them reintegrate with society.
As a priest, Walker wants to establish a regular schedule to visit prisons in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to bring the sacrament to inmates. She also wants to build a small community of worshipers while remaining a member of St. James Parish in Kansas City.
The church says no.
Canon Law 1024 of the Roman Catholic Church says that only baptized men may be ordained as priests. That is based on Jesus calling only men to be his disciples.
In 2004, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter affirming that the priesthood was for men only.
Pope Francis had raised hopes that he would bring more flexibility to the church. But in July 2013, at a surprise news conference on the plane back to Rome after a visit to Brazil, he made clear that women cannot be priests.
“That door is closed,” he said.
Walker said those rules “have been made by men who seemingly forget that the first person that Jesus appeared to after his resurrection was a woman. Did he make a mistake? Mary Magdalene was the first one to see him. She was the first one to start spreading the good news of his resurrection.”
Women priests claim legitimacy through “apostolic succession,” which says the authority to ordain was passed from bishop to bishop going back to Peter. Proponents say the early church had many women priests and bishops, and only later did church leaders quash the practice.
The modern movement began with the ordination of seven women in 2002 on a boat in the Danube River. In 2008, the Vatican said any woman attempting to be ordained and anyone attempting to ordain a woman would be automatically excommunicated and could not receive the sacrament.
The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph issued this statement: “Since this ‘ordination’ does not involve the participation of any validly ordained Catholic clergy, the diocese does not see a reason to comment any further.”
Walker said the diocese explicitly warned her she would be excommunicated if she continued with her plan. She said she was not dissuaded.
Walker’s ordination, scheduled for Jan. 3, will be performed by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, who travels the country ordaining women priests and deacons — 25 of them in 2014.
Walker’s ceremony will be held at 2 p.m. at St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, 3800 Troost Ave.
Donna Simon, pastor at St. Mark, has no patience for the view that women cannot be priests.
“The logic for male (only) ordination is spurious,” she said. “Nowhere in the Bible does it say you may not ordain women. But because Jesus only called men, the church has leaned into this tradition that you can only call men. It hasn’t leaned into a tradition that you can only call Jewish men because all the men that Jesus called were Jewish. They just picked that one thing.”
Polls have shown that a majority of American Catholics support women as priests.
There are now nearly 200 women priests, with more than 150 in the United States.
The National Catholic Reporter said a survey by the Pew Research Center found that one in every 10 Americans is an ex-Catholic. Meehan says church doctrine is driving people away.
“There is a big spiritual chasm in the heart of the church that does not reflect the love and compassion of God,” she said. “Women priests are saying everyone is welcome. There are no outsiders in God’s family.”
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