A mild-mannered former librarian, former nun and self-described “cradle Catholic,” Judith McKloskey is an unlikely looking revolutionary.
But in mid-August, in a controversial ceremony in Minneapolis, she officially became one.
The Eden Prairie resident and another woman say they were ordained into the priesthood of the Roman Catholic Church.
It’s a claim church officials vigorously dispute, but one the women and their supporters deeply believe.
Some 60 women in the United States, and many others outside of the U.S., have been ordained in similar ceremonies.
The Roman Catholic Church as a whole, church law and traditions, and the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis specifically, say that only baptized males can be ordained.
"[The Church] holds that it is not admissible to ordain women to the priesthood, for very fundamental reasons,” wrote Pope John Paul II in 1994.
“These reasons include: the example recorded in the Sacred Scriptures of Christ choosing his Apostles only from among men; the constant practice of the church, which has imitated Christ in choosing only men; and her living teaching authority which has consistently held that the exclusion of women from the priesthood is in accordance with God's plan for his church."
Dennis McGrath, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, echoed that statement.
“The Roman Catholic church continues to hold – as it has for centuries – based on the example of Jesus himself, that only men may be ordained into the priesthood, so that any ‘ordination ceremony’ is not valid, in spite of their claims,” said McGrath.
The women’s argument that women were ordained as priests in the early days of Christianity also doesn’t hold water, McGrath said. And even if they did, McGrath argued, “so what?”
“The church’s stance on the subject of female ordination has been clear for centuries – it is not permitted,” he said. “It’s not really a valid argument.”
Despite such pronouncements, McKloskey believes she was indeed ordained a Catholic priest.
“In all good faith I believe my ordination was valid,” said the 60-year-old McKloskey.
The women’s ordination movement first gained public notoriety in 2002 when seven women were ordained on a boat on a river in Austria.
The “Danube Seven,” were subsequently excommunicated by the Catholic Church. None of the women since ordained has been officially excommunicated, although it has been threatened for several.
With the shortage of male priests growing, many Catholics feel the church will eventually allow women to become priests.
A recent Associated Press poll found that 60 percent of U.S. Catholics think women should be ordained.
“All I know is the movement [to allow the ordination of women] is growing rapidly,” said McKloskey.
The Minnesota ordination ceremony – the second in the state following one in Red Wing in 2006 – was organized by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a group of communities in the United States, Canada and Europe representing an initiative within the church to ordain women without the blessing of Rome.
The group’s bishops, including both men and women, have ordained about 25 women as priests since 2002 and another eight as deacons, including the two in Minneapolis on Aug. 12.
A Web site for Roman Catholic Womenpriests notes that more than 130 people – including a few men – are now either clergy or candidates in their preparation program, and that 80 of those are from the United States.
The group advocates changes in the church far beyond women’s ordination, calling for a church that would be “non-hierarchical and non-clerical.”
McKloskey has been advocating for women priests ever since she discovered in fourth grade that girls couldn’t be altar servers.
A longtime member of the Women’s Ordination Conference, she has been active in Women’s Worship Circle and Never On Sunday, a group studying lectionary references to Biblical women.
McKloskey attended Catholic high school and college and managed library networks and religious organizations earlier in her career. She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Dayton and a master’s degree in library science from Case Western Reserve.
After college, she felt drawn to a religious life and became a member of the Marianist nuns.
“I thought my call was to be a nun, and the vocational call was secondary,” McKloskey said.
That experiment ended in the late 1960s. “I concluded celibacy wasn’t really my bag,” she said.
She switched gears, going to grad school and then working in libraries and moving to Minnesota to help a hospital set up a library.
In Minnesota she met and married her husband Dan Shaw, a pediatric dentist.
Active in parish ministry for many years, Judith prays with several small faith communities, including a national Marianist Lay Community which has been gathering for retreats since the 1960s.
While continuing her theological studies, she has served as a hospice volunteer and a gatherer and encourager of those who hear calls to ministry.
She has been a member and a lay parish minister at Pax Christi in Eden Prairie, and at one time ran the church’s national office for the National Association of Lay Ministers.
On Jan. 9 of 1994, however, McKloskey said she had an epiphany. On that day she discerned she should become a priest.
“I look back on that now as my private ordination,” she said. “It was so clear, so specific. It changed my life. Every day since then I’ve lived as a priest in every way I could. It’s turned my life upside down. It made it clear that this was my call from the beginning.”
A lifelong Catholic, McKloskey well knew she was swimming against church orthodoxy.
“It was the forbidden dream in my church, and I was a compliant and loyal member,” she said.
McKloskey and others would argue that women were ordained as deacons, priests and bishops in the early days of the Catholic Church.
Evidence exists of women bishops and until at least the ninth century the church gave women the full sacramental ordination of deacons, they say.
Women priests existed in the West during the fourth and fifth centuries according to literary evidence, according to Roman Catholic Womenpriests.
Far from being revolutionary, McKloskey views the women-as-priests movement as a return to the earliest traditions of the church.
“I see it as we’re returning to the way Christianity was lived in the early days,” she said.
With the decline in male priests reaching critical mass in many parts of the world, McKloskey also believes the time is right for church leaders to consider ordaining women.
“I ask that question all the time,” she said. “Especially with women who have been serving. There is no priest shortage – only a shortage of recognition in priestly service. And it’s not funny anymore because they’re closing parishes right and left.
“We believe all baptized people are called to a common priesthood,” McKloskey said.
“Priests are culled from within the community to serve the community and not to dominate the community of faith.
She also believes time is on her side. “In 100 years, people will be asking, ‘What was the fuss about?’”
“We believe God calls women,” she added. “That our baptism gives us the right and responsibility to God and Jesus ... and that our physical appearance doesn’t really matter.”
She will minister to those who ask for her guidance.
“I will do that when people approach me and when a community invites me,” she said.
McKloskey lives in Eden Prairie with her husband. The couple has one adult daughter.
She no longer is a member of Pax Christi, or indeed any recognized parish, choosing instead to worship and pray with several small communities.
“I stopped because of the women’s issue,” she said. “Many, many people from Pax Christi can accept me. But officially they [church leaders] would consider me outside the bounds.”
Despite her obvious disagreement with current church teachings on ordination of women, McKloskey considers herself a practicing and faithful Catholic.
She certainly has no plans to convert to any denomination which does allow women priests.
Even excommunication wouldn’t shake her beliefs, she said.
“Yes, I’m a faithful Roman Catholic,” she said.
“And yes, the sacraments are very important to me. A piece of paper wouldn’t do it.”
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