Yesterday, in the eyes of a small group of renegade Catholics who believe women should be allowed into the Catholic priesthood, the 66-year-old Sussex County resident was ordained a priest, in a controversial ceremony held at a synagogue.
"It's a very fulfilling experience," said Schoettly, a retired high school biology teacher and the 47th female priest associated with the international group Roman Catholic Womenpriests.
"It is something that I have recognized in myself for years and haven't been able to follow."
Schoettly (pronounced Shot-lee), who lives in Fredon, is not connected with any Catholic diocese as a priest and will not preach at any diocesan church. She said she plans to celebrate Mass at her home, a three-bedroom ranch, at least once a month for small groups.
Yesterday's ceremony was conducted by two women who Roman Catholic Womenpriests believes are bishops but who Vatican officials have said also have been excommunicated.
Cardinal Justin Rigali, archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, denounced yesterday's ceremony as a "pseudo-Ordination" that was not genuine and worried that it may confuse Catholics about church teachings.
"Such a ceremony," Rigali said in a prepared statement, "is in violation of the constant teaching of the Church, based on Scripture and Sacred Tradition. Both clearly indicate that Jesus called only men to follow him as Apostles, and the Church has always regarded his choice in this matter as normative for all time."
Regali noted that the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith decried in 2007 that women who present themselves for ordinations at such ceremonies, and those "who falsely claim" to ordain them, are automatically excommunicated.
Roman Catholic Womenpriests, however, contends that these events constitute genuine ordinations. The group claims several Catholic bishops, all male and from Europe, and whose names won't be released until they die, authentically ordained several of the group's women several years ago, in ceremonies the Vatican believes would have been invalid.
Schoettly said she is not bothered by the church's pronouncements.
"They tell us that we excommunicated ourselves. We don't accept that interpretation," she said.
"There's a man-made (church) law, Canon 1024, that says only men can be ordained. And we believe that to be an unjust law. We feel a call to change an unjust law, or, if it won't change, to break it until it is realized that it is an injustice."
The two-hour ceremony yesterday began with a procession into the sanctuary of Mishkan Shalom, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Philadelphia. Schoettly and Chava Redonnet, a woman from Rochester, N.Y., who participated in rites that the group said made her a deacon, prostrated themselves and had hands laid upon their heads as male candidates do in ordination ceremonies that are sanctioned by the Catholic Church.
Bishop Patricia Fresen, who the Catholic Church also believes has been excommunicated after similar rites, noted in her homily that the assembled were "shocking members of the hierarchy who pray for our immortal souls ... That is not our concern. Our concern is for justice."
Attendees included Schoettly's three adult children: Mary Lynn Haug, 40, of San Francisco, Patricia Haug, 38, of Danville, Calif.; and Daniel Haug, 34, of Fredon. Her former husband, Andre Haug, with whom she has an amicable relationship since their 1993 divorce, also attended.
Schoettly, who has not remarried but said she would still do so if she met the right man, said she has wanted to be a priest since she was a child. Instead, she became a teacher in Livingston, Westfield and Newton, and served several years on Fredon's school board. Her church life has included years as a Eucharistic minister and lector, and she earned a master's degree in theology from the College of Saint Elizabeth.
She said she plans to continue attending Mass each weekday at the Sacred Heart Center in Newton, and on Sundays at St. Joseph's Church in Newton. She does not present herself to receive Communion.
"Not that I think I've done anything wrong, but I don't want to put any priest or Eucharistic minister in a position of either having to tell me no or giving me Communion and getting me in trouble," she said.
"The one thing I haven't wanted to do throughout this whole process is create trouble for anybody else."
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