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Published June 24, 2013, 02:52 PM

Catholic female priests risk excommunication

They risk being excommunicated by the Catholic Church but vow they won't be stopped. Bernadyne "Bernie" Sykora of St. Cloud and two other women were ordained as priests at a Mass by the Roman Catholic Womenpriests of the Midwest Region at 1 p.m. June 23 in St. Cloud.

By: Frank Lee, Associated Press

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — They risk being excommunicated by the Catholic Church but vow they won't be stopped.

Bernadyne "Bernie" Sykora of St. Cloud and two other women were ordained as priests at a Mass by the Roman Catholic Womenpriests of the Midwest Region at 1 p.m. June 23 in St. Cloud.

"Bernie has been a main force behind the formation of the Mary Magdalene parish in St. Cloud," said Mary Frances Smith, who was ordained a Roman Catholic Womanpriest in 2009.

"Bernie really believes in the cause of equality for women; she's very strong in that way."

Bishop Regina Nicolosi will preside at the event at Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, which is a parish that holds its services at St. John's Episcopal Church on Cooper Avenue South.

"The women in the RCWP have decided that it's time to roll up our sleeves and simply move forward," Smith said of Sykora, an 80-year-old ordained deacon in the RCWP movement.

Roman Catholic Womenpriests maintains womens' ordinations are "valid" but "illicit" (or against canon law), according to Nicolosi.

"Our first bishops were ordained by a male bishop in apostolic succession," according to the website of the international movement within the Roman Catholic Church.

"It's my hope that one day women will be given rights in the Catholic Church equal to those of the male population," Sykora said.

The Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis's stance is "women who claim to have been ordained Catholic priests in fact have no relationship to the Catholic Church because their ordination is not valid."

Bishop John F. Kinney of the St. Cloud diocese recently re-iterated that even though Corene Besetzny of Red Wing and Martha Sherman of Salem, S.D., also will be ordained priests along with Sykora.

"I don't think we necessarily can do anything the male priests can't, but another way to say that would be we are capable of doing everything that male priests can do," Smith said.

Smith works as a nurse at Park Nicollet Clinic — St. Louis Park. She lives in Long Lake with her husband but will present Sykora at the ordination Mass in St. Cloud.

"The Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement is necessary because if we wait, nothing is going to happen for a very, very, very long time — if ever," Smith said.

Sykora does Gospel readings and homilies at Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, and assists at Liturgies as a deacon at the parish, which attracts more than 40 people to its monthly Mass.

"For a womanpriest to be standing vested at the altar, presiding, is super important for Roman Catholics to see," Smith said. "For others, it brings them to tears because this is something they desire to see, especially women."

The self-described "cradle Catholic" earned a master's degree in theology from the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul in 2008.

"We are married, single. Many of us work in other professions, and we bring those life skills to our role as priests. And some would say we bring some of those feminine qualities to the priesthood, perhaps some more nurturing qualities," Smith said of womenpriests.

According to the website of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, "We, women, are no longer asking for permission to be priests." The website also states ordained women are ministering in more than 29 states.

"Having been female in the Catholic Church and being in that No. 2 or that one down or many down spot — feeling less than — we end up having, I think, an understanding and compassion for people who are socially in the margins," she said.

Sykora was married for almost half of a century and raised four children; the lifelong Catholic has seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, according to her RCWP biography.

"My parents were very devout people, who lived on a farm in southwestern Minnesota, about 4 miles from the nearest church, but we didn't miss a Mass, and we went to a neighboring church if there was no Mass at our church, so it was quite an effort at times," she said.

Sykora attended a Catholic boarding school and the College of St. Benedict in St. Joseph, and spent five years in the Maryknoll community before teaching in the St. Cloud school district.

"When I do go back to the greater Catholic Church, I'm offended by a lot of the language that excludes women," Sykora said. "In fact, I have a hard time ignoring it."

Sykora became involved with the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement when Smith was ordained because, Sykora said, "I would not feel fulfilled without my faith."

Sykora said of Smith, "She came to Sartell and said Masses in our apartment building, which was GrandView Estates, until they suggested that isn't what the card room wasn't designed for."

Roman Catholic Womenpriests would alleviate a shortage of male priests, which has led parishes in the St. Cloud diocese to cluster and share pastors.

"Hopefully after I'm ordained to the priesthood, we can have more services in the area," Sykora said.

Nicolosi is a bishop in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement who will preside over the ordination Mass at St. John's Episcopal Church.

"Our Liturgy is quiet similar to the regular Roman Catholic ordination Liturgy. The differences is we use inclusive language, which means we do not address God as 'male' and also addressing people in the pews, we do not address them as 'brothers' but as 'brothers and sisters,' " she said.

"And the part where men promise obedience to the bishop, we do not do that. We believe that the obedience is to the person of Christ, then our almighty God and to the community, not specifically to the bishop because we do not believe in the hierarchy as male priests do."

Kelly Doss belongs to the Cathedral of St. Mary in downtown St. Cloud. The 34-year-old disagrees with the Catholic Church's position regarding women as priests.

"So many women have been called — I've talked to many of them — and they just feel like there's something missing from them because they've been denied the call because of their gender," said Doss, who plans to attend the ordination.

Nicolosi said, "We believe there are laws that are unjust and they need to be broken because they are not in accordance to the teaching of equality and love that Jesus preached and died for."

About Bernadyne Sykora: Bernadyne "Bernie" Sykora spent five years in the Maryknoll community as a young adult. After leaving there, she taught in various school districts in the state of Minnesota for 25 years, and earned a master's degree in education of children with special needs.

The St. Cloud resident is taking classes from Global Ministries University in theology. She is on the leadership team of the community of Mary Magdalene, First Apostle, in St. Cloud, which is pastored by Roman Catholic Womenpriests member Mary Frances Smith.

About Corene Besetzny: Corene Besetzny completed graduate programs in teaching and anthropology after working in the Peace Corps in Liberia, West Africa. While raising a family of three adopted children, the Red Wing resident was active in parish ministry for many years in the areas of marriage preparation, family life and social justice.

She received a master's in Women's Studies: Religion, Theology, and Ministry from United Theological Seminary in New Brighton. She works at the Red Wing Health Center and ministers to the elderly. She was ordained a deacon last year as part of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement.

About Martha Sherman: Martha Sherman grew up in St. Charles, Mo., across the street from her parish and school. The School Sisters of Notre Dame strongly influenced her during elementary and high schools. After graduating from St. Louis University with a bachelor's in English and theology, she entered the SSNDs. Though she left after four years, she continued to teach in an SSND-run school for eight more years.

For the past 17 years, the Salem, S.D., resident and her partner, Marie, have owned and operated Camp America Campground in Salem. She is pursuing her master's in theology through Global Ministries University with the hope of becoming a certified chaplain.


Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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