DiFranco Willing to Stand up for Her Beliefs

Delco Times [Pennsylvania]
August 23, 2006

There are those who might characterize Eileen McCafferty DiFranco as a publicity hound because she has not remained silent about celebrating Mass as a Roman Catholic priest. But the 54-year-old Philadelphia resident said it is only natural for her as a former teacher to want to educate the world about women such as herself who want to serve God as men in their religion do.

DiFranco brought her lesson to Delaware County last Sunday when she celebrated Mass in the chapel of The Garden Church, a United Methodist Community formerly known as the Trinity Lansdowne Methodist Church.

She was there at the invitation of the Rev. Bernie Callahan, pastor of the Old Catholic Church of the Beatitudes which, for two years, has rented space from The Garden Church.

The Old Catholic Church, which is not under the auspices of the Vatican, split from Rome in the 16th century after a Dutch bishop offered sanctuary to French Protestants fleeing persecution by Catholic inquisitors.

Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Church allows priests to marry and, since 1993, has allowed women to be priests. It was that concession to women, in fact, that subverted a potential reunion of Old Catholics with Rome, noted Callahan.

Opening his church to DiFranco was basically a supportive gesture since she considers herself a Roman Catholic, not an Old Catholic priest. DiFranco was ordained on July 31 in Pittsburgh with seven other women through a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

Two of the three female bishops who ordained her have been excommunicated and that risk now exists for DiFranco. Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, said he was forced to report her to the Vatican after she celebrated her first Mass on Aug. 6 at a Methodist church in the Germantown section of Philadelphia.

"Although I attempted to dissuade Mrs. DiFranco from participating in this invalid ritual, nevertheless, she proceeded to do so," said Rigali, who noted that Roman Catholic law, based on scripture and tradition, forbids women to be priests.

DiFranco is not deterred.

"An excommunication is a decision made by fallible men who have made mistakes in the past, egregious mistakes in the present and who will make mistakes in the future," she said.

All human beings are fallible and, indeed, the men who have overseen the Roman Catholic Church for 2,000 years have made their fair share of mistakes, the most recent being the gross mishandling of hundreds of clerical sexual abuse cases throughout the country and the world.

If she is excommunicated, DiFranco figures she will be in the good company of such historic figures as French patriot Joan of Arc and astronomer Galileo, who both met their deaths after being ruled heretics by the Catholic Inquisition.

Joan, who was burned at the stake in 1431 for her "sorcery," was named a saint in 1920 by the very church that persecuted her. Galileo, who died under house arrest after nine years of failing health, was finally absolved of his heresy in 1983 when Pope John Paul II acknowledged that the scientist was justified in embracing Copernicus' theory about the earth rotating around the sun.

In fact, in 2000, the Holy Father apologized for many mistakes made by his predecessors including sins against Jews, women and other minorities.

"We are asking pardon for the divisions among Christians, for the use of violence that some have committed in the service of truth, and for attitudes of mistrust and hostility assumed towards followers of other religions," he said in apparent reference to the Inquisition and the Crusades.

What DiFranco can't understand is why the Roman Catholic hierarchy refuses to even discuss the ordination of women. She said Rigali agreed to meet with her only if she refrained from discussing the topic.

It is puzzling that Roman Catholic leaders are so reluctant to even entertain the concept of ordaining women, considering the decline in vocations to the priesthood. The church has already acquiesced on its demand for celibacy, now allowing married Protestant ministers who convert to Catholicism to become priests.

And women, who 40 years ago were banned from the altar, are now distributing Holy Communion as Eucharistic ministers and assisting priests as altar servers.

The Roman Catholic Church has, in the ecumenical spirit of Vatican II, recognized female ministers from other denominations. There are certainly Roman Catholic women who are just as well-educated plus bring valuable life experiences to their qualifications for the priesthood.

DiFranco, for example, has a master's degree in health education, is three courses shy of a master's of divinity degree, has worked as a teacher and a nurse and is a wife, mother and grandmother.

The Roman Catholic Church is the largest religious organization in the United States with about 50 million members.

In Delaware County alone, about 236,000 residents -- more than half the population -- are Catholic.

And yet there are Roman Catholics, mostly in poor parts of the country and the world, who are denied the liturgy because of the lack of priests.

It would seem only practical then for the church fathers to consider removing gender as a barrier to the Roman Catholic priesthood. With women like DiFranco among their ranks, they would clearly have priests unafraid to stand up for their beliefs.


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