A Sag Harbor grandmother says she has become the first Long Island woman to be ordained as a priest in a group that seeks equality for women in the Roman Catholic Church.
Eda Lorello, a longtime church worker, said she was ordained during a service in Wellesley, Mass., on Aug. 10 organized by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an advocacy group that says it has ordained 120 women to what it calls the priesthood in the United States in the past decade.
The Vatican does not recognize the ordinations as legitimate, and has said that the women automatically "excommunicate" themselves when they take part in such services. Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, called the effort to make Lorello a priest "absurd."
"It's wrong for her to portray herself as a Roman Catholic priest," he said. "She is not."
Volunteer position lost
Lorello, who said she did not want her age disclosed, said she was dismissed earlier this summer by the diocese from her volunteer position as a lector at St. Andrew's Roman Catholic parish in Sag Harbor. The parish's pastor, after consulting with the diocese, "told me you can't be a lector anymore because it will confuse the people," she said.
Dolan confirmed that she had been dismissed and said the pastor, the Rev. Peter Devaraj, was "completely within the canonical guidelines" in removing Lorello as a lector in the parish because she publicly took a position against church teachings.
Lorello and Roman Catholic Womenpriests say that the ordinations of women are valid because they stem from the ordinations of seven other women that were performed by three Roman Catholic bishops in 2002 in Europe. Lorello said she was ordained by a woman "bishop" at last month's service, during which two other women were also ordained. According to Catholic teaching, priests are ordained by bishops whose authority goes back to St. Peter.
"According to St. Augustine, when the law is unjust, there is no law," Lorello said. "According to Martin Luther King and Gandhi, when a law is unjust we are bound in conscience to break it. This is an unjust law" prohibiting women from serving as priests.
Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the Church has had a "long and constant tradition" of ordaining only men to the priesthood, dating to Jesus' selection of the 12 apostles.
"Jesus broke a lot of rules in his day, but he didn't break that one," Walsh said. She added that "there is no evidence" the Church's stance on a male-only clergy will change.
The issue of women in the priesthood has stoked controversy worldwide, with the Vatican defrocking former Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois last year because of his support for and participation in services ordaining women. A Pew Research study in March found that 59 percent of Catholics nationwide favor allowing women to be priests, 35 percent are against it and 6 percent don't know.
Many of the ordained women priests celebrate a service with small groups in homes or rented Protestant churches, and minister to AIDS patients, immigrants or the poor, said Andrea Johnson, who says she is a Womenpriest bishop.
Priests officially ordained by the Roman Catholic Church typically go through years of training in seminaries and parishes, and then are formally ordained by a bishop. Womenpriests says those it ordains have a master's degree or a doctorate in divinity, theology, religious studies or the equivalent, and work with a mentor to complete further study and reflection on the sacraments.
Dream had been on hold
Lorello said she has felt called to the priesthood since she was 7 or 8 and used to stage pretend Roman Catholic Masses in her house, complete with her dolls lined up as "parishioners." She said she put her dream on hold for decades as the Church maintained its ban on women priests.
"I waited through five popes, now six, to change that canon law that says only males can be ordained," she said. "I got tired of waiting."
She called herself "a faithful daughter of the Church" with 30 years' experience as a paid parish staff professional and 10 years as a volunteer.
Lorello said she has served as a pastoral associate in parishes in Manorville and Bridgehampton, ran religious education programs in several Long Island parishes, and taught in the Diocese of Rockville Centre's Pastoral Formation Institute for lay people. She said she is a certified spiritual director and holds master's degrees in theology from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Lloyd Harbor and in pastoral counseling from Iona College in New Rochelle.
Dolan confirmed that Lorello received a degree from the seminary. Officials at Iona said Lorello received the degree at that school.