Palm Coast women follow passion to become ordained as priests

Miriam Picconi remembers sitting before a life-sized crucifix adorned with the body of Christ at her church as a young teenager.

“I would just see Jesus on the cross and I kept thinking, ‘If you did that for me, what can I do for you?’ ” she said.

Picconi, 68, said she was “called to minister” early in life. By age 16, she was teaching disabled children about Christ and visiting isolated people who were unable to leave nursing homes and hospitals. She said she became a nun at age 20, delivering communion and praying with people who were too ill to attend church.

“I always had a deep love for the Eucharist, in the way Jesus shares himself with us,” Picconi said.

There was one thing she couldn’t do — becoming a priest was off limits.

The Catholic Church doesn’t ordain women but some are seeking to change that. Picconi and Wanda Russell, both of Palm Coast, will be ordained into the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Unitarian Universalist Society in Ormond Beach.

Together they’re challenging a centuries-old tradition of an all-male clergy within the Catholic Church and many Protestant denominations. The ceremony will include the same rite used to ordain male Catholic priests.


The Catholic Church won’t recognize the ordination as being valid, according to a statement from the Diocese of St. Augustine.

“The Catholic Church is very clear and doesn’t take positions unilaterally and without substantiation,” according to a statement emailed from director of communications Kathleen Bagg. “And the Church does not discourage dialogue, except on the question of the ordination of women.”

Catholic leaders have repeatedly made it clear they have no intention of allowing women to join the priesthood. In his homily on Holy Thursday, Pope Benedict XVI denounced priests who have questioned the church’s policies on celibacy and ordaining women. He suggested dissenters were making “a desperate push to do something to change the church in accordance with (their) own preferences and ideas.”

But Picconi and Russell, who call each other “best friends,” say they’re not seeking the priesthood for the sake of protest. They believe God has been preparing them for this role for years and they’re ready to embrace it.

“If we were doing this just to revolt, we wouldn’t be accepted,” said Russell, 67. “You don’t do something like this just in revolt.”

About 130 women worldwide have been ordained into the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests since 2002, Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan said. The movement campaigns for “justice for all,” not just women, she said. To be ordained, women must earn a master’s degree in pastoral ministry or an equivalent.

The two Palm Coast women and others say there’s historical and biblical support for a female priesthood. Many Protestant denominations ordain women and some have done so for decades. Russell remembers walking through the catacombs in Rome and seeing an image of a feminine priest wearing earrings.

Archeological evidence suggests the early church included female clergy, said Dorothy Irvin, an independent scholar with a doctorate in theology. Though Irvin said many lay people believe women are fit for the priesthood, Catholic church leaders squelch research or support for that cause, she said.

Picconi and Russell blame a climate of clericalism: Many Catholics grow up believing their church, and its leadership, are infallible. Fearing retribution, Catholics and their clergy don’t question authority. The women say several priests have told them privately that they support their cause.

“I don’t disparage them for not having the courage to speak the truth because I understand the dilemma,” Picconi said.

They were hard-pressed to find local churches, even those from other denominations, that would host their ordination. Some congregations said they supported the women’s mission, but they didn’t want to offend Catholic leaders and members.


Though they take exception with parts of the church, Picconi and Russell say they are “cradle Catholics.” Picconi compared being Catholic to being Italian — it’s in her blood, she said. She said she joined the Missionary Servants of the Most Blessed Trinity in Philadelphia when she was 20. She was a sister for 25 years.

Even after she joined the ministry, she couldn’t shake the feeling she would “fall short of the ideal.” That changed about 10 years later as she sat on a beach and watched waves roll to the shore during a retreat in Puerto Rico.

“Once I discovered God’s profound, unconditional love, it became a passion,” Picconi said. “It’s not a matter of obeying laws or rules, even though there are guidelines. But ultimately, it is responding to God’s love. Not out of fear. Not out of obligation. But out of love.”

Picconi later served as a pastoral director and associate at a church in Frankfort, Ky., but she says she was “forced out” in 2008 when there was a changeover in church leadership. She was devastated, but she now thinks that period eventually helped lead her to the priesthood.

“Crosses are not always easy to bear but if you can bear them, it leads to resurrection,” she said.

Like Picconi, Russell also joined the ministry after high school. She joined the joined the Sisters of Loretto, a Catholic women’s community in Nerinx, Ky., for 13 months, though she didn’t take her final vows. Growing up during the Civil Rights era, Russell said she was inspired by the bravery of black Americans as they fought racial discrimination.

“I always knew I wanted to save the world,” she said.

But back then, career paths for women were limited, she said. She couldn’t stomach becoming a nurse and didn’t think teaching would suit her. After she left the ministry, she married, had a daughter and became a social worker. She retired after 25 years because she was “tired of putting Band-Aids on problems.”

She recalled going to church with her husband when she was in her 20s. The couple often grumbled about the sermons during the car ride home.

One Sunday morning, Russell said she was stunned by the priest’s message: If you don’t believe every word the church says, go home. She left for three years.

But she says God “expects you to go back to your roots” and Russell returned to the Catholic church. She had “an adult conversion” in her early 30s. She described that moment as a door opening and God’s love instantly encompassing her.

“I just fell in love with God’s people — all kinds of people,” she said.


Since moving to Palm Coast nearly three years ago, Picconi and Russell have attended St. Thomas Episcopal Church, which they say has supported their calling. Seeking the priesthood was a hard decision, they say, partly because they feel the church leaders and some of the members that they grew up with will reject them. But Russell says she fears only “the awesomeness of the responsibility.”

Even their own friends and family members have resisted their decision. Russell’s mother and sister told her they still love her, but won’t attend the ordination because they don’t understand it and won’t support it, she said.

Afterward, they plan to celebrate mass in their home with a small group of other believers. They envision a collegial relationship with the rest of the congregation. People will take turns giving meaningful sermons — a far cry from the “dead rituals” Russell said she experienced in some churches.

“God is present where two or more people are gathering in Jesus’ name,” she said.

Most of all, the two women say they dream of an affirming environment where all people, even those of other religious backgrounds, can worship together.

Though their path hasn’t been easy, the two women say it must be done.

“We have to do it now,” Picconi said. “We can’t wait for the next generation.”

“If we wait for Rome to change, it probably would never happen,” Russell added.

If you go

WHAT: Ordination of Miriam Picconi and Wanda Russell to the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests

WHEN: 2 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Unitarian Universalist Society, Ormond Beach, 56 N. Halifax Drive, Ormond Beach.

CONTACT: Miraim Picconi,, and Wanda Russell,

Father Ryan Refuses Anti-Gay Petitions, Calling Them “Hurtful and Seriously Divisive”

In an email to his flock, St. James Cathedral reverend Michael Ryan has announced that he won’t circulate petitions inside his parish for the campaign to repeal the state’s same-sex marriage law. Here’s his full email:

Dear Friends,

Archbishop Sartain has written a letter in which he has expressed his support for Referendum 74 and for the collecting of signatures in parishes. Media reports regarding this are somewhat misleading. While the Archbishop has given his support to the effort, he has wisely left it up to each pastor to decide whether to allow the collection of signatures in his own parish.

After discussing the matter with the members of the Cathedral’s pastoral ministry team, I have decided that we will not participate in the collecting of signatures in our parish. Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community.

Father Ryan

First things first: Father Ryan deserves serious praise from Seattle’s LGBT community. This is bold.

Second: In saying some media reports are misleading, Father Ryan is probably referring to articles like mine and the one in the Seattle Gay News, which says Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and his auxiliary bishop have “ordered churches in their jurisdiction to collect signatures.” In his letter letter to parishioners last week, Sartain explained he had “approved the gathering of signatures in our parishes over the next few months” and given priests “information regarding the signature drive.” It seemed clear that the Archbishop had given petitioners permission to work the churches. And typically in the Catholic Church hierarchy, when the archbishop says he has allowed activity in his parishes, the activity isn’t just allowed—the subordinates need to comply. For example, three months ago Sartain “asked” all his parishes to run anti-gay statements in their bulletins, and they complied, including St. James. Last week, I contacted the archbishop’s office and his spokesman to ask if there was any option for priests to refuse to circulate the petitions or deny access to petitioners. They never replied. (I’ll update my online article with a link back to this post.)

Anyhow, if priests can refuse—and they can call the archbishop’s campaign “hurtful and seriously divisive”—that’s great. But the Catholics I talked to didn’t seem to think that was an option. “If priests spoke out, I think they would be silenced. They would lose their pulpits. That’s a safe bet,” Barbara Guzzo, who attends St. Mary’s in the Central District, told me.

I hope Guzzo was wrong—that Father Ryan isn’t silenced and that more follow his lead.

Complete Article HERE!

Seattle Priests Buck Church’s Anti-Gay-Marriage Campaign

Several Seattle priests have refused to allow anti-gay petitions inside their parishes, despite the the fact that the Catholic hierarchy invited petitioners into local churches as part of a campaign to repeal the state’s marriage-equality law.

News first broke this afternoon when St. James Cathedral pastor Michael Ryan said he refused to circulate the petitions because it would “prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community.” That bucked Seattle Archbishop, J. Peter Sartain’s recent invitation to run a signature drive for Referendum 74 in all local Catholic churches.

But Father Ryan is not alone in drawing the line—more Catholic churches are also resisting Sartain’s political dictates and, apparently, hewing more closely to the city’s progressive Catholic laity.

“You may have heard about a petition drive concerning Referendum 74, which will be gathering signatures at a number of parishes in Seattle,” says a statement on the home page of St. Joseph Catholic parish on Capitol Hill. “Please be aware that Fr. Whitney has decided that no petitioning will be permitted anywhere on the campus of St. Joseph. Please contact Fr. Whitney with any concerns.”

Sources tell us that other parishes—while I have not confirmed, because it’s just after 11:00 pm—are also bucking the hierarchy’s invitation to run the anti-gay signature drive in the parishes. My own alma matar and former parish, St. Therese, has reportedly rejected invitations to circulate petitions for Referendum 74. St. Mary in the Central District and St. Patrick on north Capitol Hill have also taken the stand.

Interesting—this could be another big year for Catholic America.

Complete Article HERE!

The Clan of the Red Beanie Stalks MLK, Sanity

The brilliant Charlie Pierce takes down the Cardinals.


Are these idiots kidding me? The Letter From Birmingham Jail?

May god forgive them for such towering, impious self-regard, because I have no intention of doing so.

The Clan of the Red Beanie went celibate balls to the wailing wall on Thursday, issuing a Statement on Religious Liberty that turns the English language inside-out, repositions religious repression and pious bigotry as statements of freedom, makes a mockery of the informed consciences of a good slice of the American Catholic laity, and is a statement of meddling in the secular government that would be almost tragic, if it didn’t drip so garishly with lachrymose sanctimony about how heavily these ermined layabouts have been oppressed by the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, and by the fact that some states have decided that, no, they can no longer function as tax-free havens for discrimination on the basis of who does what to whom with their sexyparts. But, before we get to that, we have to deal with one representative passage which makes me wonder what exactly some of these guys were burning in the thurible during the Holy Week services:

In his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. boldly said, “The goal of America is freedom.” As a Christian pastor, he argued that to call America to the full measure of that freedom was the specific contribution Christians are obliged to make. He rooted his legal and constitutional arguments about justice in the long Christian tradition:

I would agree with Saint Augustine that “An unjust law is no law at all.” Now what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of Saint Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law.

Holy Jesus H. Christ on the 5:15 to Galilee, this takes some big clanking brass ones. In 1963, Martin Luther King was in the Birmingham jail because he was fighting to bring down the infrastructure of American apartheid. The odds weren’t much better than 2-1 that he would get out of that jail alive. This is certainly analogous to people padding through the carpeted halls of chancery buildings trying to find a way around the country’s anti-discrimination statutes so that the Presbyterian janitors in their hospitals would be forced to live under the same theologically inept regime that American Catholics have been ignoring for almost 50 years. Sitting in a cell, wondering if every turn of the key in the lock was the last one, is certainly exactly the same moral witness as sitting in your office, worrying your pectoral cross down to the nub because somewhere, somebody is having sex that may not “be open to the transmission of life.”

Moreover, King was in the jail because, as part of his belief in non-violent protest, he had to be there. One of the essential elements of his strategy was to break the secular law and to accept the secular punishment. Now, I don’t think I have to explain in too much detail how, over the last five decades or so, accepting the secular punishment for breaking the secular law never has been high on the priority list for America’s Catholic bishops. Don’t believe me? Take it up with Bernard Cardinal Law there, who ran off to Rome to preside over the Basilica Of Our Lady Of The Clean Getaway….

To be sure, history shows that the Catholic hierarchy has yet to learn its lesson when dealing with pedophile priests. When the problem hit Boston in 1992 — after Massachusetts priest James Porter was convicted of molesting 28 children in three Bristol parishes in the 1960s — scrutiny of the Church grew so intense that Law infamously called down “God’s power on the media.” But despite the negative headlines, the cardinal, we now know, did little to rid his archdiocese of sexual predators and thus prevent further public-relations fiascoes. When the Diocese of Dallas fell to its knees in 1997 — after a jury awarded 11 clergy sex-abuse victims $119.6 million for its negligent supervision – American bishops lamented that the award would cripple the American Catholic Church. But despite the financial threat, the bishops, we now know, did little to set up a system-wide policy to root out abusive clergy.

Oh, make no mistake about it, these guys know how to play the religious freedom card when it suits their purposes. In this case, it was to duck responsibility for the heinous crimes they covered up. Now, it’s to pretend to be oppressed because their insurance carriers might be required by law to do something of which the bishops don’t approve. And the performance is becoming positively operatic. The statement also mentions that the pope is worried about us, too.

This has been noticed both near and far. Pope Benedict XVI recently spoke about his worry that religious liberty in the United States is being weakened. He called it the “most cherished of American freedoms” — and indeed it is. All the more reason to heed the warning of the Holy Father, a friend of America and an ally in the defense of freedom, in his recent address to American bishops:

Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion. Many of you have pointed out that concerted efforts have been made to deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices. Others have spoken to me of a worrying tendency to reduce religious freedom to mere freedom of worship without guarantees of respect for freedom of conscience.

Here once more we see the need for an engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity endowed with a strong critical sense vis-à-vis the dominant culture and with the courage to counter a reductive secularism which would delegitimize the Church’s participation in public debate about the issues which are determining the future of American society.

Funny, we didn’t hear much about the need for an “engaged, articulate and well-formed Catholic laity” when the topic was the raping of children, and the international conspiracy to obstruct justice that covered it up. In fact, the more engaged, articulate and well-formed the laity became on the topic, the more howls we heard from the hierarchy — and from the sheep who follow it blindly — that even to bring up these crimes, let alone demand that the criminals be prosecuted, was to attack the Church itself. That is still going on, here and elsewhere.

I bring up the scandal because it is not yet over. Because it is not yet over, the hierarchical Church in America has no serious moral witness that any Catholic with an informed conscience need pay any mind. When you finally settle accounts with the children who were raped, all of them, everywhere, then you may request, gently, that we listen to you about why your insurance companies shouldn’t offer birth control without co-pays because that is religious oppression on a par with hanging Quakers.

(Their history’s pretty bad, too. They drag in poor Jemmy Madison: James Madison, often called the Father of the Constitution, described conscience as “the most sacred of all property. He wrote that “the Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.” This, of course, is an argument for religious exemptions from the secular law derived from the thoughts of a man who didn’t even want there to be congressional chaplains.)

No Catholic in this country is unfree. No Catholic in this country is being made to do anything against his or her religious principles, or against the dictates of his or her consciences. When the bishops say this…

Catholic foster care and adoption services. Boston, San Francisco, the District of Columbia, and the state of Illinois have driven local Catholic Charities out of the business of providing adoption or foster care services — by revoking their licenses, by ending their government contracts, or both — because those Charities refused to place children with same-sex couples or unmarried opposite-sex couples who cohabit.

…they are giving away the entire game. Nobody has a right to a government contract under the First Amendment. If secular governments want to give religious institutions waivers from the anti-discrimination statutes, that’s the decision for the secular governments to make. They are under no constitutional requirement to do so. And, again…

Discrimination against Catholic humanitarian services. Notwithstanding years of excellent performance by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Migration and Refugee Services in administering contract services for victims of human trafficking, the federal government changed its contract specifications to require us to provide or refer for contraceptive and abortion services in violation of Catholic teaching.

This may well be unfortunate. It may even be a very bad policy decision. But it is not an infringement on anyone’s religious liberty. Apparently, the bishops have decided that referring people for contraceptive and abortion services is something that they cannot in good conscience do. So they have stopped providing this service. Nobody is making them do anything they don’t want to do. In this argument, they are defining religious liberty merely as carving out exceptions within the secular law so they can have their cake and eat it, too. It is using an important principle as nothing more than a picklock and, in doing so, they claim that their ability to discriminate has been truncated so, therefore, they are the victims of discrimination. Yes, and white people are the true victims of racism in America. They should be embarrassed.

And, then, the little tin trumpets sound.

What is at stake is whether America will continue to have a free, creative, and robust civil society-or whether the state alone will determine who gets to contribute to the common good, and how they get to do it. Religious believers are part of American civil society, which includes neighbors helping each other, community associations, fraternal service clubs, sports leagues, and youth groups. All these Americans make their contribution to our common life, and they do not need the permission of the government to do so. Restrictions on religious liberty are an attack on civil society and the American genius for voluntary associations.

“The state alone” is doing no such thing. Religious people can contribute to “our common life” or to “the common good” as much as they ever have, and they don’t need government’s permission to do so. But the state alone can decide who provides what services under state contracts, and the state can decide the rules that will govern those contracts, and the state can decide to waive those rules or not. And the state can decide to what use, if any, religious organizations can put the state’s own buildings and facilities. It can decide who, if anyone, gets a waiver from the secular law. In most cases, it has decided in a democratic fashion that anti-discrimination statutes contribute more to “our common life” and to “the common good” than does the Catholic Church’s opposition to freedom for gay couples to marry. In most cases, it has decided in a democratic fashion that allowing women a measure of control over their reproductive lives contributes more to “our common life” and to “the common good” than the preposterous view of humanity found in Humanae Vitae. It is repressing nobody in having done so, except some career autocrats who dream of crowns and yearn for palaces.

Complete Article HERE!