— LGBTQ group celebrates its support for ordination of women priests
The D.C. LGBTQ Catholic group Dignity Washington says it dedicated its weekly Catholic mass on Sunday, Sept. 24, to honor a woman priest who has served as one of its priests since 2017 in a gesture of support for the women’s priest movement.
“This Mass commemorates the ordination of Ann Penick as a Roman Catholic Woman Priest and celebrates the invaluable contributions of women who have served the church in various capacities,” the group said in a statement.
“Rev. Ann Penick’s ordination as a Catholic priest, and the ordination of female priests like her, represents a step forward in the Catholic Church’s ongoing journey towards greater inclusivity and recognition of diverse vocations within its ranks,” the statement says. “Dignity Washington is deeply honored to support her ministry and those of other women priests,” it says.
The fact that the Dignity mass in honor of Rev. Penick, who presided over the mass, and all of its weekly Sunday masses are held at St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church near Dupont Circle highlights the fact that the official Catholic church recognizes neither Dignity nor women priests.
Dignity, a nationwide LGBTQ Catholic group with chapters across the country, is banned from holding any of its masses in Catholic Churches.
Penick told the Washington Blade in an interview the week prior to her saying the Dignity Mass on Sept. 24 that she was ordained as a priest in June 2011 by a woman bishop associated with a breakaway Catholic organization, the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The organization was formed shortly after three male Roman Catholic Bishops ordained the first known women priests on a ship sailing along the Danube River in Europe in June 2002.
Two of the bishops who publicly disclosed their decision to ordain the women were excommunicated by Catholic Church officials at the Vatican in Rome. The third bishop acted anonymously and is believed to be continuing to serve as a bishop.
One of these bishops subsequently ordained female bishops who, in turn, began ordaining other women Catholic priests in Europe and in the U.S.
Information posted on the Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests website says it and others associated with the women priest movement believe the ordination of women bishops and priests is valid under the biblical concept of ‘apostolic succession.”
Under that concept, the spiritual authority that Jesus bestowed on his original apostles has been handed down to subsequent generations of clergy, and the ordained women bishops and priests can pass that spiritual authority on to other female clergy.
A spokesperson for the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, which oversees Catholic churches in D.C. and parts of Maryland, did not respond to a request by the Blade for comment on the women’ priest movement.
Penick, who is married and has two stepchildren with her husband, points out that the women’s priest movement has also broken with the official church over the longstanding church requirement that priests practice celibacy and cannot marry.
“The Roman Catholic women’s priest movement sees celibacy as a personal calling,” Penick told the Blade. “If a woman is personally called to celibacy, she follows that call,” Penick said. “But a woman can also be married and have children, and that’s always been a vision of the Roman Catholic Women’s priest movement.”
Penick notes that it was not until the early 1100s that the church put in place a celibacy requirement for its priests.
She has been active in the Catholic Church for most of her life in several states where she has lived and worked. She received a certification in lay ministry from the Diocese of Birmingham, Ala. in 1993, a master’s in counseling degree from the University of Birmingham in 1995, and a master’s in Pastoral Ministry from Boston College in 2008.
She and her family currently live in Alexandria, Va., and she currently works as a mental health counselor at the Counseling and Psychological Services department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Penick said while living in Maryland she served as a priest for Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community in Catonsville, and currently serves as a priest for the D.C. Living Family Mass Community in D.C. as well as serving as one of Dignity Washington’s rotating priests.
“We are so lucky to have her,” said Dignity Washington former president Daniel Barutta, who noted that Penick and her husband are Dignity members. “She’s just a shining star for women,” he said. “And we really hope that Dignity Washington is leading the church, showing the church which direction to go in terms of empowering women and having them as our spiritual leaders.”
Barutta said Penick has joined the Dignity Washington contingent in D.C.’s LGBTQ Pride parade and the city’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and has led Dignity prayer services on various occasions.
Peter Edwards, Dignity Washington’s vice president, said following its Sunday mass that the organization “certainly does affirm that women can serve as priests in our community.” Edwards added, “We had a wonderful congregation tonight for a mass in celebration of Rev. Ann.”
Sister Jeannine Gramick, co-founder of the Mount Rainier, Md., based LGBTQ Catholic advocacy organization New Ways Ministry, said she believes the fully approved ordination of women priests in the Catholic Church will someday happen.
“There is no theological reason, only cultural ones, why women have not been ordained priests,” she said in referring to the official church. “I believe that a Catholic organization that ordains women priests is living out their sincere and deep-seated beliefs and preparing the wider community for what will eventually come to pass,’ she said.
“Not all arrive at the destination at the same time, and I admire those with the courage of their convictions who lead the way,” she added.
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