Female Catholic priest celebrates Mass at St. Francis House

Thursday, May 29, 2014 | 6:00 a.m. CDT; updated 6:07 p.m. CDT, Sunday, June 1, 2014
Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a female priest, led a mass at St. Francis House on Wednesday. Sevre-Duszynska is the subject of a documentary, "Pink Smoke Over The Vatican," about the movement promoting the ordination of women in the Catholic church.

COLUMBIA — In the middle of a living room, a table is set like an altar, with wine and bread prepared for Holy Communion. At the head is a priest dressed in a black shirt, jeans and sandals, hair tied behind the head revealing a gold earring hanging from each ear. She has a deep purple stole around her neck, which rests on her lap as she sits.

This is Janice Sevre-Duszynska, 64, an ordained Roman Catholic priest with one exception: The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize her status as a priest.

Sevre-Duszynska said she and her colleagues do not accept the church's stance on their issue.

"We're leading the church, not leaving the church," she said.

Sevre-Duszynska celebrated Mass on Wednesday night at St. Francis House, an open house for homeless men that is run by the Catholic Worker Movement. She was invited there by Steve Jacobs, 59, who works at the house, while on her way to an event in Kansas City.

The 2011 documentary "Pink Smoke Over the Vatican", about women's rights to priesthood, features Sevre-Duszynska. It was played before the Mass.

"I knew there was a place for women on the altar more than just in a coffin, or as a bride," Sevre-Duszynska said in the documentary.

Sevre-Duszynska is part of a growing number of people who support the right for women to be ordained in the Catholic Church. The movement began with seven women ordained on the Danube River in Germany in 2002, according to the Roman Catholic Women priests website.

Sevre-Duszynska said she was originally asked to join the group on the Danube, which would have made her one of the first female Roman Catholic priests from the U.S. 

"I had to really reflect on that and discern, 'Should I accept that? It would be quite an honor,'" Sevre-Duszynska said.

Instead, she chose to be ordained at home in the U.S. She first became a deacon aboard a boat in Pittsburgh; she later became a priest in her home of Lexington, Ky., on Aug. 9, 2008. 

"I wanted to be ordained with my community," she said. 

Her status as a priest is recognized by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. The association claims the right to ordain through "apostolic succession." It says that since its first bishops were ordained by a male Roman Catholic bishop with the power to bestow priesthood, its bishops, too, have the same powers, according to its website.

The Catholic Church does not view Sevre-Duszynska's priesthood as legitimate because, as Canon Law 1024 states, "a baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly." In 2008, the Vatican issued a statement that anyone involved in the ordination of a woman would be automatically excommunicated, according to the Catholic News Agency. 

Dan Joyce, communications director for the Diocese of Jefferson City, said the diocese shares the Vatican's position on female priests and the services they hold.

"People can attend or not attend as they wish, but they shouldn’t be under the impression that it’s valid liturgy under the Roman Catholic Church,” he said.

Jacobs, a member of the Catholic Worker movement, said he believes women should have the same right to become Catholic priests as men have.

"You can't say that God cannot inspire women to be priests the same way God has inspired men," Jacobs said. "If you do that, then you're putting God in a box ... . You can't put God in a box like that."

Sevre-Duszynska said that she does not believe women have a voice in the Catholic Church and that the Gospels need to be interpreted by women. The movement allows for all different backgrounds, she said, including former nuns, married and divorced women, and lesbian women. She said the group invites men to join the movement, but the focus is on women first.

As for the future of her cause, Sevre-Duszynska said she is optimistic.

"Our movement is growing," she said. "We are now almost 200 women ordained in 10 countries. We have, in the U.S. alone, more than 150 women that are ordained, and we serve over 60 inclusive liturgical communities. We feel the people of God are ready."

Supervising editor is Mary Ryan.

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