Sunday, April 13, 2008

Winonan sees her Womenpriest ordination as an act of faith

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Saddened bishop: Redig's excommunicating herself from Catholic Church


Winona Daily News: When Winona Bishop Bernard Harrington talks about Kathy Redig, he speaks of her great heart. He regards her as a “great Christian person.”

Harrington praises her work as a chaplain at Community Memorial Hospital. And when he thinks of her upcoming ordination in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement — a largely excommunicated group of women ordaining other women to the priesthood — his mood changes. He calls the situation “very, very sad.”

And pauses momentarily.

“She has chosen to make this decision, and I have to respond,” Harrington said. “My responsibility is as a shepherd and to uphold the faith and ensure that the souls are not misled. I have to do what I have to do to act responsibly.”

Harrington said he remains committed to teaching the Catholic church’s position on the ordination of women into the priesthood, while at the same time respecting Redig, who has been a lifelong member of the diocese and will be ordained May 4 in Winona.

“This will cause more confusion than good. I am sorry to see the church being fractured in another way,” Harrington said.

Admittedly, the church’s stance on the ordination of women is something that causes confusion for Catholics and non-Catholics alike, Harrington said. He said the church exhaustively outlined its position in a 46-page document, “Mulieris Dignitatem,” written in 1988 by Pope John Paul II.

However, the issue came to the forefront recently when the “Danube Seven,” a group of seven women who were ordained in Europe, claimed apostolic blessing for the ordination. Since then, other women have been ordained and many have been excommunicated.

Most recently, St. Louis Archbishop Raymond Burke, formerly the bishop of the La Crosse Diocese, excommunicated three Womenpriests.

As for Redig, Harrington sees little reason to formally excommunicate her if she goes through with ordination.

“She, by her actions, has excommunicated herself,” he said. “Archbishop Burke did something that formally had already taken place. It means my job is easier.”

Harrington said the church’s decision not to ordain women is rooted in the earliest actions of Jesus Christ’s ministry when he calls disciples — only men. From the 12 chosen disciples, Christ gave power and therefore served as the model of how priests of the church were determined.

Harrington also pointed out there are many opportunities for women to serve in the church, including holy orders and in ministry outside the priesthood. A look at the Diocese of Winona’s staff roster shows four women in positions of leadership, including the chancellor of the diocese.

The bishop also said the issue is more complex than just a matter of gender. For example, many men are turned away from the priesthood. He said the calling to the priesthood is a two-part process, an individual’s call and then a call from the bishop.

“There are many people who seriously feel called but are not suited,” Harrington said. “Yet it’s a very deep, deep call.”

Sometimes men can be turned down for larger issues like having a criminal record, while at other times it can be more subtle, like discerning that the priesthood might not be the right venue for ministry.

Harrington said in Catholic theology, Mary, the mother of Jesus, is “held in the highest esteem of all human beings.”

“Mary is our single, solitary boast,” Harrington said.

The bishop said Mary’s position in the Catholic theology demonstrates the high regard for women in the church and demonstrates that men and women are called to different roles.

“The dignity of every human being and the vocation corresponding to that dignity find their definitive measure in union with God. Mary, the woman of the Bible, is the most complete expression of this dignity and vocation. For no human being, male or female, created in the image and likeness of God, can in any way attain fulfillment apart from this image and likeness,” said John Paul in his landmark 1988 text.

While Redig and the womenpriests movement point out a nationwide priest shortage, Harrington said filling it with women simply cannot happen because of church teaching n the church cannot alter what Christ started.

“I think we’d look to married men first,” Harrington said. “But that is a discussion for the cardinals and the Holy Father. Those decisions are not made by a local bishop, and I am not a pope in my diocese.”

Other critics of the church question why gender matters.

“That’s true if you approach it from a biological view,” Harrington said. “But this is a matter of theology, not biology. And the church is not a democracy. Most approach it from that view and that’s why they have a hard time.

For now, Harrington is using this “sad event” as a teaching moment for the diocese members. That education started more than a month ago when a full page article outlining why women cannot be ordained to the priesthood was placed in “The Courier,” the diocese’s official newspaper.

“I have to let the Catholic community of this area know what is proper and true,” Harrington said. “This is not a proper ordination by Catholic teaching and tradition. The Catholic community needs to know they need a validly ordained priest.

“If they choose to go to her the Catholic community ought to know — must know — that confession is not being validly heard, that the sacraments and words used may be the same, but it’s not valid. After all, we see Mass in the movies and see Masses in plays, but we know they’re not real.”


Winonan sees her Womenpriest ordination as an act of faith


Winona Daily News Kathy Redig’s most profound act of faith might be the one that gets her condemned, if not excommunicated from the church she’s been a part of her whole life.

She claims the Roman Catholic Church. After May 4, it may not claim her.
Chaplain Kathy Redig holds a service in the chapel at Watkins Manor March 11,

In just a couple weeks, Redig will be ordained in Winona by the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement, a worldwide organization aimed at ordaining women into the church’s priesthood.

But Redig isn’t going ahead with ordination to put herself at odds with church leaders and church law. She says she’s going ahead with ordination because she wants to bring more people to the church she’s loved her entire life.

“For 15 to 20 years, I’ve struggled,” Redig said. “This is the only church I want to be a part of.”

But when Redig participates in Mass, she looks to the altar and sees a man leading worship, a man on the cross and thinks about the men leading the church.

“There’s no one up there that looks like me,” Redig said. “Many times in Mass I’ve shed tears because women have not been given a voice. We can’t be ordained just because we came in the wrong wrapper.”

She doesn’t want out of the Catholic church, she wants in — and she wants to bring others along.

Redig explained there are many who feel like church outsiders, uncomfortable because they’ve been marginalized by some of its teaching. Redig said she feels called to minister to those people.

“I want the bishop to know that I am not looking to take anyone out of the church,” Redig said. “But there are so many who do not feel served. There is so much work for all of us to do. The bishop shouldn’t be afraid.”

Meeting with the bishop

Before meeting with Winona Bishop Bernard Harrington in March, Redig said she was at peace.

Three weeks before the meeting, The Courier, the newspaper of the diocese, issued a full-page explanation of the church’s rules and reasons for only ordaining men.

Harrington said the article in The Courier wasn’t necessarily coincidental. He said he used it as an opportunity to start teaching the church’s position.

When Redig met with the bishop, she said she offered Harrington the chance to be part of the ordination.

“I asked him, ‘So would you ordain me?’” Redig asked. “He said, ‘Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t.’ ”

Redig told him that she felt called to ordained priesthood and there were many people in need of more pastoral care.

“Many don’t feel served. I understand there’s a shortage of priests, and I told the bishop, ‘Women are here, ready to serve,’” Redig said.

She received a 11/2-page letter from the bishop. In it, he urged her to renounce her ordination as a deacon and not follow through with ordination as a priest. He warned her that he would not endorse her as a Catholic chaplain, warned her she is not in good standing with the church and unable to receive communion.

Most importantly, if she follows through with the ordination, Redig said he will send papers to Rome. Those same papers have been the beginning of the excommunication process for other women who’ve been ordained.

“He said it may be a happy day for me, but it will be a sad day for the Diocese of Winona because I am causing confusion for the people of faith and I am not bringing about unity,” Redig said. “He seemed terribly afraid. And I wrote him a response and said that every day is a sad day for women who cannot be fully at the table.”

She also invited four priests in the diocese to attend her ordination in May. All four declined. She said that privately they’ve expressed their support of her work, but publicly, they could face retribution for outwardly supporting her.

The next steps

Redig plans to start a small gathering for those who identify with the Roman Catholic church, but feel marginalized by its teachings or policies.

The congregation will be called “All Are One,” a reference to a prayer recorded in the Gospel of John, chapter 17, when Jesus prays, “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

Redig says that Scripture alone gives her inspiration to reach out and gives her confidence about her ordination.

“How do you intend for those words of Jesus to be fulfilled while you’re turning away people?” Redig asked. “Take a look around the Mass and those who received the Eucharist — there are probably a lot of Catholics who shouldn’t be there — those who’ve remarried, are gay or voted for John Kerry. If you actually followed all the injunctions of the church, there’d be no one worthy of Mass.”

For now, she plans on starting a group that will meet in a house, not unlike the ways the apostles did it in the early history of the church, Redig said.

Her journey

Redig’s journey toward priesthood began years ago, when she entered a convent at 18, shortly after graduating from Cotter High School in Winona. She chose to join the order because of its work with juvenile delinquents and teenage girls. Just before taking her first vows, she left.

“I chose that because it was all women could do,” Redig said. “But I also knew I needed a partner in life.”

She met her husband, Robert, who had also spent time in seminary.

“Still, I felt I was always called to some sort of ministry,” Redig said.

She became a licensed practical nurse, married and had two children.

Nursing was rewarding for Redig, but she always seemed more interested in the spiritual aspects of the patients.

In 1988, she decided to go back to school at Winona State University, where, as an adult learner, she tailored her own major to focus on psychology from birth to death. In 1993, she entered a chaplaincy program at Franciscan Skemp in La Crosse and eventually enrolled in a clinical pastoral education at Gundersen Lutheran, too.

She also went back to school, studying for a master’s at Saint Mary’s University.

In 1994, qualified to serve as a chaplain, she sent letters to area businesses and health care facilities, asking if they had any chaplaincy openings.

At first, Winona Health declined, saying it was downsizing.

“But I argued. I told them you can’t downsize what you don’t have,” Redig said.

About the same time, the hospice program need a chaplain for just five hours per week. Eager to find any work as a chaplain, she took it. Eventually, she built the program m at the hospice and developed the first chaplaincy at Winona Health’s Community Memorial Hospital, which now has her and another chaplain on board.

As a chaplain, she receives an episcopal certification through Harrington and the diocese in order to be called a Catholic chaplain. Her ordination through the Womenpriests movement will probably mean a revocation of that endorsement.

The call

Every year, Redig took a survey that gauges women’s attitudes in the church. On that survey, there was a question that asked about whether she felt called to be an ordained priest. Sometimes she’d answer “yes,” other times, “no.”

“Sometimes I would answer no, because I figured it couldn’t happen. Why tempt myself?” she said.

Then, one day as she was doing laundry, with Robert in the other room, they were talking about frustrations with the church. She off-handedly said, “Well, I guess the only way we’ll find a church that’s meaningful to us is if we start one ourselves.”

“I thought I was kidding,” Redig said. “But the spirit wasn’t.”

From that point on, Redig explored possibilities of becoming ordained, gaining admission to the Womenpriests movement, which had drawn international attention when seven women were ordained on the Danube River.

For her, pursuing the priesthood has been about living the best part of the Catholic faith, the tradition of practicing what her conscience tells her.

“As I read the Scriptures and what Jesus said … it’s about loving each other,” Redig said, “there’s very little about anything else. Love your God and love others as you love yourself.”

With a conviction that comes from deep inside, with her family support and the support of the Womenpriests movement, Redig is proceeding. And maybe the most powerful reason for her journey is from what she’s learned on the job as a chaplain.

“Ministry is affirmed by the people. That’s what I learned from being a chaplain. The people — that’s where it comes from,” Redig said.

Want to attend?

The ordination: By invitation only. Those wanting one may call Kathy Redig at (507) 452-1089.

Also at the ceremony: Bishop Patricia Fresen of Germany will preside. Mary Smith of Long Lake, Minn., and Barbara Zeman of Chicago also will be ordained into the transitional diaconate of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement.


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