By Claire Bushey
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Female Catholic priests, deemed excommunicate by Rome, buried two of their own this month, neither one in a Catholic cemetery. "They threw us away," says a surviving member of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which marked its first deaths.
CHICAGO (WOMENSENEWS)--Two funerals this month find women ordained as Catholic priests buried outside the church they were striving to change from within.
Mary Styne, 70, of Milwaukee, died May 12. She was ordained in 2009 by Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that has been ordaining women to the priesthood in contravention of church law since 2002.
Janine Denomme, 45, of Chicago, died May 17, just weeks after her ordination by the same group; her funeral was May 22.
The women, both of whom died of cancer, are the first members of Roman Catholic Womenpriests to pass away. The group now has more than 100 bishops, priests and deacons worldwide, mostly in the United States.
Women presided over both funerals.
While Styne's death and funeral were quiet, Denomme's drew renewed media attention to the battle lines running through the Catholic Church over women's ordination.
While Styne knew the Catholic hierarchy would never allow her funeral in a church and arranged for services at a nonsectarian chapel, Denomme's survivors asked to hold her funeral at St. Gertrude, the local parish she loved.
The Chicago Archdiocese refused.
"Those who willingly separate themselves from the church cannot be granted a church funeral unless they gave some sign of repentance before death," it said in a statement.
The Chicago Archdiocese said Denomme's excommunication resulted automatically from her participation in a "simulation" of ordination on April 10, five weeks before her death. The church's decision to refuse burial upset many members of the progressive North Side parish, as did the fact that many of the conservative Catholic websites and blogs covering the story dwelt on how Denomme was a lesbian. Some of the parishioners will meet Tuesday to discuss how or whether to formally respond.
"She followed her conscience," said Barbara Zeman, a Roman Catholic female priest in Chicago. "They threw her, and us, away."
Denomme expected to have her funeral at St. Gertrude, Zeman said. She went into the hospital almost immediately after her ordination, so she never had the experience of being excluded from the life of the parish that other female priests know.
Denomme was ordained to the deaconate in July 2009, a few months after being diagnosed with colon cancer. Over the next year, she chronicled her disease in a blog, which she saw as her ministry. The site attracted more than 23,000 visitors.
Bishop Joan Houk, of Roman Catholic Womenpriests' Great Lakes region, recalled that Denomme was so ill at her priestly ordination in April that she needed to lie in an upstairs chamber, rather than in the main sanctuary with the other candidate for ordination. Houk shuttled back and forth between the two rooms to administer the sacrament.
Houk said the priests in her region thought the archdiocese's refusal to bury Denomme was senseless but unsurprising.
"I see the constant denial to the women," Houk said in an interview at the wake. "Denial of community, denial of ministries such as lecturing or Eucharistic minister. They deny us the opportunity to pray on Catholic property."
Denomme's funeral was held at First United Methodist Church in a northern Chicago suburb, or "St. Gertrude's North," as a speaker at her wake irreverently dubbed it, to cheers and applause.
Styne's funeral was held in the Chapel of the Chimes at Wisconsin Memorial Park and she was buried by the funeral home Church and Chapel.
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