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.
In Denomme's case, some parishioners said the archdiocese had told Rev. Dominic Grassi, pastor at St. Gertrude, that if he celebrated the funeral Mass at the parish it would be the last he'd ever say. Grassi declined to speak publicly about his conversation with Bishop Francis Kane.
"There was no way that our pastor could just go forward with a funeral," said Valency Hastings, a parishioner at St. Gertrude for eight years. "He would have been punished."
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican's watchdog committee for doctrinal matters, declared in 1976 that women could never be priests because Jesus and his apostles were all male, and canon law codifies that stricture. Pope John Paul II, predecessor to the current pope, decreed an end to the ordination debate in 1994 in an apostolic letter.
Denomme's path to the priesthood began in her hometown of Detroit, where she played Mass with her three brothers, pretending to consecrate Chex cereal.
She came to Chicago in 1987 as a member of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and worked with homeless women. Most recently Denomme worked as youth program director at Center on Halsted, a community center serving gays, lesbians and transgendered people.
"I remember her wearing a T-shirt: 'JVC – Ruined for life,'" said her friend Rosie Gianforte in the eulogy. "She would say that her life was 'ruined' because she understood in a whole new way the inequalities and injustices in the world and once her consciousness had been raised, she was never the same again."
Friends and fellow parishioners at St. Gertrude described her as "gentle," "a peacemaker" and possessing the gifts of mediating disagreements and drawing out the talents of others. She was heavily involved at St. Gertrude: singing at Mass, volunteering as a spiritual director and religious teacher and preaching in the church's lay preaching program.
"She was really well-liked in the parish," Grassi said. "Loved."
Parishioners and female priests reacted to the archdiocese's decision with a mix of anger, sadness and forgiveness.
The day Denomme's partner, Nancy Katz, broke the news about the funeral on Denomme's blog, Susan Lersch resigned from St. Gertrude.
Lersch, a parishioner for eight years, voluntarily brought communion to the sick at a local long-term care facility; as such, she was officially representing the parish to the secular world. But after the parish chose not to bury Denomme, she didn't feel she could go on as the church's representative.
"I did not feel comfortable representing that decision," she said. "It was time to go. A line had been crossed."
Other parishioners said they struggled to extend forgiveness. Ruth Giles-Ott, a parishioner for 15 years, said she attended a faith-sharing meeting on May 10 where the group members discussed the archdiocese's decision. Christians are called to "radical love," she said, and that includes Cardinal Francis George.
Hastings said the parish has moved past anger into reconciliation, which is what Denomme would have wanted. At the same time, "Cardinal George has to face these tough questions about the lack of compassion to someone who dedicated her whole life to the church and the hypocrisy we see in not carrying out the basic act of buying the dead," she said.
Claire Bushey is a freelance journalist based in Chicago.
Roman Catholic Womenpriests:
Janine Denomme obituary in the Chicago Tribune:
Mary Styne obituary in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
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