Female Catholic priests call papal edict excommunicating them from church irrelevant

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, recently declared that any women who was ordained, and the men who ordained them, would be excommunicated from the church.

However, a couple of women ordained Catholic priests in our area say the Pope's revision of papal law is irrelevant to what is really happening in the alternative church.

Eileen McCafferty DiFranco was ordained in 2006.

"I'm an ordained Catholic priest. My ordination is valid, but it is illicit and I 'excommunicated myself.' What I like to say is, ordained women excommunicate themselves much like back in the olden days [when] women used to get themselves pregnant without benefit of man," she said.

DiFranco, the co-pastor at the Saint Mary Magdalene Community in Drexel Hill, said the Pope's edict has no effect on her because she has been operating outside of the church hierarchy for decades.

Regina Bannan, president of the Southeast Pennsylvania Women's Ordination Conference, said female priests have been saying mass in alternative religious communities since the 1960s.

"If a teacher in class supported women's ordination, the fine might go for that, if they supported gay marriage or anything else, but for us, this fine, the excommunication is meaningless," she said.

"But for priests or nuns, or other people who want to keep their religious role in the Catholic Church. This fine, the excommunication,  the whole penalty structure affects them."

Pope Francis issued a revision of church law last week, and in it, he lumped the ordination of women as priests in with pedophilia.

DiFranco said it's unfortunate because Pope Francis has done some good things in bringing the church into the 21st century.

"Sadly, he speaks out of both sides of his mouth," she said. "You can't respect women, and then, [compare] the ordination of women to pedophilia, and put that in law. that shows a profound disrespect of women."

Judy Heffernan was ordained in 1980 into the Intentional Eucharistic community.

"I don't worry about excommunication," she shared. "The church is the people of God. And I realized long ago that I cannot be excommunicated from something I am."

There are over 200 women ordained as Catholic priests in the country, and many others around the world.

"There are five ordained Roman Catholic women in the Philadelphia area, that I know of, ordained as priests," said Bannan. "There are others who are ordained as deacons as well.”

She said these ordained women have been celebrating mass for 40 years, in some cases. "To create an issue about it now by putting it in canon law just affirms this stupidity of the decision," she remarked.

Women priests in Philadelphia say the pandemic forced their services online, and the number of people attending has increased dramatically.

"People came on, they were looking, they didn't like 'The Priest Show,' and they came on and they liked ours," said DiFranco. "And they have no intention of going back to their traditional community. They're going to stay with us."

Bannan said they've been meeting on Zoom since the pandemic began.

"Our communities have grown, and I mean ours has people from Rhode Island to Arizona. Eileen's has people around the world, because they're part of the Roman Catholic women priests movement," she said. "People are drawn to and attracted to this ministry. It's not turning off the faithful."