Friday, February 25, 2011

A woman deacon recants

Norma Jean Coon, Ph.D. (photo), was ordained a deacon in July 2007 in Santa Barbara, California through Roman Catholic Women Priests by Bishop Patricia Fresen. At the same ceremony, two other women were ordained as well. Juanita Cordero became a priest and Toni Tortorilla became a deacon.

According to Roman Catholic Women Priests, Coon has a doctorate in Psychology and she was a licensed RN and MFCC (Marriage Family Therapist) until her retirement in 1994. She had a private practice and specialized in psychological testing, prayer therapy, and in alcohol and drug treatment at an acute care facility where she served her residency. At the time of her diaconal ordination, she had been married 44 years and had five children and was living in San Diego, where she still resides today.

Now the conservative Catholic blogs and websites are gloating because Dr. Coon has recanted, posting a brief statement, dated February 8, 2011, on a hastily put together Web page under her own domain name which was registered anonymously on February 13th. Coon says: "Formally, I relinquish all connection to the program of Roman Catholic Women Priests and I disclaim the alleged ordination publicly" and she adds that "I confess the authority of the Holy Father on these issues of ordination and recognize that Christ founded the ordination only for men." She concludes "I forsake all connection with the Roman Catholic Women Priests program via Internet or otherwise."

Beyond that, there is an interesting disconnect between Coon's version of her story and that of Roman Catholic Women Priests. RCWP says that Coon was "fulfilling required theology studies in preparation for the priesthood and specializ[ing] in centering prayer, elderly, dying, lectio divina and scripture studies." Coon says her involvement was minimal. "I did not act as a deacon as a part of this group except on two occasions, when I read the gospel once at mass and distributed communion once at this same mass. I withdrew from the program within two weeks of the ceremony because I realized that I had made a mistake in studying for the priesthood." These hardly sound like the words of someone who had a strong vocation in the first place.

The second part of Coon's statement is even more revealing. In a brief prayer, Coon writes: "Holy God, I ask your blessings on my Bishop and my pastor and priests in Rome who have assisted me in the process of being re-instated into the Roman Catholic Church...I thank you for the efforts of my family in my behalf and ask for Jesus' Light and Love to pour over my husband of 47 years and my five children."

The whole tone of the statement suggests three things to me: 1) fear of the implications of the latae sententiae excommunication that comes with women's ordination as a result of the most recent changes in canon law, 2) pressure from her family to change her mind, and 3) being forced to make a public declaration as part of her penance and a condition for being returned to good standing in the Catholic Church. The statement sounds stilted. I'm not saying it was involuntary or that it does not represent Coon's current thinking about women's ordination, but I have to wonder if such a private person would have broadcast her repentance over a Web page evidently designed solely for this purpose had she not been told directly to do so.

On behalf of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, Bishop Bridget Mary Mehan issued a brief response on her blog, saying: "We understand the decision made in conscience by Norma Jean Coon, now a former RCWP deacon. She has every right to change her mind and has an obligation to follow her conscience. We remain ordained Roman Catholic Women Priests who continue to follow our informed consciences and, simply put, obeying God trumps obeying the Pope." She continues: "Roman Catholic Women Priests follow Jesus who treated women and men as equals and partners in contradiction to the religious establishment of his times. Scholars have found evidence of women deacons and priests in the early centuries of the church’s history...We are challenging an unjust law that discriminates against women. Roman Catholic Women Priests are leading the church into a new era of justice and equality for women."


  1. What did they do now? Twist her arm? Threaten her kin or even the dog?

  2. Let's be nice, OK? I just hope this decision to "come clean" hasn't been motivated by a life threatening illness. Two other interesting things:

    1. For the most part, the conservative bloggers do not actually link to Dr. Coon's Web page so the reader comes away with the impression that there's a whole Web site and not something set up only to publish this statement.

    2. Dr. Coon's statement gives more insight into the line of succession than is given on the RCWP site. If I had any problem with RCWP, it was that I didn't believe they had a legitimate order of succession. Dr. Coon's statement removes any doubt from my mind. Now we'll see what kind of a witch hunt will take place to try to find those 3 anonymous German male bishops...

  3. I think something terrified this woman and it makes me very sad. The only positive thing about her statement is that she did not denigrate, castigate or personally attack the RCWP women. There is a legitimate line of succession and no one will know the names of the three bishops until their death. I know this for a fact.

  4. I’m Anonymous one.
    The only thing that I don’t understand in all this is WHY?
    WHY? Christian women keep on insisting on wanting to become deacon or priest in a church that doesn’t want them or acknowledge their right to do so. Is not the only choice. There are many other Christian denominations that welcomes and values them.
    Is not as, for example, let’s say, women’s right to vote struggle or to join the military, etc. There’s only one place where they can do that.
    The other day, I attended a volunteers ecumenical meeting and before we begun a lady pastor from Prince of Peace United Methodist Church led the devotional, with a wonderful key note based in scripture, contrasting the meaning of being a volunteer with being a servant, leading to the conclusion that we are servants, not just volunteers.
    I’ve never heard anyone before, making such a illuminating comparison and bringing this spiritual point up in this matter.

    I guess that they do it just “because is there” and the ice needs to be broken. Another possibility is that they go through the hardship because they believe that the Roman Catholic Church is the “true church” founded by Christ, as I heard saying many times.
    Otherwise, my advice would be: Ladies, take your personal and spiritual talents somewhere else, where they will be appreciated and valued as you deserve. No that you don't have the right, is just that perhaps THEY don't deserve you.