On January 3rd, Georgia Walker (photo below) became the first woman Catholic priest to be ordained in 2015 and the first in the conservative Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese. During a ceremony presided by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, the 67 year-old convert to Catholicism who had originally thought of joining the Sisters of St. Joseph but left during the discernment process, joined the ranks of several hundred women worldwide who no longer want to wait for the institutional Roman Catholic church to grant them full equality.
According to ARCWP, Rev. Walker has held a variety of positions in the health care industry and has a degree in sociology. She taught sociology for many years at three universities in Kansas and at the federal prison in Leavenworth. She is now the co-founder and executive director of Journey To New Life, an agency that specializes in serving former convicts who suffer from addictions, mental illness and chronic health conditions. Over the last twenty years she has also done accounting for numerous parishes, schools and social agencies. She currently serves on the Board of Peace Works-Kansas City, often engaging in nonviolent civil disobedience and she volunteers with local Catholic Worker houses. She has been convicted of trespassing at the Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City and at Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo. Now Rev. Walker wants to work in prison ministry.
Four days after her ordination, Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn issued a formal decree stating that Georgia Walker had been excommunicated latae sententiae. Perhaps the speed of the order reflects the fact that there isn't much love lost between Rev. Walker and Bishop Finn. They had previously tangled over the firing of a food pantry employee in the diocese for her marriage to her lesbian partner. Rev. Walker spearheaded a petition campaign that gathered more than 30,000 signatures calling on the diocese to reinstate Colleen Simon. Along with the petition, Walker delivered a personal message to Bishop Finn: "...The Roman Catholic parishioners in the Diocese of Kansas City-St Joseph yearn to have a bishop-shepherd who leads with compassion, understanding, dialogue and peace. We pray for one who hears the voice of conscience and follows gospel values of Jesus of Nazareth, who was welcoming, inclusive, collaborative, forgiving and loving. We are weary of actions that reflect inflexible church rules despite the devastating consequences in the lives of sincere human beings striving to respond to God's call to ministry...Please pray about that as you ponder why the parishioners of this Diocese are leaving the church in droves!...Respectfully, I ask that you resign from your position so that we can participate in a more loving and inclusive Roman Catholic Church!" Simon has since filed a lawsuit against the diocese for "fraudulent inducement" arguing that her relationship was known when she was hired.
Given the history, Rev. Walker's response to the excommunication decree should come as no surprise either. "What the official church does to me is not relevant," Rev. Walker said. "They can't take away my baptism, they can't take away my calling to the priesthood. All they can do is deny me their sacraments. But now, I am a priest and I can provide those sacraments. Not just to myself but to others."
Two weeks later, more ordinations. On January 17th in a ceremony in Orlando, Florida, Bishop Meehan ordained one woman, 80 year-old Rita Lucey of Orlando, to the priesthood, and Jim Marsh of Albany, NY and St. Petersburg, FL, Kathryn Shea of Sarasota, FL and Mary Catherine White of Gorham, NH to the ARCWP diaconate (photo above).
Rev. Lucey has a bachelor's degree from Barry University, Miami, and a Masters in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University. As a military wife, she volunteered with the Red Cross in military psychiatric hospitals stateside and overseas. During that time she was also a catechist and then for many years a director of religious education. Later she volunteered with Hospice of the Comforter for 25 years until the facility was sold in 2013. Like Rev. Walker, Lucey has also been involved in civil disobedience. She trespassed at Fort Benning, Georgia during the SOA Watch protest to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas, for which she spent six months in federal prison in 1998. She is an active member of Pax Christi, is a board member of the local chapter of Amnesty International, and past president of the local chapter of the United Nations Association. She has been dubbed by the media the "Rebel Granny" because she has four children and nine grandchildren.
Rev. Lucey told the Orlando Sentinel that she doesn't accept the institutional Church's arguments against women's ordination. "I see that as a man-made thing rather than a revealed truth. It's a patriarchal interpretation of the Scriptures that definitely has sexual bias." Nor is she afraid of excommunication, saying that she remains Catholic through her baptism, confirmation and faith. "Jesus was a good Jew who didn't leave his Judaism any more than I have left my Catholicism in my heart and soul," Lucey reasons. "I asked myself, 'What are you doing this for at this age?'? I know why I'm doing this -- because the spirit is calling me. Women can be priests. We are called to the priesthood."