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Three new female Catholic bishops ordained in Delco

More than 40 years ago, when Bridget Mary Meehan was an Immaculate Heart of Mary sister teaching in Delaware County parish schools, she was forming the foundation that eventually led her to becoming a bishop with the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

“Everything, I learned in ‘Nunhood 101’ — prayer, ministry and service of the church,” said Meehan, who taught fifth grade at the old St. Rose of Lima Grade School in Eddystone in 1969, and fourth grade at the former Sacred Heart Grade School in the Manoa section of Haverford in 1973.

Thursday afternoon at Pendle Hill Quaker study retreat and conference center, Meehan presided at the ordination of three Roman Catholic women from the United States, Canada and South America as bishops at a Mass celebrated with about 40 Roman Catholic women priests clad in white robes, and approximately 35 other supporters, male and female.
The new women bishops include Mary Eileen Collingwood of Hudson, Ohio, Michele Birch-Conery of Windsor, Ontario and Olga Lucia Alvarez Benjumea of Columbia.

Assisting in the ordination was Bishop Sibyl Dana Reynolds, founder of the Sisters of Belle Coeur and author of “Ink and Honey,” and Bishop Bernard Callahan, a hospital chaplain and pastor of the Church of Francis and Clare that operates out of Lansdowne Presbyterian Church. He was previously pastor of the Church of the Beatitudes that formerly operated at the Garden Methodist Church in Lansdowne then at the old Price Street Episcopal Church in Trainer.

“I think any reflection of Christ that is gender-specific is not a reflection of Christ,” said Callahan who was consecrated a bishop in 2013 in the Ecumenical Catholic Ordinariate, a movement dedicated to Christian unity inspired by the Second Vatican Council.
Raised Roman Catholic, the retired mechanical engineer was ordained a priest in 2003 in the Old Catholic Church that split from the Vatican in the 16th century in Holland after the Bishop of Utrecht gave sanctuary to Huguenots, French Protestants being pursued by the Jesuits. Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, the Old Catholic Church allows priests to marry and allows women to be priests. A widower, Callahan has two sons and two granddaughters.

“I think theologically, it’s the correct thing to do,” said Callahan of ordaining Roman Catholic women. “I think this organization of women priests is a sign of how correct that is because it’s a growing organization, full of energy and lay people predominantly have no problem with women priests.”
The three women ordained bishops Thursday brought to 44 the number of women Meehan has ordained deacons, priests or bishops in 2014 and 2015 alone. There are about 215 women in the United States, Latin America and Canada ordained priests through the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, and Roman Catholic Womenpriests USA which began in Germany with the ordination of seven women on the Danube River in 2002. Two of those women attended the bishops’ ordination Thursday.

Propelled by feminism and a desire to follow a different religious path, Meehan left the Immaculate Heart nuns in 1980, joined the Sisters for Christian Community who are independent of Vatican authority and eventually became the first woman and the first Roman Catholic to earn a doctorate in ministry from Virginia Episcopal Seminary.

“I loved the IHMs but I really felt I wanted to be in a new part of religious life, in parish ministry,” said Meehan who now serves at Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community in Sarasota, Fla.

In 2006, she was one of eight women ordained priests by three women who consider themselves Roman Catholic bishops on a boat at the juncture of the Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio rivers in Pittsburgh. Eileen McCaffery DiFranco who now celebrates Mass at a Methodist church in Upper Darby, was also among them. In 2009, Meehan was ordained a bishop in Santa Barbara, Calif.

In 2006, former Philadelphia archbishop Cardinal Justin Rigali called the women priests’ ordination “invalid” and maintained that scripture and sacred tradition “clearly indicate that Jesus called only men to follow him as Apostles.”

Thursday Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput and his spokespersons, who have been involved with World Meeting of Families events in Philadelphia this week, couldn’t be reached for comment. However, in 2010, former Pope Benedict XVI said bishops who attempt to ordain women and women who attempt to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church will be excommunicated just as priests who sexually abuse children will. Both sex abuse and the ordination of women are grave crimes against the Roman Catholic Church, stated Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican’s sex crimes prosecutor in 2010.

The author of 20 books including “Living Gospel Equality Now,” Meehan noted that the church did not require an ordained priest to consecrate the Eucharist until the 13th century.

Wednesday in Washington, D.C., some women priests who were in attendance at Thursday’s ordination were arrested when they staged a “die-in” by reclining on the street outside a church to promote their cause to the visiting Pope Francis who will be in Philadelphia this Saturday and Sunday.

“We call on Pope Francis to affirm women priests as beloved members of the church and to lift all excommunications and punishments against women priests and our supporters,” said Meehan during her homily Thursday.

Meehan praised the pope for his “prophetic advocacy for economic justice and for ecological healing of our earth.” She urged him to make the connection between poverty, violence, abuse of women and the earth and the second class status of women in the church and to allow women to control their own fertility with artificial contraception. She also called on Francis “to affirm the primacy of conscience for all Catholics including gays, lesbians, transgender, divorced and remarried, women priests and our supporters.”

“By these actions, Pope Francis can open the way to deep healing in the Catholic church of today and for the future,” declared the bishop.

This article was written by Patti Mengers, a reporter for the Daily Times who writes health and religion issues. She’s also a member of the paper’s editorial board. Reach the author at pmengers@delcotimes.com .