"Georgia Walker became a Roman Catholic priest Saturday — at least, according to her and those who filled a midtown church to witness her ordination.
Catholic canon law stipulates that only baptized men may be ordained as priests, and Walker has said she’s been informed by church officials that she would be excommunicated if she went through with the ceremony.
But Walker reiterated Saturday that she does not accept that ruling.
“We are not leaving the Catholic Church; we are leading the church to a new model,” she said before the service at St. Mark Hope and Peace Lutheran Church, 3800 Troost Ave.
Representatives of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests officiated.
“The good news is that God cannot be put in a box and that God is calling women to serve the people of God in inclusive, empowered, egalitarian communities today,” said Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the organization.
During her homily, Meehan applauded statements of Pope Francis, who, she said, “recognizes inequality as the root of social sin and has taken positive steps to increase the number of women theologians.” But she also criticized the pope for phrases that threaten to marginalize those same women, in once instance referring to them as “strawberries on the cake,” Meehan said.
“In my view, our beloved pope needs some strong feminist friends to help him transform his chauvinistic view,” she said.
Meehan also referred to a recent “60 Minutes” interview in which Cardinal Seán O’Malley of Boston, a close adviser to Pope Francis, defended the church’s tradition of reserving the priesthood for men, adding that if he were founding a church he would “love to have women priests.” But, O’Malley added, “Christ founded (the church), and what he has given us is something different.”
Such statements disappointed her, Meehan said.
“Cardinal O’Malley and the hierarchy cannot continue to blame Jesus for the sexism in the Catholic Church, because it contradicts the life and teachings of Jesus in the gospels and the Vatican’s own scholarship,” she said to applause.
In being ordained, Walker becomes one of the more 150 female priests recognized by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.
Walker, 67, has served as a University of Missouri sociology professor, a financial officer and hospital manager. She also is a peace activist who has been convicted of trespassing at the Bannister Federal Complex in south Kansas City and at Whiteman Air Force Base near Knob Noster, Mo.
As a priest, Walker has said she wants to establish a ministry of visiting prisons in the diocese.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II issued an apostolic letter reserving the priesthood for men only. In 2008, the Vatican said any woman attempting to be ordained and anyone attempting to ordain a woman would be automatically excommunicated. Pope Francis, during a July 2013 news conference, indicated that women still could not become priests.
The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph last month issued a statement saying that because Walker’s ceremony did not involve the participation of any “validly ordained Catholic clergy,” it would not be commenting further.
Meehan urged those present Saturday to encourage Walker in her work. Bishop Robert Finn of the diocese may threaten Walker with excommunication, she said, but added, “He cannot cancel our baptisms.”