Living Gospel Equality Now: Loving in the Heart of God: Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests
Saturday, November 2, 2019
‘Humbled’ Keldermans is Now a Bishop-Elect in Roman Catholic Women Priests USA By Steven Spearie, Courier
The Rev. Mary Keldermans of Springfield knew for the last several months there could be a sea change in her ministry in Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA.
That change arrived in the form of an email a week ago Saturday when Keldermans, who was ordained as a priest five years ago and started Holy Family Inclusive Catholic Church, was informed that she was elected as bishop of the movement’s four regions.
“I was humbled in the face of all of the enormity of it,” said Keldermans, during a recent interview. “It was awe. (The week before the balloting) I would sit there and think, this is maybe the last week to be plain old me. What’s next week going to bring? What will that change bring? Then Saturday happened and now this change was going to happen.”
Keldermans, who will be installed early next year, will head a midwestern region comprised of nine states. Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA (RCWP) is a group the Vatican, which doesn’t allow ordained female clergy, labels as “schismatic.”
RCWP bishops minister only to the women priests of the region. The women have autonomy, Keldermans said, to form, operate and lead their own communities.
“My job will be to support, to talk to, listen to, and celebrate and commiserate with other women,” Keldermans said.
Keldermans will ordain two women who are in formation to be priests. Over the next years, she plans to travel to each of the church communities in the region “to see what they do, to visit and not to interfere.”
Keldermans’ ordination caused a stir in Springfield because she had worked for several Springfield Catholic parishes.
Then like now, Keldermans, 63, maintained that her ordination wasn’t “a power grab or a poke in the eye” of men in ministry and that “I am still Catholic.”
Keldermans’ action earned her a public excommunication from Springfield Bishop Thomas John Paprocki. At the time, Paprocki also stated that ”[t]hose who knowingly and intentionally participate in these schismatic activities (at Holy Family) also incur automatic excommunication.” (A spokesperson from the Springfield Diocese did not respond to an email seeking clarification on the matter.)
The growth of the number of Womenpriests, about 200 worldwide, has been “slow, in some sense,” Keldermans admitted.
“We’re the ground floor. We’re the suffragettes of this movement,” Keldermans said.
Keldermans believes the institutional church will invite married priests — some rites in the church already allow them — before it considers women candidates.
Pope Francis said that he would reopen the work of a 2016 commission that studied the issue of women deacons, a point that was little consolation to Keldermans.
″(The church) used to have deacons,” she contended. “What is there to study? We’re the other part of the church. We’re half the church.”
Holy Family, which rents a space on Apple Orchard Road, regularly attracts about 35 people to Mass including a core group, Keldermans said.
“A lot of us hear, ‘Oh, I wish I could come to Holy Family, but I can’t.’ People’s families don’t want them to come,” Keldermans said. “They don’t want to leave their parish family.
“I get that. It’s very hard. They’ve been threatened with excommunication. For some, it is dire.”
A “cradle Catholic,” Brian Moore of Springfield said he didn’t go to church as an adult for a long time until curiosity brought him to Holy Family, where he’s now a musician.
“I believe women should be equal in the church, as priests,” Moore said. “That’s a big thing for me, that and the lack of discrimination. Everybody’s welcome here. It’s in our name, inclusive.”
“You are being led by a Catholic priest, not by male or female,” added Betsy Richbark of Springfield, who was also born and raised in the church before leaving it. “It doesn’t matter to me where they come from or where they go back to. It’s all one when you’re here.”
While she was pondering her would-be candidacy this summer, Keldermans said she would sit on her deck and look at the stars, especially one she called “my God star.”
“I was talking to some of my other sister priests and I was telling them, ‘God’s just not letting me know (about this),’” Keldermans recalled. “Finally, one of the (priests) said, ‘Mary, God’s talking. You’re just not listening.’ So, I changed my attitude then. I really started thinking and imaging my gifts, what I could bring to the region.”
Moore said having a bishop-elect in the small community was “pretty cool.”
“She’s probably the right person for the job,” he said.