The sun shone like a beacon through the windows of the St. Andrew United Church of Christ in Sarasota. It started off like a regular Catholic mass but instead of men wearing the deacon slashes as they walked down the aisle it was women.
This is not a regular mass. It is a ceremony for ordaining women priests and deacons. Two women were joining the more than 145 women priests around the world. They are members of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. It’s a part of a movement that started in 2002 with the ordination of seven women at the Danube River in Germany.
Actually, the Vatican punishes women who seek ordination with excommunication. It’s a crime against the church and excommunication is the most severe penalty. But that does not intimidate this group of women. Maureen McGill of Pensacola is one of them. She was ordained a priest in Sarasota.
McGill found the association through the internet after leaving the Catholic Church for a few years.
"At that point, nobody in the family was going to church. We were just done with church," McGill said. "We had a bad experience at my mother's funeral and we just left."
To McGill, this community felt right.
“I was home but there was none of the rigidity, there was openness to women, openness to birth control, openness to divorced Catholics, openness to gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual people," McGill said. "It was a totally open experience and I think that’s what I had been looking for for 67 years.”
But this group is not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church.
“The Diocese of Venice does not recognize them at all. It’s just a group of people making a claim that’s just not valid within our church," Frank Murphy, spokesman for the Diocese of St. Petersburg, said.
A recent poll conducted by Bendixen & Amandi for the Spanish-language network Univision, showed Catholics internationally are split on a variety of issues including gay marriage, divorce, and abortion. Specifically, 59 percent of the Catholics surveyed in the United States believed women should be ordained into priesthood.
Pope Francis has said the door of allowing women in the priesthood is closed. McGill understands that doors close…
“But they open, they do open. And if you knock loud enough and hard enough and keep going at it, that door might open," McGill said.
Some folks like Murphy don’t see that door opening anytime soon.
“I think that the ordination of a woman to priesthood, I think it involves a teaching of the church which is for men only at this point in time," Murphy said, "and I think it will continue to be that way.”
Even so, McGill holds out hope as she jokes often with her husband.
“He said the other day, ‘you’ll never live to see women completely accepted in the church’ and then he looked at me and he says, ‘given your genes, you probably will live to see it,’" she said, "and I will crawl to the Vatican with my walker if I have to on that day if they do accept us.”