CHICAGO (CBS) — For centuries, priesthood has been a sacred calling in the Roman Catholic Church; one only answered by men acting “in persona Christi” meaning “in the person of Christ.”
Eleven years ago, that gender barrier began to crack when the first women priests were ordained in secrecy. Since then, it’s grown into a movement, but it’s condemned by the church.
Still, since 2002, 122 women worldwide have been ordained bishops, priests or deacons; 92 of them in the United States, including two who are active in the Chicago area.
CBS 2’s Mai Martinez reports, at a Lakeview church on a recent Sunday, parishioners celebrated a Catholic Mass, presided over by Barbara Zeman.
But that mass and others like it are not recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. In fact, they’re condemned, because they’re led by women priests.
“There are no women priests in the Catholic Church, and there never will be,” explained Monica Mavric de Beltrami, a metropolitan tribunal judge with the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Mavric de Beltrami said the Vatican views the ordination of women priests as one of the highest crimes against the church.
“Rome has spoken and the case is closed,” she said.
Rome might have spoken, but Barbara Zeman isn’t listening. Ordained in 2008, she’s one of a growing number of Roman Catholic women priests.
“It’s not about me. I want to be clear. This is about women and affording people the dignity they deserve and the ability to answer the call,” said Zeman, who presides over Sunday mass for Dignity Chicago, an LGBT organization.
Many in the parish welcome Zeman.
“It increases the diversity,” explained parishioner Mike Cook.
“It was a dream of mine for many, many years that women could be priests,” added another parishioner, Marilyn O’Leary.
Video of the mass almost brought Mavric de Beltrami to tears.
“I want to cry,” she said after viewing the video. “Because it’s a mockery of the Catholic faith. It’s a mockery of the mass. That is not a mass.”
But some Catholics have said it’s time for the Roman Catholic church to open its doors to everyone. According to a New York Times/CBS News poll released just before Pope Francis was elected, 69 percent of Catholics said the next pope should support women becoming priests.
At Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago, there were differing opinions.
“It’s time to add the woman’s point of view,” said Dr. Rosemary McHugh.
But others say no.
“I’ve been invited to women masses, but I feel it’s disobedience,” said a parishioner who didn’t want to want her name used.
Mary Grace Crowley-Kock, ordained in 2010, said it’s not about disobedience, it’s about inclusion.
“Where ever it’s going to lead me, or whatever it’s going to cost me, I guess it will cost me. At least I die being true to myself,” explained Crowley-Kock.
She has the full support of the people who attend her mass, but they and all those who are facilitating the women priest movement risk excommunication.
“I’d like them to reconsider what they’re doing, and ask for forgiveness,” said Mavric de Beltrami.
The women priests said they have no plans to do that.
“We may never see an official welcome in to the church, but who was the biggest rebel of all? Jesus,” said Zeman.
Supporters of women priests add that allowing women to become priests could also help ease the current priest shortage in the United States.
So far, however, Pope Francis has shown no sign he’ll break with the church’s more than 2000-year-old tradition of male priests only.