By Bishop Regina Nicolosi
Roman Catholic Womanbishop Regina Nicolosi recalls her experiences growing up Catholic, her call to the priesthood, and the recent backlash she experienced after word spread in her local parish of her ordination as bishop.
My husband Charles and I have been members of St. Joseph’s parish in Red Wing since 1973. He was ordained a deacon 1978 and served the parish for 10 years in this ministry. I became involved as a religious education teacher, member of the Social Concerns Committee, and Parish Council. I was the chair of the council for a few years in the eighties. Until very recently I was a member of the Social Concerns and Justice Commission and the Parish Council. Our children were baptized at St. Joe’s, received their first communion and were confirmed as well in this spacious, round, modern church. We have seen many priests come and go, and adjusted more or less to their various theological understandings of church and their different leadership styles.
Charlie’s and my experience of parish life were very different. He was formed by parishes and schools based on the Baltimore Catechism in New York City. I grew up in a small town in the Rhineland, Germany. I was blessed with a searching, open-minded mother, a liberal pastor, and highly progressive teachers in high school and university. Both of us, however, were moved by Vatican II which encouraged us to stay actively involved in the local parish as the core unit of Church and by Liberation Theology with its stress on the preferential option for the poor and the liberation of all who are oppressed: people of color, women, GLBT people and many other groups.
It was during Charlie’s preparation for the diaconate that I started to experience a call to ministry, initially to the diaconate and eventually to the priesthood. Studies in Pastoral Theology, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), as well as work as chaplain in a juvenile correction facility, in senior housing and in a nursing home deepened my awareness of this call. When I heard about a group of women in Europe who had been ordained to the priesthood in 2002 during an illicit, but valid ceremony on the Danube, I saw a possibility to answer this call. The group became known as the Danube Seven. In 2004, I joined the movement which had taken the name Roman Catholic Womenpriests – RCWP. My ordination to the Diaconate took place in Canada in 2005. My priestly ordination occurred on Lake Constance on international waters between Switzerland, Austria and Germany in 2006.
During my time of preparation and during my ministry itself, I have experienced the support, love and prayers of many people. Many of them were Catholics. There were members of Call To Action, Dignity, and the St. Joan’s Alliance. But there was also great support from people in other Christian denominations and in the public sphere. I received an award from AAUW and a Human Rights award from the City of Red Wing. A heartfelt “Thank you” to all who have supported our movement!
I also would like to thank the Parish Community of St. Joseph for the love and support that was extended to me. The “official” Catholic Church, however, acted differently. I received a letter, which informed me that I had excommunicated myself (sic) through my actions.
In April 2009 I was ordained a Bishop to serve the Midwest region of RCWP. The ordination took place in California because there were several of us ordained who came from different areas and the ordaining bishops were unable to travel to each destination. It was important for us to celebrate the Episcopal ordination with the ordained women of the Midwest region and all the people of God who believe that “in Christ there is neither male nor female”. We planned a Mass of Thanksgiving to take place at the end of August 2009 at Christ Episcopal Church in Red Wing. Call To Action, MN graciously helped with the invitations. I placed an advertisement in the local paper which invited the community to celebrate my installation as a Catholic Womanbishop.
At that point, some conservative members of the parish contacted the parish priest and complained about the ad and questioned my positions on the Parish Council and the Social Concerns and Justice Commission. Considering the difficult atmosphere in the diocese, the priest did not see any alternative and asked me to step down. That was a very sad day for me and for many of those in the parish who support a woman’s right to represent Jesus and to stand next to the altar.
I have three daughters, one of them a lesbian. It has become more and more difficult to justify staying in a church which not only fails to acknowledge my rights as a women but also seems to claim that my baptism is inferior because I am a woman.
The hierarchical leadership of our church has been accused of being out of touch with the people of God in many areas too numerous to count. Women’s ordination is one of them. There have been times when I was ready to leave this church and join one that is more open and inclusive.
But: This is my church and, to put it succinctly, We Are the Church. I do not remember ever having “excommunicated myself” and I do not think that a coterie in the Vatican can decide who is in and who is out. Vatican II is not dead and there are enough of us to keep it alive.
Let us remember the promises we have received in baptism and let us claim our birthright as children of God and as brother’s and sisters of Jesus. May Sophia open the hearts of all of us in the Catholic Church to true dialogue and to the love that Jesus asked us to share, so others would recognize us as his disciples.
Ordination of Women in Minneapolis Reflects an Emerging Renewal of Priesthood and Church - Michael Bayly (The Progressive Catholic Voice, August 19, 2009).
“We Are All the Rock”: An Interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest Judith McKloskey - Michael Bayly (The Wild Reed, August 4, 2008).