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At 80 years old, Rita Lucey defies centuries of doctrine and dogma by becoming a Catholic priest



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Perhaps one of the reasons that the church is so opposed to the ordination of women is because once you question that one tenet of the religion, it opens up the door to the questioning of many more beliefs, canons and doctrines that have been accepted at face value for thousands of years.

For instance, the idea that "God" has to be a replica of a man, even though God is not even a human being.

"We celebrate inclusive liturgies, which means we include feminine as well as masculine images of God," says Janice Sevre-Dusczynska, one of the 160 women priests practicing in the United States and the media representative for the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, through which Lucey was ordained. "If we're only going to be seeing, as young women and older women, only male pictures, a male image of God, or using male pronouns, we are hurting the souls, the psyches of young girls, and we're empowering men too much, giving too much privilege to males. We're not creating a balance, and imbalance causes sin. We need women at this table."

Likewise the idea that family planning and contraception are taboo comes into question with these women of faith.

"If women had family planning and education and good access to contraception, you'd save a lot of lives, and the church would suddenly become a lot more pro-life," says Bishop Mary Meehan, one of the first women ordained as a priest in the United States. In her biography on the website for the ARCWP, Sheehan is described as a maverick who's helping lead the "holy shakeup" that's rocking the Catholic church's foundation. "Don't tell me that one of the best ways to lower the abortion rate isn't contraception. If you want to lower the abortion rate, use contraception, use family-planning methods. That makes sense to most people, except the celibate male Catholic hierarchy."

And then there's the notion of inclusion in general – one of the reasons people have lost connection with the Catholic church is because it is so exclusionary. Women priests think that needs to change if the church is to survive, much less grow.

"As one of our theologians has said, this isn't just adding women and stirring," Meehan says. "This is a new priesthood in a reformed church, where everybody is welcome: gays, lesbians, transgender individuals, the divorced, former Catholics and so forth. Everyone."

Lucey and Meehan both point out that the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate recently estimated that there are now 32 million "lapsed" Catholics – those who were once Catholics but have stopped participating – in the United States, and the number of practicing priests has been steadily dropping since 1990. The entire population of Catholics in the country is only about 76 million, according to the same organization. Clearly, they both say, this indicates that something needs to change if the church is going to remain vital. Lucey says she has high hopes that the current pope – Pope Francis, one of the most progressive popes the Catholic church has ever seen – will help lead reform efforts that will change things for the better. He has already stated publicly that even though the church still bans birth control, people should not feel they have to "breed like rabbits" to be good Catholics. And he's indicated that he feels the church should welcome gay parishioners, rather than shun them.

For now, he's still standing firm on the teaching that women should not be ordained as priests – but Lucey, Meehan, Sevre-Duczynska and others have faith that he may soften in his stance and someday welcome women to the priesthood.

"We women now number over 200 in four different continents," Lucey says. "We're in Canada, South America, Africa, and we are planting seeds everywhere. Now, in order to grow, the seeds have to be watered. I'm hoping this pope, whom I admire very much, will be out there with his watering can. He is a reasonable man, well-versed in the Scripture. How long can he deny us women ordination?"

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