A different type of priest

Three women, including one from southeastern Minnesota, were "ordained" by an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests in June. The moment they became priests in the organization, however,...

Corene Besetzny, of Red Wing, was recently ordained by Roman Catholic Womenpriests. However, the Roman Catholic Church considers ordination of women as priests to be invalid.

Three women, including one from southeastern Minnesota, were "ordained" by an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests in June, joining dozens of other women from around the country who have adopted the title of priest.

The moment they became priests in the organization, however, they were rejected by the Roman Catholic Church, which says the ordinations are not valid. Just this week, Pope Francis said the church's nearly 2,000-year tradition of male priesthood was definitive and not open for reconsideration.

"Even though that's what comes down from the Vatican, for me it'll always be my church, no matter what," said Corene Besetzny, of Red Wing, one of the three who were ordained by the organization in St. Cloud.

Besetzny has been working for and within the Catholic church for about 40 years. Some of her earliest memories are of making altars for the Virgin Mary and dressing up as a nun, she said, but she never considered becoming a priest.

"For Catholic women, it's not on our radar," she said, "because it's not an option."


Originally from Algona, Iowa, Besetzny earned a handful of graduate degrees, served in the Peace Corps and held a variety of jobs, including elementary school teacher, pastoral minister and now assistant director of recreation at the Red Wing Healthcare Community , a skilled nursing facility.

She became a deacon with the Womenpriests organization in 2012 and as a priest with the organization will perform rites such as funerals, baptisms and weddings.

She said she feels prepared for this next step and says other congregations in Red Wing have supported her. "If I had to do this alone, I don't know if I could do it."

Ordination is not valid

Womenpriests began with the "Danube Seven," a group of seven American, German and Austrian women who were ordained by an Argentinian bishop in 2002. They were excommunicated by the Vatican. Since then, the group has ordained at least 12 women as bishops and more than 100 as priests.

Ordained on June 23 along with Besetzny were women from St. Cloud and Salem, S.D. They were ordained by Womenpriests Bishop Regina Nicolosy, of Red Wing.

Roman Catholic Bishop John Kinny, of the Diocese of St. Cloud, issued a statement saying that "women who claim to have been ordained Catholic priests in fact have no relationship to the Catholic church, because their ordination is not valid."

The Rev. Charlie Collins, of St. Pius X Catholic Church in Rochester, said it's not an issue of justice, as Womenpriests members say.


"From the time the church started, it's been a rule that men are priests," Collins said. "It's a rule that's been with the church forever."

In 2010 , the Vatican took steps against the international movement, proclaiming the ordination of female priests a "delicta graviora," a designation used for grave crimes against the church, including priests' sexual abuse of children.

Pope Francis addressed the issue this week, saying the church's tradition of male priesthood was "definitive" and that "the Church has spoken and says no...that door is closed." But the pope also said he wants women to have more leadership opportunities in administrative and pastoral areas of the church.

'Looking for a new model'

Despite being rejected by the Catholic Church, Besetzny said she's part of a movement that's trying to change it from within.

"It's not that we want to leave our church — we love our church," she said. "We are looking for a new model."

Besetzny, who's the adoptive mother of three grown children, says she believes the church will put off new generations of Catholics if the church refuses to loosen restrictions on the priesthood.

"Young people are coming up in a world where they're … so aware of sexism, racism — all the 'isms,'" she said. "They're going to say 'What? This doesn't fit,' and they're going to move on. A lot of our churches are emptying out."


But she didn't become a priest with the expectation that church doctrine will change anytime soon.

"We're doing this for the next generation, to open the doors for young women in the future," she said. "I think it will happen. But I don't think it will happen in my lifetime."

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