Three Oaks woman ordained priest in unsanctioned ceremony

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THREE OAKS, Mich. Despite warnings from Kalamazoo’s Bishop, a group that promotes opening the Catholic priesthood to women has ordained a Three Oaks woman as a priest.

Lillian Lewis, 75, was ordained with the help of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a group that has been helping to ordain women into the priesthood since 2002.

"We knocked for a number of years, maybe a century or two, but I think it's time now to break in,” Lewis told NewsCenter16. “So that's what we're doing."

About 100 people came from far and wide to view the ceremony, despite warnings that such a "simulation" is a crime against the church.

The Catholic Church restricts ordination to baptized males only.

“We feel this is unjust because it excludes women simply because they're women,” said Joan Houk, a Bishop of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests. “So we break and it and by breaking it then there are penalties.”

Organizers were worried about protesters picketing the ceremony, but Saturday's ordination was ultimately peaceful.

"Instead people came with tents because they knew it was going to be hot and they knew we didn't have a church to go to," Lewis told NewsCenter16 Saturday. "I am very, very happy. I feel so affirmed."

Houk, who performed the ordination, says the most immediate consequence is automatic excommunication.

“If I don't answer that call to God then I feel like I’m in serious trouble,” said Houk, who was ordained into the priesthood in 2006. “That call is too great and so I accept the pain in order to follow the call.”

As a result these women are unable to receive the sacraments, including Holy Communion.

Lewis said she is also ready to accept that penalty.

"The people also bear the Christ and are the Communion, not just the bread and wine,” Lewis said. “It's what we communicate . So there's a part of communication in everything we do."

The service was originally going to be held at First Congregational Church in Three Oaks, but tensions resulted in the ceremony being moved to Lewis’ home near downtown Three Oaks.

Kalamazoo Bishop Paul Bradley says the ordination is invalid and warned members of the Diocese against participating in the ceremony.

“Any Catholic attending or participating in this, or any invalid and illicit attempt at the sacrament of ordination, places themselves outside of full communion with the Catholic Church,” Bradley said in a statement posted on the Diocese website.

Bradley described the ordination as a “simulation of a sacrament.”
Lewis' husband, Stephen Shimek is a former priest and said the day could not have come sooner.

"I was a priest and she taught be more about priesthood than I learned in the seminary," Shimek said.

“It's not women who are playing house or church like a little girl,” Houk responded. “It's the real deal.”

Houk says the group will continue to help women enter the priesthood until there is a change in Church policy.

“I have the utmost hope, trust, that someday the leadership of the church will accept women for ordination,” she said. “I have no doubt in my mind and I'm at peace with what I'm doing even though it puts me right at the center of tension.”

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