Bill Brennan, a 92-year-old Milwaukee-area Catholic Jesuit priest, was stripped of his priestly duties by church authorities after he held a Eucharistic liturgy with a woman priest in Georgia.
According to NBC News, on November 17, Brennan performed a liturgy in Columbus, Ga., at which Janice Sevre-Duszynska, member of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an advocacy group not approved by the Vatican, participated.
The Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Society of Jesus stripped Brennan of his priestly duties and ordered him to stop presenting himself as a priest in public.
The Milwaukee Journal reports that Reverend Jerry Zawada, a 75-year-old Franciscan priest and peace activist, who also had earlier been suspended by the Franklin-based Franciscan Friars Assumption BVM province, after celebrating Mass at Fort Benning with Sevre-Duszynska in 2010 and 2011, said: "I was really angry when I found out... that his faculties were suspended, too, because for God's sake, he's 92 years old. But he's so faithful to what needs to happen. He's willing to take risks at that level."
The incident is a fallout of the long-drawn controversy in the Catholic Church over ordination of women. According to a 2010 poll by The New York Times and CBS, about 59 percent of American Catholics favor women's ordination, but the Vatican is unwilling to yield to pressures because it sees the issue as potentially divisive.
In spite of pressures, the Roman Catholic Church authorities have remained adamant in their refusal to allow ordination of woman priests. Church authorities say they cannot ordain women because Jesus did not. According to the Catholic Church, Jesus chose only men as his apostles. Church law says only men may be ordained as priests.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II issued a letter that said the church "has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women." In 2010, the church declared ordination of women a "grave crime," in the same category as the sexual abuse of minors. A "grave crime" is punishable by "defrocking or excommunication," NBC News reports.
Earlier this year, Pope Benedict XVI denounced church priests advocating for women's ordination. He accused them of trying to change the church based on their "own preferences and ideas." For such, the pope recommended what he termed the "radicalism of obedience."
The Daily Mail reports that although women are forbidden by the church to become priests, some groups have ordained women priests who celebrate Mass outside the official church. Sevre-Duszynska's advocacy group, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, is one of such groups.
Brennan and Zawada are not the only Catholic priests who has been stripped of their priestly duties for supporting ordination of women. Last month, the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, dismissed Roy Bourgeois, 74, from the priesthood after he participated in the ordination of Sevre-Duszynska in 2008, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.
According to NBC News, Sevre-Duszynska urged other priests of the church to "walk in solidarity with [Brennan], stand up for justice and... make it a new world, make it a new day in our church." She added: "It’s time for the rest of the male priests to find the courage to listen to the workings of the Holy Spirit in their heart and conscience."
Although he is prohibited from performing priestly duties, Brennan is still a Jesuit and he may celebrate Mass and hear confessions but he can longer perform his priestly duties publicly.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports Brennan said he understood the risks when he took the decision. He said: "Sometimes in our lives we have to trust our conscience and bring about the consequences. I wasn't trying to show off for the ladies."
According to the Daily Mail, Brennan worked as a missionary in Belize and Honduras for 16 years. He returned to the United States as a teacher at Jesuit-run Marquette University High School. He later served as a pastor at St. Patrick Church in Milwaukee.
In 2007, he traveled to Cuba in spite of U.S. economic blockade, to deliver humanitarian and medical supplies to the Cuban people.