I-Team Report: The Underground Priesthood

October 14, 2009 (CHICAGO) That violates church law and comes at a time when the Vatican is investigating who's behind the growing phenomenon of women's ordination.

Chicagoan Alta Jacko is the first African-American woman to be ordained as a Roman Catholic priest. But the underground priests are not priests at all, according to leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, because they maintain, women can't be priests.

It may have looked like a joyous celebration complete with music and dancing but it was actually a serious violation of Roman Catholic dogma, according to the Vatican, punishable by automatic ex-communication from the church.

BISHOP: "Are you ready to be ordained for priestly ministry by the laying of hands and the gift of the Holy Spirit?
CANDIDATE: With the help of God I am ready."

The women's ordination ceremonies cannot be held in a Catholic church which from the beginning has prohibited women from being ordained.

So last Saturday afternoon at a Lutheran church on the Northwest Side, the doors were opened for Alta Jacko's ordination as a Catholic priest. She is a mother of eight grown children who has three master's degrees including two from Loyola.

Joan Clark Houk of Pittsburgh, one of five bishops in the Women's Ordination Movement, officiated the ceremony.

"It is with great joy I present to you Alta! Our new woman priest," said Houk.

Jacko becomes one of about 60 women priests around the world and the second in Chicago. The first women were ordained in 2002 by an Argentinean bishop who claims apostolic succession although he isn't recognized by the Vatican.

The women priests do recognize the pope, consider themselves good Catholics and believe that the Holy Spirit does not discriminate.

"I was taught about the Bible. The love of Jesus Christ and I come from a family of love…I'm following Jesus' teachings. By virtue of my Baptism I am called - I am mandated - to serve God's people…Now I can celebrate Mass," said Jacko.

But as certain as the bells at the Chicago archdiocese's Mundelein seminary, is the response from Roman Catholic Church officials: Women are not eligible to be priests.

"The basic reason is that Christ did not include women in the group of 12 Apostles which we understand as being the predecessors of the priests and bishops of the church today," said Jacko.

Fr. Tom Baima says Christ could have chosen to break the ancient cultural norm against women, but chose not to and like the resurrection itself, male priests remain an immovable dogma of the church.

GOUDIE: "Do you ever see a time when this will change and women will be allowed to be priests?

So what does that mean for the Women's Ordination Movement and its newest priest?

Jacko: "I could be ex-communicated and refused Communion.
GOUDIE: And you're good with that?
JACKO: I'm very comfortable with that."

In fact, according to church officials, Alta Jacko and the other woman priests and bishops are already ex-communicated.

"It doesn't need to be imposed or declared. It simply begins automatically," said Baima.

Cardinal Francis George does not disagree with the women-as-priests prohibition. In a book out this week, Cardinal George writes that apostolic order is not something that can be changed.

The Vatican has opened two investigations of women in the church, examining a leadership conference whose members largely support women's ordination, and a sweeping investigation of the quality of life for the nation's 60,000 nuns.

"What I think the investigation may do is let people know how women in the church are treated…and see the injustice," said Houk.

In his book, Cardinal George notes the need to recognize the "dignity of woman." And church officials cite new ministries aimed at involving women in leadership and decision-making role - all of them short of being ordained.

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