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Anglicanism's third rail -- Women in Holy Orders

Anglicanism's third rail -- Women in Holy Orders
For some of us it's non-negotiable


By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
February 2, 2024

I am emphatically against women in Holy Orders. For me there is no such thing as a woman priest. And we won't even discuss a female bishop, much less a lady primate.

It was during college in 1970 that I became Episcopalian and I fell in love with the church. I loved the liturgy and the Sacraments. Coming from the Swedish Lutheran tradition the Episcopal Church offered a deeper understanding of the Sacramental life. Something I fully embraced.

That is until 1974 when the Philadelphia Eleven burst upon the scene and sent the first fission through the Episcopal Church and eventually the entire Anglican Communion.


It was on July 29, 1974 that eleven female deacons and three retired bishops -- Daniel Corrigan (Colorado-suffragan); Robert DeWitt (XII Pennsylvania); and Edward R. Welles (IV West Missouri) -- defied conventional wisdom to wait for The Episcopal Church's legislative process to work in their favor and allow for the ordination of Episcopal women to the priesthood.

The three bishops ordained the 11 women as irregular priests in The Episcopal Church. The group became known as the Philadelphia Eleven. This event took place in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania thus breaking open the creaky dyke which was holding back Women's Ordination.

That dike-bursting event will celebrate its 50th anniversary in July. As of 2023 six of the Philadelphia Eleven were still living.

Then in September 1975, the Washington Four made more news when another group of women was ordained priests by retired Bishop George Barrett (IV Rochester) in Washington, DC thus giving the Episcopal Church 15 "valid" but irregular female priests even before the 1976 General Convention could convene to wrestle with the issue.

A year after the Washington Four were ordained the 1976 General Convention met in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Convention had a crisis on its hands: there were 15 irregularly ordained women priests and something had to be done to fix the problem.

An irregular priest means that although the ordination took place through the laying-on-of-hands by a bishop in Apostolic Succession, that bishop did not have canonical authority to perform that ordination.

The Episcopal Church canon allowing for the ordination of women to the presbyterate had not yet been written and approved by General Convention. That would not come until 1976.

As a result the 1976 General Convention did indeed approve Women's Ordination to the priesthood and episcopacy. The newly-minted canon allowing for such ordinations was slated to take effect on January 1, 1977. The 15 irregularly ordained women priests were regularized and formally recognized as full-fledged Episcopal priests and the floodgates were kicked fully opened. The slow trickle of priestesses would become a flood flowing across the entire church and out into the wider Anglican Communion.

The slippery slope, as slippery as an icy ski trail, would eventually lead not only to bishopettes, led by Barbara Harris (Massachusetts suffragan) in 1989, but also Anglican primates with Katherine Jeffers Schori breaking the stained glass ceiling in 2006. Since then the Anglican Communion has added two more women to the list of provincial primates -- Linda Nicholls of the Anglican Church in Canada in 2019; and Marinez Rosa dos Santos Bassotto of the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil in 2023.

The Brazilian lady primate was paired with a fellow Brazilian Roman Catholic Bishop Teodoro Mendes Tavares (Bishop of Ponta de Pedres) during the recent Week of Prayer for Christian Unity where 54 Bishops from both the Anglican and Roman Catholic traditions gathered for the "Growing Together" ecumenical summit which was hosted by the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) and endorsed by Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby. The travelling bishops' pilgrimage sojourned between the Vatican in Rome and Canterbury in England.

One other Anglican bishopette joined the 27 Anglican/Catholic bishop pairs. She was Alba Sally Sue Hernández García (VIII Bishop of the Diocese of Mexico) in the Anglican Church of Mexico.


I was working at a small weekly newspaper in Nebraska during the summer of 1974, and I was a member of St. Barnabas, the beautiful Anglo-Catholic high church parish in Omaha. My husband was in the Air Force at the time and he was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base. But I chose to go to St. Barnabas rather than participate in religious services on the base and there was no Episcopal church in the small off-base burg we were living in.

In 2013 St. Barnabas joined the Ordinariate with the assistance of Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson. He was formerly the V Bishop of Rio Grande before swimming the Tiber and becoming the founding ordinary of the newly-forming Anglican ordinariate in North America.

On that hot July morning in 1974 when the news of the Philadelphia Eleven crossed the wire, I instinctively knew this was a seismic shift within the Episcopal Church. It was like feeling the ground shift beneath my feet during an earthquake.

And 50 years later the aftershocks of that theological earthquake are still being felt as evidenced by what happened at the recent Mere Anglicanism Conference, held within the ACNA Diocese of South Carolina, when Fr. Calvin Robinson hit the third rail -- Women's Ordination -- and sparks flew. As a result, he was asked not to participate in the concluding discussion panel.

"The bigger issue for me, as a Bishop of the Church and President of Forward in Faith - North America, is that we in the ACNA seem unable or unwilling to have the hard conversations that we need to have," laments Bishop Eric Menees (V San Joaquin) following the dust up at Mere Anglicanism. "Instead, we send 90-character tweets & vitriolic social media posts and or simply break fellowship with someone commonly referred to today as 'Cancel Culture.' Shame on us!"

As a woman opposed to women in the priesthood, so obviously, I would never seek priestly ordination.

But how did what happened on July 29, 1974 impact me?

I am categorically opposed to women priests because they are not priests in the truest, purest sense of the word. They are at best priestesses.

Early on I was taught what makes a person "Catholic" -- in the broadest sense of the term -- is the practice of the Catholic faith and order, the embrace of the historic seven Sacraments, and an unbroken Line of Apostolic Succession.

I believe in Apostolic Succession with the power of the priesthood flowing from Christ and His Apostles down through the centuries until today, unless that line is irrevocably broken.

I was taught about the Branch Theory from the Anglican viewpoint in that the single line of Apostolic Succession which flows from Christ and the undivided Church was first branched into two -- Orthodoxy and Catholicism -- during the Great Schism in 1054. Both the Eastern Church and the Western Church to this day maintain valid Sacraments because the vine (Apostolic Succession) through which the power of the priesthood flowed was split into two branches not severed from the source with the Eastern and Western churches becoming individual branches joined to the same vine -- Jesus.

Then came the Reformation and the Western branch of the Church sent out off shoots with Anglicanism becoming another viable branch, as did the Swedish Lutheran branch, because at least three valid Apostolic bishops embraced the newly reformed theology -- be it Anglican or Lutheran -- securing an unbroken Line of Apostolic Succession through them into their part of the expanding 16th century church.

Ok. I understood that and accepted that, as it was presented to me, and happily went on my way as a Swedish Lutheran convert into the Episcopal Church.

Then the Philadelphia Eleven happened and the Apostolic Succession became shaky. True bishopettes were still 15 years down the line, but the possibility loomed even then.

I had to be careful, very careful. I would only attend a Service of Holy Communion where a male priest was the celebrant. I even walked out of the National Cathedral when the person at the end of the entrance processional was ... female!

I think today I would also walk out if the priest was Cameron Partridge, an Episcopal transgendered priest who is really a priestess. In June 2014 "he" was the guest preacher at the National Cathedral's celebration of Pride month.

Women's Orders were and still remain, very personal. It's a deal breaker. There can be no compromise. No mutual concession. No lowering of biblical standards. No agreeing to disagree. No dual integrities. ACNA is fatally flawed because of it unless WO is stamped out.

Even the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) rethought the issue and changed course on WO. In the mid-1970s, the ELCL moved to ordain women pastors. The first woman pastoress was ordained in 1978, then in 2014 she was made a bishopette. Two years later, in 2016, the ELCL revisited the issue and amended its canons by a super majority 77% vote to reflect that only men can be ordained. Currently the remaining ordained ELCL women clergy will be allowed to die out and there will be no more female ordinations to follow.

In 2014 Antje Jackelen became the primate of the Church of Sweden (Swedish Lutheran Church) and Katherine Jeffers Schori rejoiced because she was not alone in breathing the rarified air of a woman primate.

In the United States both the Lutheran Church -- Missouri Synod (LC-MS) and the Wisconsin Synod Lutheran Church (WELS) still block the road to women pastors.


I do not for a minute believe by any stretch of the imagination that women's priestly sacraments are valid. This includes the Eucharist, Absolution, and Anointing.

And for the Episcopal Church to offer me invalid Sacraments, through the non sacramental hands of a woman, TEC was jeopardizing my very salvation to assuage a priestess' feelings with no consideration for my spiritual health, vitality, welfare and eternal destiny.

That is what women priests do not understand. For them being ordained a priest is a matter of embracing the soul-deadening unholy trinity of diversity, equity and inclusion, for me it's a matter of salvation -- heaven or hell. Women clergy are dealing with a social construct, I'm dealing with spiritual reality.

It takes five things for a Sacrament to become valid:
1) the proper elements -- toast and Coke are not the proper elements for the Eucharist;
2) the proper wording -- "I baptized you in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier" are not the proper words for Baptism;
3) the proper intention -- for a person to enter into a marriage of convenience where someone can get a favorable immigration status with the intention of getting a quickly divorce afterwards is not the proper intention for Holy Matrimony;
4) the proper recipient -- you cannot baptize a dog. Fido is not the proper recipient of baptism because it does not have an immortal soul; and
5) the proper minister -- a woman is not the proper minister for celebrating the Service of Holy Communion.

But once Barbara Harris (Massachusetts suffragan) was elevated to the Episcopal House of Bishops in 1989, in my mind, she completely severed the Episcopal Line of Apostolic Succession. She was not the proper recipient for consecration to the episcopate. Neither was she the proper recipient for ordination to the priesthood. And in my mind no Episcopal bishops consecrated after her are plugged into the Apostolic Line of Succession. This spans 328 Episcopal bishops from Bishop John Buchanan (VI West Missouri) to John Harman (XIV Arkansas) including 54 bishopettes, including two imported from other jurisdictions -- Griselda Delgado Del Carpio (VIII Cuba); and Melissa Maxine Skelton (I Olympia provisional) from the Anglican Church of Canada -- There is one more bishopette-elect in the pipeline to be consecrated in February.

Also any woman bishop who ordains deacons and priests or consecrates bishops is not the proper minister to convey any sort of ordination. Those ordinations are invalid. Utterly void. Those newly-ordained priests are not priests -- male or female.

No, I can't give you all the theological arguments, reasons and rationale for what I believe about WO as Fr. Calvin Robinson did, or Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali; or The Queen's Chaplain Gavin Ashenden; or Bishop The Rt. Rev. Eric Vawter Menees (V San Joaquin); Bishop William Wantland (IV Eau Claire); or Bishop Keith Ackerman (VIII Quincy) can. They are steeped in the depths of theological training followed by years of kneeling in prayer, priestly ministry and episcopal service.

However, Monsignor Steenson can easily explain some of the theological realities.

"At the Incarnation, Christ became a man. His gender could not be accidental or incidental. He was the Second Adam, as Mary would be understood as the Second Eve," he explains. "If gender becomes irrelevant to His identity, then we are going to have Christological errors. And since the nature of the priesthood is to be connected with Christ, we've got problems."

I know what I believe and I cannot be shaken from it. To do so would be to lose my salvation through accepting invalid Sacraments and jeopardizing my soul by succumbing to every wind of doctrine when I know the Truth -- and Who IS the Truth -- handed down through the Apostles in the Deposit of Faith.

I know what I believe, not that I can explain it.

I guess I fall under the principle of Sensus fidei (sensus fidelium) which is described as "the supernatural appreciation of faith on the part of the whole people, when, from the bishops to the last of the faithful, they manifest a universal consent in matters of faith and morals."

I certainly rank among the last (least) of the faithful. But I believe with every fiber in my being.


I loved the Episcopal Church. But now it is so deformed with Women's Ordination, the woke trinity of diversity-equity-inclusion, full scale wokeness, identity politics, and the embrace of the LGBTQ agenda that I had to leave for my soul's very sake. The Episcopal Church of today is totally unrecognizable.

Hundreds and thousands have fled the Episcopal Church -- and Anglicanism in the West seeking a sacramental church which bars WO, holds fast to traditional marriage, and proclaims the unvarnished Gospel.

The Church of England, the Anglican Church of Canada, the Anglican Church in New Zealand, and the Anglican in Church in Australia all have bishopettes and the declining numbers show the flow of parishioners seeking an authentic expression of the faith elsewhere.

Some have gone to the Roman Catholic Church through the Ordinariates. Many have gone directly into the Rome Catholic Church. Others have turned to Orthodoxy. More have found their way into the part of the Anglican Continuum which is still holding the line on females from entering into the presbyterate, honors marriage and preaches the Gospel. Unfortunately a few, out of frustration and deep disappointment, gave up and have strayed from the church altogether.

I cringe when I hear a woman's voice intone "This is My Body," purporting to be the Alter Christus. She can't be the Alter Christus -- Christ is male. He is the Son of God and the Son of Mary and He speaks as a MAN with a masculine voice.

We are His Bride -- the Church -- which is female. The Church is always referred to as "She." For a woman to act as priest, the male role in the ecclesial relationship, would be tantamount to committing an act of spiritual lesbianism in a religious same-sex relationship.

And to see a woman wearing a cope and miter -- they look clownish all dressed up for Trick or Treat on Halloween.

I am sorry that women priests feel so offended by someone who, for their soul's sake, cannot and will not accept their ministry. Their feelings may be hurt. But are they considering the state of another's soul? Of my soul?

Their hurt feelings are temporary to time and space. Those ruffled feathers do not have eternal significance. But jeopardizing one's soul does have eternal significance which goes beyond time and space with consequences which last for all eternity.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline.

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