Local womanpriest seeks spiritual community in Ithaca

It was during a lunch hour mass that it dawned on Patti LaRosa.

As she sat in a pew of the Spiritus Christi Church in Rochester, N.Y., a realization came over her that she didn’t belong sitting with the congregation. She belonged on the altar, preaching.

“I realized ‘I’m supposed to be doing that,’” she said. “Oh, so that’s what all of this is inside me.”

LaRosa said this realization felt as if she found a puzzle piece, she had been searching for all her life and it fit into place.

“The piece snapped into place and my life made sense,” she said.

Twenty five years later, LaRosa now resides in Lansing, N.Y., is a Roman Catholic womanpriest and a member of the international movement — Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP). RCWP began when seven women were ordained by a male bishop on the Danube River in 2002. Now, womenpriests are present in more than 29 states across the country.

However, according to Code of Canon Law 1024, “A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly.” Because of this, womenpriests are automatically excommunicated from the Roman Catholic church. On Dec. 19, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI introduced the canonical crime of attempted ordination of women to Holy Orders under “Offenses against the Sacrament of Orders” in the “delicta graviora,” a list of violations against the faith. The “delicta graviora” includes the most serious crimes in church law, including the sexual abuse of minors.

Despite this, LaRosa was accepted as a womanpriest in her spiritual communities in Rochester and later Buffalo, N.Y., but struggles to create a following in Ithaca.

LaRosa acknowledges that she is not skilled in advertising or publicity. When she rented out a room in First Unitarian Society of Ithaca for her and her partners’ three sessions of mass, nobody met with them.

“We rent the space to a number of nonprofits,” Mark Pedersen, the Congregational Coordinator of the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca, said. “Our denomination has had women ministers for a long, long time.”

Although the First Unitarian Society of Ithaca would allow LaRosa to continue renting out a room for more sessions of mass, “Day-jobs and other commitments got busy and we just haven’t been able to do publicity and advertising in some kind of an organized way,” LaRosa said.

In the meantime, LaRosa works in the Advising Office of Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences as an administrative assistant.

When LaRosa moved to Lansing with her partner, she left a community accepting and aware of womenpriests to one that didn’t have any womenpriests at all. LaRosa still seems optimistic that a community, similar to Rochester’s, could exist in Ithaca, but needs a more effective way of making herself known to its residents.

“My situation is different because I’ve moved to a new place, so I need to get to learn the ways of this new city and get to meet people,” LaRosa said. “And get the word out that here’s a model, here’s some other way that we can do church together that is welcoming and inclusive and gives a model for women that we are made very good, equal in the sight of God, and lets get on with the business of being in Church together.”

Pope Francis has expressed interest in reforming some of the laws regarding same-sex marriage, abortion and ordination of women. The extent of what kind of reform will occur for ordination of women is unclear, but there is hope for LaRosa and other women seeking to be priests.

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