By Annette Hinkle
Eda Lorello is a soft spoken woman wholly devoted to her Roman Catholic faith. Mother of seven and grandmother of nine, Lorello, who lives in Noyac, has worked as a pastoral associate at both Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Church in Bridgehampton and Saints Peter and Paul Church in Manorville. More recently, Lorello served as a volunteer lector at St. Andrew’s parish in Sag Harbor.
Then on August 10, Lorello became something else — an ordained woman Catholic priest — the first on Long Island.
With her children and grandchildren in attendance, Lorello was ordained by Bishop Andrea Johnson at Hill Congregational Church in Wellesley, Mass. in association with Roman Catholic Womenpriests, an organization that advocates for the ordination of married men as well as women. The group has overseen ordination of more than 120 women priests so far across the United States.
Womenpriests is a movement that began in 2002 with the ordination of seven women on the Danube River in Germany. Though the Vatican refutes the legitimacy of these ordinations, the organization maintains they are valid because they were performed by a Roman Catholic bishop in Apostolic Succession. Some of those women, in turn, became bishops themselves and started ordaining other women.
“When I read about that, it excited me,” says Lorello. “I realized it’s possible. I was working in the parish, I was happy with what I was doing as a pastoral associate, but more and more there were ordinations in this country — on the rivers in Pittsburgh and on the St. Lawrence — because the Vatican has no jurisdiction over water. Then protestant churches began opening their sanctuaries to allow women to be ordained.”
For Lorello, her ordination may be against church doctrine, but it is the realization of a calling she has felt since childhood. While most Catholic women who devote themselves to the church choose to serve as nuns, Lorello rejected that option.
“That’s not what I was called to. What’s important to me is bread and wine, oil and water. Nuns don’t do that,” stresses Lorello who adds that converting to a religion that allows women priests was likewise, not an option.
“I’m a Roman Catholic. It’s in my DNA,” she says.
So after years of contemplation, Lorello began pursuing ordination with Roman Catholic Womenpriests in 2012. The extensive application process included, among other things, information on her educational background, a written autobiography of her faith and details of her calling, psychological testing and a criminal background check.
“I was arrested for civil disobedience, but I was always acquitted,” says Lorello, who adds that her current mission is a matter of “ecclesiastical disobedience.”
That became clear soon enough. When Lorello informed St. Andrew’s she was pursuing ordination, the Chancery of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Rockville Centre informed her she would no longer be permitted to serve as a lector for the parish.
Lorello is hardly surprised. While she has found individuals within the church sympathetic to her call, none, she says, are in a position to support her publicly.
“There are many priests who support women’s ordination but are afraid,” she says. “They’ll lose too much.”
Just one American priest, Fr. Roy Bourgeois who lives in Washington, D.C., has spoken out for the ordination of women and he has been laicized for his views. Likewise, in the wake of her ordination, Lorello notes she, herself, has been excommunicated.
“It’s automatic,” says Lorello matter-of-factly. “They don’t even send letters anymore. I’m excommunicated. But I was baptized into the church and they can’t take that away.”
Which is why for Lorello, the ordination of women has become a much larger issue — one based not on invoking the word of God, but rather, combatting discrimination on the part of the Vatican.
“The church is denying people the gifts of 50 percent of the population,” she says. “This is unjust. They say it’s tradition – but it’s tradition with a small ‘t,’ and those traditions can be changed.”
“The church says you don’t have a call from God because you’re a woman? It’s an affront to God,” says Lorello. “I love the Tradition — big “T” — of the church with all its faults. That’s amazing to me. But the white knuckled hold on power, I think that’s what it is.”
Lorello is hopeful that with the recent election of Pope Francis — a man known for his humility and advocacy for the poor — there may come a change in attitude, though she doubts she’ll see women priests accepted by the Vatican in her lifetime.
In the meantime, she will, however, remain strong in both her faith and her convictions.
“This is Roman Catholicism – we don’t want to be separate, we want to be about a new paradigm, an inclusive and non-hierarchal community where the bishop is pastoral, not judicial,” says Lorello. “It’s to reform the church, not to pull away from it.”
“I always felt like a square peg in round hole. Wanting to run from the church, but also wanting to be faithful,” she adds. “I decided to stay and change it through prayer as well as faith. I’ve lived through five popes — now six — who said no to women’s ordination.”
Now that she’s ordained, albeit without the pope’s blessing, this devotedly Catholic woman, ironically, will not be attending mass locally — not because she has been forbidden to do so, but because she doesn’t want to make other parishioners uncomfortable.
“I have to worry about Catholics there who feel obedience to the pope is what makes you Catholic,” says Lorello. “I don’t want to offend people. I have to be sensitive.”
When asked if it’s painful to be separated from the church she loves, Lorello responds, “When one commits civil disobedience, one must consider the consequences. For civil disobedience, it might be jail. For ecclesiastical disobedience, it’s excommunication and other ramifications.”
But if Lorello needed validation that she’s on the right path, it came through a trip to Rome not long ago where a visit to the ancient catacombs brought divine inspiration.
“There on the walls in the stone, was a painting of a woman with bread and wine on the table with her hands up,” says Lorello.
Like those early Christians forced to practice their religion underground in order to avoid persecution, Lorello expects she, too, will exercise her priestly duties privately and on the small scale — for now at least.
Just last week, Lorello gave last rites to her 102-year-old mother and she leads a faith sharing group that meets once a month at her home.
“I did celebrate Eucharist with them,” admits Lorello.
“People ask me if I have a house church. But I’m not looking to start a congregation. I’m not ready for that,” adds Lorello. “I say, ‘Gather some people in your home, I’ll come to you.’ I’m happy with that. I haven’t been called yet to do more. But it’s OK. I’m waiting on God.”
And the Vatican?
“I’m not waiting on that anymore.”