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Archdiocese bar ordination activist


Attorneys for the Atlanta archdiocese have filed a lawsuit requesting a permanent injunction against a prominent Catholic advocate of women’s ordination, barring her from entering any archdiocesan property.

The lawsuit stems from a Feb. 2 demonstration during a deaconate ordination service at Christ the King Cathedral, in which police were summoned to remove Janice Sevre-Duszynska and three other advocates of women’s ordination. After a police warning, the three others agreed to leave the ceremony, which church leaders said was invitation-only. Sevre-Duszynska refused and was arrested and charged with trespass (NCR, Feb. 15).

Sevre-Duszynska, 52, said the Atlanta archdiocese’s reaction to her actions is motivated by “this utter fear of women called to be priests. It intimidates them so that they won’t even allow a person or group into the church.”

Atlanta archdiocesan spokeswoman Kathi Stearns said the injunction request against Sevre-Duszynska was filed Feb. 25 “to prevent further disruptions of ordinations.”

“She has done this before in other dioceses, and [Archbishop John F. Donoghue] wanted to send a message that this was not to be tolerated in the archdiocese of Atlanta,” Stearns said.

Sevre-Duszynska, who says she has felt a call to ordination since childhood, in 1998 presented herself for ordination during a priest’s ordination ceremony in the Lexington, Ky., diocese where she lives. She has also demonstrated several times at gatherings of the U.S. bishops.

Sevre-Duszynska said she entered the Atlanta cathedral Feb. 2 to pray. When she was told the service was invitation-only, she said she told the ushers: “What are you talking about? I’ve been to many ordinations, and they’re never by invitation only. Besides I’m a daughter of the church, and Christ welcomes everyone to the table.”

She expects to go to trial on the trespass charge next fall and said she is willing to go to jail “if it’s going to help the movement.”

She has until April 9 to respond to the civil lawsuit. She said she has an Atlanta lawyer representing her in both the criminal and civil cases, and plans to fight both.

The eight-page lawsuit describes the Feb. 2 incident, and also says, “Sevre-Duszynska has previously engaged in similar disruptive and harmful behavior at ordination ceremonies and other private gatherings of the Roman Catholic church throughout the country.”

The lawsuit, in part, states: “Defendants entered the cathedral during the course of the ceremony and caused significant disturbance and interference therein. … The action of all defendants irreparably harmed the experience of the ordination ceremony for those individuals receiving ordination and their family members. Such harm cannot be measured or compensated through money damages.”

The injunction asks that the defendants (only Sevre-Duszynska is listed by name) be restricted “from entering in or on private property of the archdiocese.”

Because ordinations are held at several different sites, Stearns said the decision was made to bar Sevre-Duszynska from all church property.

Stearns said the protest was the first of its kind in the archdiocese. “The men had spent years of their lives preparing for this ministry, and this was their special day,” she said. Some families of the 13 deacons being ordained “found it very disruptive and did confront the protesters and expressed their opinion about that.”

Genevieve Chavez, executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, said the group was supportive of Sevre-Duszynska’s actions. “Janice’s action was one of those instances where there was a prayerful event making people aware that sexism is a sin,” she said.

On the archdiocese’s injunction request, Chavez said: “Is that responding in a Christian manner to a very spiritual woman who feels a call to minister to God’s people? That’s not a very Christian response to a woman who went inside a church to pray.”

Chavez accused the Catholic hierarchy of having a double standard when it comes to civil law. “In this case it’s willing to use civil law to its advantage,” she said, but the church claims independence from civil law -- citing a church-state exemption -- when it is being used to redress a church wrong, such as a discrimination claim.

Sevre-Duszynska, a playwright and teacher of English as a second language, has brought her message to gatherings of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. At the November 2000 bishops’ meeting in Washington, she got hold of a microphone and made an appeal for women’s ordination to the assembly, then sat on the floor until police were called and she was removed. The following year, she disrupted the bishops’ Mass for Peace, calling out for “Justice for women in the church” during the responsorial psalm. She was escorted out (NCR, Nov. 23, 2001).

Patrick O’Neill is a freelance writer living in Raleigh, N.C.

National Catholic Reporter, April 5, 2002