National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  December 12, 2003


Bishop Robert Lionne DeWitt
Ordained first women priests

Bishop Robert Lionne DeWitt, 87, who as bishop of the Episcopal diocese of Pennsylvania was one of three bishops who faced the church’s wrath for ordaining 11 women as priests, died Nov. 21. In his six decades of ministry, DeWitt was known as a fighter against discrimination for his stands against racism and the Vietnam War.

In 1974, he and Bishops Edward Welles of western Missouri and Daniel Corrigan of Santa Barbara, Calif., erased centuries of tradition by opening the priesthood to women. Their actions rocked the church. When the women -- known as the “Philadelphia 11” -- entered the Episcopal Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia, buckets of water lined the aisles of the church as a precaution against threatened firebombs. Uniformed police watched for trouble blocks away. Security guards mingled among the 2,000 worshipers.

The women were threatened with excommunication, and the three renegade bishops were censured by the church. Since that day, more than 3,000 Episcopal women have become priests.

National Catholic Reporter, December 12, 2003

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