God Bless Norma Jean Coon: A Prodigal Daughter

Examples of humility and legitimate public repentance do present themselves often enough. Partly because our culture of the sensual-erotic and sensationalistic wishes us to look at Lady Gaga more than Mother Theresa. Partly also by definition: it cuts against what it means to be humble to promote one’s own self-humbling.

Women Priests Play Act the Mass

Are those vessels glass and clay?! Good thing it's just bread and wine and not really Jesus.

But with the example of Abby Johnson still fresh and current, I was pleased to see another example pop up on Zenit: Norma Jean Coon.

In 2007, Coon attempted ordination to the diaconate at the hands of a German “bishop” of the international organization known as Roman Catholic Women Priests.

Earlier this month she officially repudiated all association with that organization, and just yesterday posted her full message of renunciation of Orders, public confession, and repentance for the scandal caused.

She says, in part:

I withdrew from the program within two weeks of the ceremony because I realized that I had made a mistake in studying for the priesthood. I confess to the truth of Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. I confess the authority of the Holy Father on these issues of ordination and recognize that Christ founded the ordination only for men.

Formally, I relinquish all connection to the program of Roman Catholic Women Priests and I disclaim the alleged ordination publicly with apologies to those whose lives I have offended or scandalized by my actions. I ask God’s blessings upon each of these folks and their families.

The specific mention of her recognition of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is significant because it is perhaps one of the most misunderstood papal writings of recent memory (though far outpaced by Humanae Vitae). In OS Pope John Paul II discussed the nature of the priesthood, noted that some thought the male-only priesthood was a matter of discipline rather than doctrine, and ended with:

Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.

Supporters of women’s ordination read that and, rather than seeing a “definitive” declaration, saw a lack of ex cathedra definition of the matter. They would cite a later statement by JPII that in OS he did not intend to make a dogmatic definition, and conclude that, despite the fairly clear language of OS, the matter was still open to debate.

Norma Jean Coon got it right, through the grace of God and the prayers of many people.

Coon ended her statement with a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving, praying for unity, forgiveness, wisdom, and continued growth.

Hopefully her example of courage and humility, and her prayers for greater unity and openness to the Spirit, will help others who persist in public dissent from Church teaching to see the error of their ways and return home to the Father in humility.



  • Ann

    @Vincent — I’m not big on continuing debate, but you seem to be genuinely seeking the other side of your opinion, and so I offer the following for your consideration:

    Back in college, I took a course called “Philosophical Perspectives on Women”–a survey of everything from radical misogyny to radical feminism. By semester’s end, I came to the conclusion that **both were rooted in the same evil: pathological hatred of womanhood.**

    Misogyny is obvious. But of the two, I thought feminism was the more pathetic, because, in essence, women had convinced themselves that the only way they could be “equal” to men, was to cease to be women. They decried their biology, and couldn’t wait for the development of the uterine replicator so that they wouldn’t have to be women anymore (really!). Just do whatever men did. And that way, they’d be “equal” and “as good as” men. (Only years later did I have my conclusion about feminism affirmed, when I came across Chesterton’s “What’s Wrong with the World,” where he described feminism as the wholesale surrender of women to men.)

    Because biology is a lot more powerful than they’d like, the radical feminists are busily asserting that gender identity is merely a culturally created set of roles and expectations. To paraphrase Shakespeare, they promote the idea that there really is no such thing as “male” or “female” except that thinking makes it so.

    This is nothing less than an assault on human dignity, whether male or female. Many not-so-radical feminists totally miss the rage and the pathological self-hatred at the root of the feminist agenda. Which makes them vulnerable to falling into line with it.

    But denying the reality of gender differences flies in the face of:

    1. Scripture–where both male and female are needed to reflect the image of God, each with their own qualities;

    2. commonsense–spend an afternoon with some really little kids; and

    3. Natural Law–watch the PBS series about the families who recreated the pioneer experience on the prairie for a summer. Pay particular attention to what the women had to say about the inevitability of gender-based roles once technological convenience was stripped away.

    Can we at least agree that: No one has more understanding of, or respect for, the men and women who reflect the masculine and feminine qualities of God than our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Without getting into the red herrings of the latest biological discoveries, let’s get back to what Jesus said: “Our Father.”

    Let’s also reflect on what He said from the cross: “There is your Mother.”

    Can we ponder this through His loving eyes, and realize that men and women are different, and they have different roles?

    Why aren’t you upset that no one is considering what essential qualities men lack that make them unfit for motherhood? Why did God “rob” men of this wondrous, life-giving, affirming role?

    Also, I haven’t seen anywhere in this thread the reality that women, by virtue of their Baptism, *already share in the priesthood of Christ… we are already a “holy nation, a priestly people.”* In an emergency, we may baptize by virtue of that priesthood, but we just may not be admitted to the ministerial priesthood.

    From the perspective that women *already share in Christ’s priesthood,* the debate about ordination to Holy Orders becomes more an argument about rank and power.

    First, keep in mind that the priesthood is a privilege, not a right. If the reason you (man or woman) want to be ordained to the priesthood is to share in rank and power… you just Should Not Be Ordained At All. The priesthood is about service.

    Second, only bishops exercise the full authority of the priesthood. Women, who already share in the priesthood of the laity, clamor to be ordained priests. What if all ordained priests clamored to be bishops, to exercise the full authority of the bishop? What if all the bishops wanted to be Pope? Oh, wait… we have an answer to that… we’d all be Protestants. This is what happens when all parts of the Body of Christ want to be the head.

    God created us male and female–with all those unpopular gender-based roles that go with that–for His reasons. Why do even faithful Catholics fall into the trap of insisting that “equality” for women is only meaningful when women are “exactly the same as men”? Where is the understanding of an equal dignity, even when the work is different?

    Differences are an invitation to mystery, and the mystery of male and female is nothing less than a reflection of the mystery of the Nature of God. To gloss over those differences is to miss the meaning, and the mystery. The differences, and the mystery, are real. They have real consequences, some of which seem inexplicable: I too have seen men vanish from the life of the parish when the women take charge.

    Why don’t we, as faithful Catholics, acknowledge that the Church has a timeless wisdom rooted in the Holy Spirit, and that if we don’t get Her teachings… maybe we ought to pray and think about it a little more deeply, a little more humbly? We might even learn something important about ourselves, and our God.

    Certainly, you will be in my prayers, Vincent, as I hope I will be in yours.

    In Christ,


    • Vincent

      Ann, thanks for taking the time to make a thoughtful reply (and if you really do not feel like extending the discussion, feel free not to reply to what I am about to write)
      —-I agree that there are fundamental differences between men and women and that attempts to erase them are harmful. That’s not the argument I am making.
      —-I don’t see where anything you’ve said has pointed out which difference makes women unfit for the highest positions of spiritual leadership in the Church. Establishing that it is possible in principal for women and men to have different roles without any violation of justice (something I don’t dispute) does not prove that this particular difference in roles is just (something I very much dispute). The only thing you’ve mentioned is that more men might leave if women were ordained. That’s a practical consideration, not one that deals with the essential nature or men and women. (It also ignores [1] that we should do the right thing regardless of how people will like it, and [2] there are plenty of people- I know several personally- who have already left because of the Church’s refusal to ordain women.)
      —-As for your concern about everyone wanting to be pope: your train of logic only works if ALL women want to be priests. Clearly all do not. I am only advocating that those who discern a genuine call to this ministry be ordained. It is a matter of justice though (and not merely of privilege) when people are denied the ability to follow their vocation. I know several women who have felt this call very strongly. This is a call that was recognized as legitimate even by Mother Theresa (http://cmpaul.wordpress.com/2010/07/28/mother-teresa-beyond-women-priests/)
      —-I agree that a big part of this is about power. However, I don’t think it has to do so much with women being greedy for power as with people being concerned about the inherent human tendency to abuse power. History has shown time and again that when groups are systematically excluded from power, their best interests are usually not given full consideration (to put it mildly). In many instances it leads to gross violations of justice. Even Pope Benedict seems to understand it is important to not have an all-male leadership as evidenced by his move to put more women in higher positions in the curia. The problem though is that there is a very real glass ceiling. No woman can hold any position higher than number three in any Vatican congregation. And certainly no woman is permitted to be a priest, bishop, cardinal, or pope. (My question is simply “Why?” What I have asked repeatedly in this conversation, and not gotten an answer to so far, is what quality do women possess or lack that makes them unfit for this leadership? There must be something.) Given that those positions are where the real authority is, excluding women from them will inevitably produce abuses of power that hurt women.

      • Ann

        @ Vincent:

        I read the article on Mother Teresa, and frankly, I am hard pressed to understand how the author justifies his assumption that Mother Teresa supported the ordination of women. Mother Teresa certainly understood the priesthood of the laity (women included), and that her sisters were in fact “Jesus ministering to people.”

        quote:[…Mother Teresa cited the example of Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus saying: “No one was a better priest than Mary. **And yet she remained only the handmaid of the Lord.**] **emphasis mine

        I don’t understand how this can be faithfully interpreted as “Mother Teresa supports ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood” when she specifically celebrates the *lack* of rank and authority of the “best priest ever.”

        The bit about her choice of habit being a semi-clandestine promotion of the priesthood for women is something the author developed out of (dare I say it?)… whole cloth. I would believe this was Mother Teresa’s purpose only if she herself explicitly stated this as her intention. Otherwise, I see someone with an ax to grind, using a saint for a purpose she would not support. After all, she called the radical feminists “them”… not “us.” I’m glad to see that you framed your question in terms of “what quality women *possess* or lack that makes them unfit for this leadership?” (emphasis mine). All too often, the debate centers around a *lack* rather than a *difference,*–which gets my dander up at times, too, and is not helpful toward building mutual respect between the sexes.

        Perhaps no one can define exactly what it is about women that bars them from the ministerial priesthood because that is precisely part of the mystery of the differences between the sexes. Yes, I know, this is frustrating, especially to the Western civilization mindset that demands exacting definitions and precise measurements. If you are looking for that kind of answer, there is no one this side of Heaven who can give it to you. However, your question–“Why?”–can in and of itself be an invitation to enter into this mystery from a different perspective… that of Faith.

        One of the big differences between RC and Protestantism is an acknowledgment that Faith requires Humility. In Protestantism, every person is his/her own Pope. Every sheep is his/her own shepherd–which is why The Wolf is eating them alive. The more I watch the disintegration of our separated brethern (and sistern, to keep it equal for you) into “anything goes morality,” the gladder I am that the RC has a shepherd… and a German shepherd, at that. In Christ, Ann

  • Chuck

    I agree with the article, though I could have stood not to have to look at that picture :) Obviously the Priesthood is only for men.

    I write separately to suggest that it may be time for a “Viris Dignitatis” as well. It seems to me that many parishes do everything they can to remove male-ness. Obviously this makes men feel like there is something wrong with them, that male-ness is something that needs to be eliminated, like they are not welcome in Church.

    For example, there are few things that offend me more than a “Catholic” church with gender-neutral hymns. At Christmas time you see this a lot because of the nature of the hymns. “Born to raise us from the earth…”, “Joy to the earth, the Saviour reigns, let us our songs employ…” “Pleased in flesh with us to dwell.. Jesus our Emmanuel” (I’m surprised they don’t change it to E-people-uel” or “E-us-uel” or some nonsense like that.) “Good Christians all rejoice…”

    I had to suffer through this at the parish up in Virginia where my family’s home is at, and at the end, I heard the organ began to play the tune to “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” I sprinted to the exit simply because I did not want to hear what they were going to do to that song.

  • John Church

    Were any of the 12 tribes of Israel led by a matriarch instead of a patriarch?
    Uhhhh no.

    Were any of the High Priests women?
    Uhhhh no.

    Did God choose any females among the 12 apostles for the “tribes” of the New Kingdom?
    Uhhhh no.

    ……. poor heretics, they cant catch a break with God always dashing their plans to corrupt the incorruptable Church.

  • brencel

    Jesus was male to fulfil Old testament prophecies for the Messiah.

    As Genesis says we are made in God’s image, male and female, and God blessed them. Let us not argue with God, the Church will not as you can see below.

    “A 2002 document on the diaconate by the International Theological Commission left the question of women deacons open for further study.”

    Tom, please note that this is the official position of the
    Church on the Ordination of women. The further step to being a priest is a separate issue.

    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

      Brencel– Simply to fulfill Old Testament prophecies? Were the prophecies about a male by accident, or design? Is it possible that it was the other-way-around: that the Old Testament prophecies were about a male messiah precisely because there is something about being male as opposed to female that was more apt for the ministry and work of the messiah, thus God inspired the prophets to prophesy that it would be a male? ——— Indeed, He created them male and female, which indicates a real distinction between the sexes, and it’s not just a biological distinction. Thus the distinction between our roles vis-a-vis the Church and God’s relation to mankind through the Church can also not be ignored. ———–

      Your hofstra link was broken, so I had to go looking for the document to which you were referring. If you meant the document talked about in this America Magazine article (http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=2778 ), then I don’t think it supports the conclusion you are drawing. The opening paragraph reads:

      The Vatican seems poised to publish a theological investigation into the diaconate that does not look kindly on women deacons. On the other hand, reports that the Vatican has outlawed women deacons are not true–at least not yet. The International Theological Commission approved a study on the diaconate during its meeting in Rome from Sept. 30 to Oct. 4, 2001. After news services correctly reported that women deacons were not ruled out, the commission’s general secretary, Georges Cottier, O.P., insisted that the document “tends to support the exclusion” of women from the diaconate. In fact, the 70-page French document leaked to the media neither allows for nor disallows women deacons. As a working paper, which may go before the plenarium of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the document is a short and selective exploration of the history and theology of the diaconate.

      The rest of the article provides material that supports your position, as America Magazine is wont to do, but it does not indicate anything approaching the “official position of the Church” that you assert. On the contrary, it makes clear that the Vatican is no nearer to ordaining women to the diaconate than it was before. Paul VI was closer to reversing Church teaching on contraception in 1968 than the Vatican is to ordaining women. ——– One thing they say there that deserves response/clarification is the “at least not yet” at the end of the sentence, “reports that the Vatican has outlawed women deacons are not true.” The Church also hasn’t “outlawed” women priests, but Pope John Paul II, in Ordinatio Sacerdotalis made clear that such a question isn’t even open for discussion. Not explicitly outlawing something is not the same as leaving it open for future revision. Heck, the Vatican is cool to the idea of female altar servers, but allows the American church to allow them because there is nothing about them that explicitly cuts against the Sacrament.

  • qas wer

    Ten reasons why men should not be ordained priests
    1) Men are too emotional. Their conduct at sporting events proves this.
    2) A man¹s place is in the military.
    3) Some men are so handsome, they will distract women worshipers.
    4) Male physiology indicates that men are more suited to tasks like chopping down trees, unearthing rocks, and wrestling with wild animals. It would be”unnatural” for men to do other forms of work.
    5) In the New Testament, the person who betrayed Jesus was a man. His poor judgment and lack of faith represent the character of his gender. This justifies the subordinate position all men should take in matters of spiritual formation.
    6) Men are overly prone to violence. “Real” men prefer to settle disputes with immature displays of prowess and domination. Thus they make poor role models and are dangerously unstable leaders.
    7) An ordained minister nurtures the congregation.
    Nurturing is not a traditional male role. Through
    history, women have proven more skilled at nurturing and more naturally attracted to it. This makes women the obvious choice for ordination.
    8) In Genesis, man was created before woman, obviously as a prototype. Thus men represent an experiment. Women represent the crowning achievement of creation, a more perfect image of God¹s intent for humanity.
    9) For men who have children, the duties of the church may distract them from their responsibilities as fathers.
    10) Men can find meaningful church roles without being ordained. They can sweep sidewalks, repair the roof, and maybe even lead portions of worship on Father¹s Day. Embracing such traditional roles, they can still be important in the life of the church.

    • http://twitter.com/tomcrowe Tom Crowe

      You forgot about the other thing about men and sports. Men are supposed to be drinking beer at sporting events on Sundays, not wasting time in church.

    • Vincent

      Bravo! It’s hard to believe people make these arguments in the other direction with a straight face.

      • Ted Seeber

        All of that- especially Tom’s comment above- is reason to avoid a female priesthood in my view. Has nothing to do with the capability of the women- has *everything* to do with how men will react to a female leader. This has played out in the business world as well. The “old white boys club” at the top isn’t male because they’re misogynistic- it’s because male brains aren’t wired to be led by a woman.



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