Women priests give $1,000 to shelter after Cincinnati archdiocese withdraws donation

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The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests donated $1,000 to a Catholic Worker house that shelters homeless women after the Cincinnati archdiocese retracted its funding because a woman priest led a prayer service at the shelter.

The archdiocese had promised Lydia's House, which offers shelter to homeless women and their children, $1,000 toward the purchase of a new washer and dryer. A number of community organizations support the house, which can hold up to four women and six children, and the archdiocese was an irregular donor.

"We spent the money in June with the promise that it would be reimbursed at the start of the new fiscal year July 1, and we submitted the receipt on July 5," said Mary Ellen Mitchell, one of the founders of Lydia's House. "We found out Wednesday, July 16, of this week that [the archdiocese] wouldn't do the reimbursement."

The archdiocese withdrew the donation after learning that Debra Meyers would hold a July 20 prayer service at the house. Meyers is a Roman Catholic Woman Priest, but the house's monthly newsletter, which contained information about the prayer service, did not identify her as such.

Meyers, a professor of history at Northern Kentucky University, told NCR she did not intend to celebrate Mass at Lydia's Home. Meyers said she wanted to help a cause she was passionate about without butting heads with anyone.

"I don't think anyone should object to anyone leading a prayer service," Meyers said. "The priestly thing and the ordination thing really shouldn't have mattered."

Along with the Sunday prayer service, Meyers also brought with her a check for $1,000 raised by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests to support Lydia's House. Because the donation exceeded the amount of the washer and dryer, Lydia's House kept the excess for other needs.

In a statement, the archdiocese said the money formerly designated to support Lydia's House would be given to an organization that supports the homeless, maintains Catholic teaching, and is congruent with the expectations of the archdiocese.

"Donors are promised their contributions will not be used to support organizations that stand in opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church. By hosting a public prayer service presided over by someone who claims to be a Catholic priest but is not, Lydia's House has chosen to put itself in that category," the statement said.

Both Mitchell and Meyers expressed concern about the future relationship between the archdiocese and Lydia's House.

"We are a Catholic Worker house, but we are very ecumenical in spirit." Mitchell said. "I guess we are in a tricky situation. I'm not sure what the repercussions will be from the diocese."

"It really saddens me that my participation in this community will hurt the organization I'm helping. I hope people can get can get beyond the ordination issue ... and focus on helping people in the community," Meyers said.

[Nicholas Sciarappa is an NCR Bertelsen intern. His email address is nsciarappa@ncronline.org.]

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