Former Ohio first lady ordained as priest, then excommunicated

By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND (AP) - A former Ohio first lady revealed Tuesday that she was secretly ordained as a Roman Catholic priest earlier this year and then excommunicated by the church.

Dagmar Braun Celeste, ex-wife of former Gov. Richard Celeste, said she has not yet celebrated Mass, or performed other priestly duties such as confession or consecration of the Eucharist, but would do so if asked.

She said the priesthood is in a state of transformation.

"I guess the message I want to send is the time has come for women to become ordained priests," Celeste said. "Women, just like men, deserve to follow their conscience and calling."

Celeste, 60, was the only American among seven women who were ordained as priests by Bishops Romolo Braschi of Argentina and Rafael Regelsberger of Austria on June 29 on a boat on the Danube River between Germany and Austria.

Celeste (pictured, above) said she was ordained under the pseudonym Angela White because her daughter got married in September and she did not want to distract from the ceremony.

"It was always agreed that I was not going to be an anonymous priest. I just needed that time to be a good mom," she said.

The church excommunicated the women on Aug. 5, after warning them that they must renounce their posts by July 22.

Archbishop Tarcisio Bertone, of the Vatican office that acts as a watchdog for doctrinal orthodoxy, said the ordination ceremony was a "public act" that "attacks the fundamental structure of the Church as it was wanted by its founder."

The women have appealed the excommunication order.

Pope John Paul II has repeatedly ruled out discussion in the Catholic church on its ban on women in the priesthood. Church teaching holds that because Jesus chose men to be his apostles, only males can serve in the priesthood.

Asked about her excommunication, Celeste said, "I don't think too much about it."

She said she did not consider the possibility of becoming a priest until after her 1995 divorce from her husband of 33 years, who served as Ohio's governor from 1983 to 1991.

Celeste said a group of Methodist women asked her to serve as their pastor two years ago during a retreat she was running on the rosary. She said their request helped her realize she had a call to ordination.

She said another of the ordained women, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, invited Celeste to the ordination ceremony.

Celeste runs Tyrian, a Cleveland nonprofit ministry group. She was born in Krems, Austria, a small city on the Danube, and holds dual citizenship in the United States and Austria.

Celeste is no longer permitted to participate in church sacraments unless the excommunication is lifted, the Rev. Ralph Wiatrowski, chancellor of the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, said in a statement.

Wiatrowski also said Braschi, who performed the ordination, was excommunicated after breaking with the church in 1998.

Diocese spokesman Bob Tayek said Celeste would be merely simulating sacraments if she performs any.

"She's been excommunicated. Anything she does is invalid," Tayek said.

The Women's Ordination Conference, of which Celeste is a former board member, supports the ordinations of the seven women, spokeswoman Erin Hanley said.

"These events are starting to happen, and I think they're going to continue to happen," she said.

Hanley said the ordinations will maintain attention on an issue the church refuses to discuss.

"I think it's another step in the process of women who are tired of sitting and waiting for approval from a system that has no place for them in ordained ministry," she said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)