PORT RICHEY — The Rev. Eleonara Marinaro ministers out of duty to — and in defiance of — her church.
She is one of 72 women in America who consider themselves ordained priests in the Catholic Church.
The Vatican's position is clear: It does not recognize women in the priesthood. It issued a proclamation in May 2008 stating "women priests and the bishops who ordain them would be excommunicated."
"She has not been ordained in our church because the Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women," said Frank Murphy, director of communications with the Diocese of St. Petersburg, which includes Pasco County. "It's just not under consideration at this time."
But Marinaro, who was ordained in 2007 through the Roman Catholic Womanpriests organization, believes the church is mistaken on the role that women may play.
"We feel like we're still in the church," said Marinaro, 68, of Port Richey. "We're not splitting off. We're trying to change it from within."
The organization's Web site, www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org, says "Roman Catholic Womenpriests are loyal members of the church who stand in the prophetic tradition of holy obedience to the Spirit's call to change an unjust law that discriminates against women."
Marinaro said three male bishops in Europe in "good standing" with the Roman Catholic Church secretly ordained the first three women priests.
"According to the regulations, we did it by the book," she said.
The women prepare for the priesthood through theological studies, sacramental preparation, liturgical practice and spiritual discernment. Marinaro, who oversees the organization's southern district, which includes Florida, Georgia and Kentucky, now serves as a mentor for four new female priest candidates.
She guides them on the phone and online, and once the women fill out the necessary paperwork and follow the proper steps, she recommends them for ordination. The process takes a year to 18 months and includes background screenings and psychological evaluations. Most of the women have graduate degrees in theology.
Marinaro has doctorates in Jungian therapy, pastoral counseling and ministry. She doesn't have a congregation and instead focuses much of her work on pastoral counseling and dream analysis.
"Through dreams you can pinpoint where a person is in their life spiritually," she said. "They are a highway right into the unconscious, and the unconscious tells you what it needs. It directs you."
From her home in Port Richey, she conducts pastoral counseling sessions, as well as workshops on dream interpretation. She also leads services occasionally at Spirit of Life Metropolitan Community Church in New Port Richey and conducts weddings and healing services.
John Ransom is a pastoral candidate through Spirit of Life MCC and King of Peace MCC in St. Petersburg.
"I feel we are all children of God, born equal, and with equal standing before God," he said. "The question is, 'Are you called by God to proclaim the word?' That's what she's been called to do, and she's responded to that."
Marinaro grew up in New York in a "traditional Roman Catholic Italian family." She had a desire to serve within the framework of her faith, but "looking around, I didn't see any way to do that," she said.
When she was younger, she considered becoming a nun, but her mother wasn't thrilled.
"It's an Italian thing," Marinaro explained. "She only had one daughter. Who would take care of the parents when they're elderly?"
Marinaro grew up and got married, and over the years she took on various parish jobs and volunteered but still didn't feel fulfilled. Growing in her frustration, she met a Jungian analyst who was also an Episcopal priest who served as an inspiration for her. She applied to the Episcopal church for ordination, but the bishop wasn't accepting anyone new. "That was kind of a closed door," she said.
Her search continued, and that's when she found the Old Catholic Church, a Netherlands-based church that had broken from the pope a couple of centuries ago. The Old Catholic Church shares much of the doctrine and liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church but takes a more liberal view on numerous issues, including homosexuality and contraception. It began ordaining women into the priesthood in the 1990s.
Marinaro was ordained along with her husband, David Gaboury, more than a decade ago through the Old Catholic Church. Then she was ordained two years ago through the Roman Catholic Womanpriests organization.
She considers it a spiritual calling.
"For some it's a calling; for others it's more like a job. It wouldn't matter if I have a congregation or not."
She has not been able to get a congregation going in Pasco County, though she has tried.
"People are not really ready yet for an independent Catholic Church," she said.
"It has become very political, and the Vatican is persecuting anyone, including nuns, who support us. I think this is a justice issue. I'm supporting it as much as I can."
Mindy Rubenstein can be reached at Mindy.Rubenstein@me.com.