It was a remarkable collection of forty individuals, most of whom had labored for decades in church reform under two papacies that looked upon reform as anathema. Many carried bruises and battle scars quietly in their hearts. They met in Chicago last October, an international network of priest associations and reform groups. The priests’ groups hailed from Germany, Austria, Ireland, Slovakia, Switzerland, Australia, and the U.S. The reform organizations also came from these countries, as well as Italy, Argentina, and the United Kingdom.
Most of them I knew, or had met at a previous gathering in Limerick, Ireland. I was eager to see if some of the wounds felt by the group in Ireland around women’s issues in the church had healed. Would there be any movement in the group’s willingness to accept women in more visible liturgical roles? Or would the same fears and concerns resurface?
Redemptorist Fr. Tony Flannery, a founder of the Association of Catholic Priests, and Kate McElwee, co-executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, suggested that the group celebrate the Eucharist without any main presiders. The group would sit in a circle, around an altar table, with different people praying various sections of the liturgy, but with the whole assembly reciting the Eucharistic prayer. This, they felt, would be a sign that gender is no barrier among us. Furthermore, the action could be interpreted according to the opinion of each participant.