The Table

Following the Catholic Women Speak launch, WOC board member Sheila Peiffer, posed the apt question: Catholic women are speaking, but “are Catholic men listening? Sheila was a key volunteer during the WOW conference and was one of several early editor-readers of the Catholic Women Speak book. She was able to attend the launch in Rome with me:

The mission of the volume is to reach the 300 or so “decision-makers” at the Family Synod, all of whom are celibate men without direct experience of family life, other than having been raised in a family.  These essays attempt to acquaint the prelates with personal experiences of women of great faith – women who have persevered in being Catholic (for the most part) despite marginalization and rejection of various kinds.  The book is a crash course in family life – and written in such a way that it is easy to dip into and get a “taste” of many issues that alienate good people who want to be at home in our church….

The book is not in itself a call for women’s ordination.  Only the last essay in the book alludes to this “elephant” in the room.  But it is a clarion call for full participation of women in the life and governance of the Church.  The felicity with which it came together and the amazing spirit present in the launching ceremonies testify to its timeliness and need.  Women want to be heard!  Women are more than ready to bring their gifts to the table.

12144733_10205176053790300_3902335452516035649_nIt turns out, some might be.  Recent statements made by Canadian Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau, Quebec during the Vatican’s Synod on the Family suggest an emergence of a discussion about including women in the ordained permanent diaconate.  From WOW’s statement on the breaking news:

We applaud Archbishop Durocher for raising the suggestion to the exclusively male-voting body, and furthermore, for highlighting the relationship between the “degradation” of women in Church and society and violence against women around the world.

We call on our Church leaders to state clearly that “domination” over women is never acceptable, and until women are empowered as equals our Church perpetuates an inequality contrary to the Gospel. We pray that women’s voices will not only be heard in forthcoming discussions, but given an equal vote.

Discussion of women deacons stirs up many emotions, ranging from “’bout time,” to the equally valid, “too little, too late.” Several years ago WOW devoted much of its annual meeting to developing a cautious but supportive statement on the diaconate:

Though restoration of an ordained women’s diaconate would not alone be a satisfactory progression to including women in all realms of Church leadership, government and sacramental ministry – only ordination to the priesthood and episcopacy could begin to accomplish this – WOW supports restoration of the diaconate. It is long overdue.

Wherever you find yourself on the emotional spectrum, what Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher said is important and courageous in his context. Not only did he use his “3 minutes” of the synod floor-time to discuss women, he connected the “domination” of women to greater violences against women around the world. In many ways, these are clear talking points from the “Gender, Gospel, and Global Justice” conference. Here is his full statement in French, and English.

IMG_20151007_161405Following the Catholic Women Speak book launch there was still the delivery of the hundreds of books to the Synod Fathers to manage. After calls, emails, and connections within the cognoscenti, and one slightly unusual visit of two young women to the Synod Hall with a contact’s name and purses armed with books … (my friend and I were both asked for our business cards, a networking moment we declined for the success of the mission…),…  I am happy to say that the Catholic Women Speak book has been successfully delivered to the foyer of the Synod Hall.

IMG_20151007_161338It is not lost on me the incredible lengths that so many of the organizers of the CWS network went through to make the book and delivery a reality… these are not paved paths for women in the Catholic Church, and just one of the results of a system that actively disempowers and excludes women and women’s voices. As I shared in my previous post, this effort is only part of the remedy and part of the conversation that the hierarchical church must engage and reckon with, and a small start. But, it does feel good that when the Catholic Women Speak network brought their gifts to the table, there was indeed a table. And inside the Vatican, no less. As Sheila writes…

“Coming on the heels of the Women’s Ordination Worldwide 2015 Conference in Philadelphia, these two events offer great hope and concrete evidence of the global reach of women’s call for a voice in the Catholic Church.  Both events were truly international and focused on issues of the global church.  I came away from these two celebrations filled with a new vision of a church where women will speak up and be heard and where a wide spectrum of local needs will be accommodated (subsidiarity!) in order to keep the Church vibrant, relevant and flowing with the living water that Jesus promised to the Samaritan woman.”

Further reading:

12063774_723977807708344_5496549997110995887_nThe contributors and supporters of a collection of essays called, “Catholic Women Speak: Bringing Our Gifts to the Table,” gathered yesterday at the Pontifical University, Antonianum for the landmark launch of their book. The full day affair involved support from several embassies to the Holy See, and special guests Mary McAleese, Sr. Mary Melone, and Lucetta Scaraffia, one of the women invited as an observer to the upcoming Synod. Here is the program from the event, attended by about 100 people.

Originally a Facebook group, the “Catholic Women Speak,” (CWS) network was started by theologian Tina Beattie in January 2015. To date, more than 900 “self-identifying Catholic women” participate in this private forum, as a space to engage in intelligent, informed and respectful dialogue about issues relevant to the lives of women in the Church in different cultures, societies and contexts.

Over dinner in Rome in April 2015, Tina told me that she had met with a Vatican official, who suggested that there were not enough resources available on women for the Synod Fathers… (a curious consequence of an all-male clergy…) she has since quipped that perhaps he was joking, but she took on the task, nonetheless.

Within weeks, Paulist Press published this unique anthology of writings by 44 Catholic women from around the world, including well-known theologians and women telling their personal stories of faith and struggle. I only half-joke this is perhaps the most productive Facebook group ever. Here is the NCR review and the Daily Theology Blog review of the book. 

As a moderator of the Facebook group, and feeling tangentially connected to the inception of the book (although not a contributor myself, just an observer to the tremendous talent), I am amazed at the intimacy that has come from this forum. Global friendships and support systems have blossomed from the CWS network. The outpouring of energy and gifts in this network is just a snapshot of the incredible loss of the hierarchal church as the result of institutionally and systematically excluding women. 

The event at the Antonianum featured several panels: the Synod on the Family and Views from the Pews; Women in Church and Society: changing lives, changing roles, changing visions; Women and the Church of the Poor: speaking from the margins; and Women and the Forthcoming Synod: bringing our gifts to the table. After the panels there was an “Open Forum” where audience members were able to offer their insights and questions for the panelists, followed by a dance and musical performance. If only we had 3 weeks like the bishops to discuss these huge topics…

2015-10-01 17.34.28One of the standout presentations for me was given on the “Women and the Church of the Poor” panel by theologian Nontando Hadebe. She and I met in Nairobi this past July at a meeting of the Theological Colloquium on Church, Religion, and Society in Africa, where I first learned about the power of her narrative and theological sense.  She called for contextualization and “interrogation” of our theologies, offering several points from African contexts:

  • The multiplicity of family to be recognized as sacramental. The church idealizes the nuclear family, yet families are fluid and wide: “Jesus came into being in an extended family.” 
  • Ideals of church need to be tested in real life situations.  We must test Catholic Social Teaching in the villages and with real people: “We must have reverence for life, not just reverence for what we are afraid of;”
  • Violence against women and children in homes as a kairos moment for defining family in relational terms to promote equality, mutuality, and dignity.  She shared the inadequate statements from the Catholic Church about “obedience” and “submission” that do not interrupt cycles of violence against women. Hadebe emphasized that in her encounters, she still tells women that the only “acceptable physical pain” in marriage for women is child birth;
  • Analysis of the relationship between expressions of masculinities and violence.

Contributor Sr. Anne Arabome also shared very strong words on her panel, criticizing the practice of speaking of women as simply a “litany of beautiful words,” calling it an “insult” and “wrong” to be blind to the work of women in developing and keeping Church.

“A church that excludes women stands in the way of God.”

Former President of Ireland, Mary McAleese also offered incisive and bleak words on the Synod, calling the meeting itself, “part of the problem.” She went on to say that the family is not in crisis because of “secularism or television,” but because the Synod fathers have “battered” the modern family, so much so that families cannot go to Church together because they have been labeled, judged, and branded.  As many of the women on the panels, McAleese spoke of being a mother and a grandmother, and said that a generation raised in the context and foundations of human rights law, will not stay. This sentiment was echoed during the Open Forum, when one of the contributors to the CWS book shared her anger: “I can’t believe we are having this conversation. I can’t believe I am raising my children in this Church.” 

Virginia Saldanah ran into Cardinal Tagle at WOW 2015 and gave him a copy of the book.

In my work I have noticed a generation of activists and advocates who look for men to be in attendance at feminist or “women’s events.” It is a strange math for me, (even in the age of #HeforShe) as “Catholic Women Speaking,” in my mind, is not and should not be for the benefit of men. However, while this book comes from a women’s network,  it is very much a tool and an attempt to speak to the men of the Synod. Contributors are asked to photograph their delivery of the book to bishops, and just one day before the Synod, organizers are still securing their way “in” to deliver the books. I struggle with this exercise, just as much as I struggle with the reality that women are not full and equal participants in the Catholic Church. But in some sense, I get the excitement, the closeness that the contributors feel, and the hope that this will make a difference. In meeting and spending time with many of the contributors from around the world, I can’t help but catch a bit of their fever.



The ongoing institutional sexism and exclusion of women and women’s experiences will not simply go away. This effort is only part of the remedy and part of the conversation that the hierarchical church must engage and reckon with. Yet I trust that the hundreds of books will find their way (from my apartment) into the hands of many of the Synod participants, and I trust it will live on far longer than the Synod. These are seeds, and we cannot know how they will grow. Many congratulations to the contributors and editors.


So many of the successes of WOW 2015 are still sinking in for me. With 500 extraordinary people in one space, your conversations, encouragement, and questions are still buzzing in my mind. I have immense gratitude for all of you who supported the conference in your own way, and for the time and talent shared for this cause over so many decades. WOC will share highlights, videos, and photos from the conference in the weeks to come.

However, in the midst of the constant Pope Francis coverage this past week, it is also important to amplify the voices of women’s ordination advocates who brought our message of equality to the headlines and radio waves.  Below you will find a collection of some of the consciousness-raising articles that came forth from the conference and the events to follow during the Pope’s visit to the U.S., featuring WOC and WOW members.  Thanks to all who tweeted (#ordainwomen #wow2015) and shared photos and insights on social media — keep sharing! Please leave a link in the comments if you have articles to add (or email the WOC office). Power to your voice and your passion!

NCR: Catholic activists raise ordination issue as pope’s U.S. trip approaches 

Reasonably Catholic: Kate McElwee on Grab Bag episode 

“Your Holiness….Welcome to America! And while most of us agree with your call for a serious and more potent role for women in the Church, we Americans would do even more — a whopping 88% of us are calling for women priests.” – Maria Shriver and Sister Joan Chittister (read more)

NCR: Women ordination advocates’ multi-media appeal 

NCR: Women’s ordination conference opens in Philadelphia 

Irish Times: Question Time: What can be done to address the shortage of Catholic priests? 

America Magazine: California Bishop Voices Support for the Ordination of Women 

Christian Today: Pope Francis says it’s a closed book, but some Catholic women are getting ordained anyway 


The Advertiser: Why won’t the Catholic Church ordain female priests? 

ABC: CONFERENCE SHINES SPOTLIGHT ON WOMEN ORDAINED AS PRIESTS Women priests call for a more inclusive church

NCR: Mary Hunt: 10 reasons to celebrate 40 years of women’s ordination 

NPR: In Defiance Of The Church, Some Catholic Women Seek Priesthood 

“He cannot preach about love and equality and poverty whilst telling women that they cannot discern their own vocations in life and that men need to decide what you can and cannot do and where you can and cannot speak.” Miriam Duignan, WOW Leadership Circle

Photo credit: Tom Fox

Photo credit: Tom Fox

NCR: Theresa Kane’s message to Pope Francis: eradicate scandal of gender inequality 

PA NJ Radio: Should women be ordained in the Church? 

NCR: Four women honored with ‘Theresa Kane vision and courage’ awards 

NCR: Theologian: ‘Gender insights challenge priesthood theology’ 

Newsworks: Meeting in Philly, group continues push for ordaining women as Catholic priests 

Erin Saiz Hanna on CNN

Erin Saiz Hanna on CNN

NCR: Priests offer support for women’s ordination 

NCR: Theologian: ‘Ordination ideas have changed over time’ 

NCR: Priest sanctioned after appearing at women’s ordination gathering 

New York Magazine: What Activist Nuns Really Think about Pope Francis

NCR: Women’s ordination: WOW delivers its message to the world 

NCR: Women’s ordination conference ends in song, dance, Eucharist 

“If women are not accorded equal place in the leadership of the Catholic Church and the other great world religions, they will always be treated as inferiors in earthly matters as well. There is nothing this Pope could do that would improve the world as much as putting the Church on a path to ordain women.” -Sen. Tim Kaine (read more)

NCR: As meeting ends, ordination advocates claim renewed purpose 

CNS: Protesters urge pope to approve women’s ordination 

Refinery 29: Meet The Women Priests Who Are Defying The Catholic Church 

Newsweek: 7 Arrested After Group Seeking Ordination of Female Priests Protests Pope Francis in Washington 


Photo Credit: Giulia Bianchi

LA Times: Women as Roman Catholic priests? Opinions are divided — and fiery 

LA Times: To Pope Francis: What about women? 

NCR: A church that dreams of rights for women can be great, too 

Bustle: Pope Francis Says Women Are The Future Of The Church, So Where Are They? 

CNN: Not Everyone is a Francis Fan 

Democracy Now!: Female Priests Stage Die-In Outside D.C. Church Urging Pope Francis to Open Priesthood to Women 

WUSA: Protesters issued citations during papal visit to DC 

“I feel the pain of being silenced, and in this silencing I am beginning to feel the deep pain women feel all over the church.” – Fr. Jack McClure, sanctioned for his participation in WOW 2015

Guardian: Protesters urge pope to ordain female priests and stop ‘legitimizing sexism’ 

Wochit News: Protesters Urge Pope to Ordain Female priests (VIDEO)

DCist: Protesters Advocating For Women Priests Removed Ahead Of Papal Visit 


Huffington Post: Protesting Priests Urge Pope To End ‘Thousands Of Years Of Misogyny’

NBC: Renegade Female Priests Hold Peaceful Protest Amid Pope Francis’ Visit 

New York Times: Francis, the Perfect 19th-Century Pope 

The Real News: Priests to Pope: Stop the Sexism 

“When Pope Francis talks about the poor and people who suffer and discounts women in the same breath, his message is really without integrity.” Margaret Johnson, WOC Board Member (read more)

NBC: Women Priest Protesters Arrested During Pope Visit 

The Rivard Report: Gender, Gospel, and Global Justice 

Credit: Molly Butler

(L-R) Molly Butler, Pat Brown, Kate McElwee, Erin Saiz Hanna, Miriam Duignan outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

513o6tFxu0L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_In his debut novel Red Sash of Thorns, Thomas Munoz takes his readers on a suspenseful journey from the Eternal City to Israel’s Negev Desert to the American Southwest, as Robert Susio, an American archeologist and devout Catholic, battles Rome over a discovery that, if revealed, will shake Christianity to its very core.

When the story opens, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Poppo awaits with great anticipation the death of the gravely-ill Pope, so as to assume the papacy himself, which he believes is his rightful destiny. At the same time, the Cardinal battles to conceal two secrets that could destroy both him and the Church: one discovered in an Israeli desert, the other, hidden in his past.

Although the Cardinal enlists the assistance of the brilliant Jesuit anthropologist, Feliche Serroni to counter Susio’s claims, the archeologist is determined to reveal the truth—no matter the cost. He offers Cardinal Poppo, an ultimatum. In exchange for Susio’s silence, there must be sweeping reform of the Catholic Church, to include lifting the ban on women’s ordination.

More than once, I paused while reading to ponder whether art imitates life or vice versa. A story that features Vatican officials seeking to conceal the truth, an ambitious cleric, and an attempt to silence a dedicated lay person, will be all-too familiar to many Roman Catholic readers. There is, however, something delightful about watching such familiar characters interact in a fictionalized world. Unlike in real-life, the narrative provides readers with the hope that this time things could end differently, this time truth and justice will prevail.

If you’re looking for an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, Red Sash of Thorns fits the bill. It’s a rare book that features a character committed to women’s ordination, even rarer when the balance of power favors that character over the clerical establishment. But perhaps what makes this book really unique is its ending. Without giving anything away, I admit to having gasped audibly on reading the last line of the book and to experiencing an instantaneous realization that I have never been more satisfied with the conclusion of any story in my life.

To purchase your copy of Red Sash of Thorns, visit:

Guest post by Jeannette Mulherin, WOC board president.

Laura Singer at WOC's 35th Anniversary

Laura Singer at WOC’s 35th Anniversary

Several Catholic reform groups hosted a gathering at the Chicago Theological Seminary on Saturday for a full day of topics on “What Pope Francis Needs to Know” about women in the Church. Panelists and speakers discussed topics ranging from Catholic church governance to contraception, culminating in a declaration on women. On account of time differences and location, I was only able to catch a few presentations on the livestream, but I was proud to see so many WOC members and former board members on the bill. Way to go! 

Former WOC Board president and one of the founding members of our “Young Feminist Network,” Laura Singer, spoke on a panel with Sr. Chris Schenk and Trish Sullivan Vanni, moderated by Nicole Sotelo, called: “Call to Serve but Nowhere to Go.”

The idea of sharing our ideas with Pope Francis enticed me to join this panel. It was energizing to think Pope Francis may actually be the type of leader who would listen and take our comments to heart. At the same time, when I look at the title of this talk Called to Serve with No where to Go I feel sad and angry – really we are still talking about this – what women are allowed to do vs. men??!! In 2015?!

Having worked with Laura for several years, it was so refreshing to hear her sensible and action-oriented perspective — something I appreciated greatly during her time on the WOC board!

In the late 80s in high school, when I asked about women priests, my high school religion teacher told me that the US was ready for women priests but the rest of the world wasn’t. In my small town sheltered America-centric world view – that answer kept me quiet for a few years. So I worked as an office assistant in the rectory in high school and ran a service learning program out of the campus ministry office in college. I kept living out my faith through retreat work and service projects. I was on the hiring committee for a campus minister just before my senior year of college. The campus minister that I recommended hiring was hired and his first event was taking a group to the Call To Action Conference. I felt obligated to go and got on a van early in the morning not sure where I was going. I read the brochure as we got closer to the hotel and saw a panel on women priests – what could this be. I entered a room with standing room only and heard Ruth Fitzpatrick a former executive director of WOC describing her protest in front of the US Bishops Meeting. The room was packed with people who supported women’s ordination and were doing something about it – I wasn’t alone anymore. I quickly learned about the decades old movement and became an activist myself with a large community of support.

So one take away for Pope Francis is that my story is now more than 40 years old. It took me 20 some years to find likeminded people so maybe the Pope hasn’t found his supportive non sexist community yet either – so I’d say here we are!!! Here’s where you can find us and there are a lot of us and we want to work with you!

Perhaps Pope Francis has been so busy with all the Vatican protocol and such that –  all the petitions we’ve delivered to the Vatican over the years, the banners we’ve hung throughout the world,  and the Pink Smoke we burned in Rome just haven’t caught his attention and he really doesn’t know who we are as a church reform Community – I’d give him a quick overview.

The organization that I’ve had the greatest role with is the  Women’s Ordination Conference. 

Laura’s presentation calls on Pope Francis to do little Googling (although quick sidebar: despite being spotted using an ipad over the weekend and his millions of Twitter followers, Pope Francis has said he is a “dinosaur” and doesn’t know how to use a computer! So, first things first… but then on to the important stuff… ):

He would find all the data supporting women’s ordination,

  • the countless scriptural studies, dissertations,
  • reviews of the 1976 Pontifical Biblical Commission finding no scriptural evidence to prohibit women’s ordination; (“It does not seem that the New Testament by itself alone will permit us to settle in a clear way and once and for all the problem of the possible accession of women to the presbyterate.”)
  • the story of Ludmila Javorova who was validly ordained in 1970 in Communist Czechoslovakia to minister to Catholic women prisoners,
  • he can sign up for one of Dr. Dorothy Irvin’s tours to see firsthand the archeological evidence of women priests in the early church,
  • he could read Fr. Roy Bourgeois’ New York Times editorial calling on his brother priests to end the sin of sexism

Yes it’s direct. But life is short we need to move this discussion along. The pope may ask – well how do we do that? Well – glad you asked.

I recommend watching Laura detail her plans for Pope Francis to Ordain Women Now. Here is her presentation in full:

It is encouraging to hear these conversations happening back in the U.S. — feels like a real booster shot for a rhetoric and passion that I haven’t found in Italy yet (at least in the form of a community). From my experience, the declining Mass attendance numbers found in the U.S. are the same for Italy, and yet the counterbalancing growth of networked reform groups does not exist in the same way.

WOWlogo1This forum presented just a handful of the many conversations our Church must have collectively and globally. I hope we can continue these conversations and this energy at the Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference in September, where supporters from around the world will gather to learn, share and find solidarity in working toward women’s full equality in our Church.

Pope Francis, we’ve heard that you’ll be in Philadelphia this September. So will we! … we would love for you to join us – have your people contact my people and I’m sure we can get you and your Vatican crew a great deal!

Thanks to Laura Singer for providing the text of her presentation, as well as all those who represented WOC at the forum. Wonderful to see Christine Haider-Winnett, former co-president of WOC speak on behalf of “Equally Blessed,” and the list goes on. Well done, and thanks to the organizers (especially for making the event available online). Please share your impressions of the day’s events in the comments below — I’d love to hear how you felt the day went!

Along with individual speakers, we have assembled three robust panels for the WOW 2015 Conference on the themes:

  • “Break the Silence” – male priests who speak out for women’s equality in the Church, including a priest in good standing who will “break his silence” on the panel;
  • “Survivor Justice” – a panel focused on the abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, from the perspective of women — a lesser heard discussion on an issue often dominated by the experiences of men.
  • “Equal in Faith” – an interfaith panel featuring feminist of faith across traditions working for gender justice in religion.  This panel will be an extended discussion on the evening of Saturday, September 19th, moderated by NPR’s Maureen Fielder, host of Interfaith Voices. 

This brief spotlight on the speakers of the Equal in Faith panel should be considered the smallest sampling of these women’s accomplishments and of their profound impact they continue to have on gender justice in religion.

So while recently Buzzfeed featured an article of “Badass Feminists of Faith You Should Know,” (including WOW speaker, Kate Kelly) we have a few more to add to the list…

Rees_32255cChristina Rees: well known writer, broadcaster, and public speaker. She is a member of the General Synod of the Church of England and chair of Women and the Church (WATCH) from its founding until 2010, which recently won their campaign for women bishops.

Guardian: Women Bishops, this is about the Church’s attitude to all women

WATCH Congratulates Christina Rees CBE on Queen’s Birthday Honour

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert:

Rebecca T. Alpert is Senior Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Professor of Religion at PicAlpertTemple University. She attended Barnard College before receiving her Ph.D. in religion at Temple University and her rabbinical training at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College in Wyncote, Pennsylvania. She is the co-author of Exploring Judaism: A Reconstructionist Approach, author of Like Bread on the Seder Plate: Jewish Lesbians and the Transformation of Tradition and Whose Torah? A Concise Guide to Progressive Judaism as well as several edited volumes and numerous articles.

Her specialization is religion in America, and with a focus on sexuality and race. She has recently taught courses on religion in American public life; Jews, America and sports, and sexuality in world religions. Out of Left Field: Jews and Black Baseball, was published by Oxford University Press in June 2011. Religion and Sports: An Introduction and Case Studies will be available from Columbia University Press in May 2015.

LGBT Religious Archives, Oral History Project with Rebecca Alpert

asra_nomaniAsra Nomani: feminist activist and former reporter for the Wall Street Journal for fifteen years, is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam, and Tantrika: Traveling the Road of Divine Love. She is also the author of numerous articles, including the “Islamic Bill of Rights for Women in the Mosque,” Nomani’s story is surveyed in the documentary, The Mosque in Morgantown.

“Her Rosa Parks-style activism has won change…” – The New York Times

Mother Jones: “Asra Nomani: A Muslim Women’s Fight to Pray”

Patricia Fresen: South African writer and Roman Catholic theologian. Dr. Fresen was excommunicated and expelled from her Dominican order following her ordination with Roman Catholic Womenpriests.


Kate KellyKate Kelly: Mormon feminist and human rights lawyer who was excommunicated for starting the LDS Ordain Women Movement.

The wealth of news coverage and support around Kate and the Ordain Women LDS movement is extensive. If you haven’t followed the story, I encourage you to spend time on their website and social media to get a fuller sense of the passion and emotions of the movement. 

My defense against the charge of apostasy

“What you’re asking me to do is to live inauthentically, and that’s not something I’m willing to do.”

Reasonably Catholic: Her call to ordain women continues despite her excommunication by the Mormon Church

Feminism and Religion: Faith Doesn’t Need Walls

“One thing I’ve learned through this journey is that men do not control my happiness or my connection to God”


If you have not yet registered for WOW 2015, please consider this a personal invitation. You are invited to join the hundreds of other leaders in the worldwide movement for women’s full equality in our church. Gather in solidarity, strength, and celebration to mark how far our movement has come, and enliven our spirits for the journey ahead. This will be a landmark event, that will help guide our movement forward for the future.

WOWlogo1As we get closer to the Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference, I’d like to highlight some of our speakers’ work and voices over a series of posts on the WOC blog. The roster of speakers continues to grow with familiar and some less familiar names, all bringing incredible research and unique insight to the Catholic Church and its reform movements.

I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know our speakers more, and share the invitation to join us at WOW 2015 with your networks. If you haven’t already, please register today.

Dr. Shannen Dee Williams

Shannen Dee Williams, Ph.D., is a scholar of the black Catholic diaspora and an assistant professor of history at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. She is currently completing the manuscript for her first book, Subversive Habits: Black Nuns and the Long Struggle to Desegregate Catholic America, ​which unearths the forgotten history of black Catholic sisters in the fight to dismantle racial and gender barriers in the U.S. Church. In December of 2014, Dr. Williams, in a guest blog on Patheos, publicly criticized the U.S. Catholic theologians’ statement on racial injustice that initially excluded black women and girls as victims and opponents of state and vigilante violence.


Dr. Shannen Dee Williams

Daily Theology Blog: The Church is Not Yet Dead: An Interview with Dr. Shannen Dee Williams

Global Sisters Report: Forthcoming book documents history of black sisters in the U.S.

Pathos: Dear U.S. Catholic Theologians: Lives of Black Women and Girls Always Matter

Religion Dispatches: Dear Hollywood: It is time to start making films about real black Catholic nuns

We are honored to have Dr. Williams as a presenter during our academic seminar on Friday September 18th, with Drs Mary Hunt and Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza.

Entrevista a Teresa Forcades, impulsora i candidata de Procés Constituent

Sr. Teresa Forcades

Sr. Teresa Forcades, (keynote speaker)

Sr. Teresa Forcades is a Benedictine nun and a prominent activist for social justice. She is a medical doctor, has a master’s degree from Harvard and is a feminist theologian who has been reprimanded by the Vatican for supporting reproductive rights.

Sister Teresa has gained a huge international following through her criticisms of pharmaceutical companies and her political campaign for the region of Catalonia to gain independence from Spain.

In a recent statement on the situation for women in the Catholic Church, Sister Teresa describes it as ‘an institution in which patriarchy is rampant. All the decision-making is linked to something called ordination, and ordination is linked to something called gender.”

The Church is misogynistic and God is also a woman

The Hon Kristina Keneally, (speaker and panel moderator)

”I’m a Catholic Feminist and my Church needs me more than ever”  

The Hon Kristina Keneally, liberation theologian, Catholic feminist, and former Australian politician who was the 42nd Premier of New South Wales. Keneally will be a presenter and the moderator during the “Break the Silence” panel with male priests. 

A Catholic feminist is a bit like a conscientious objector. She loves what sits at the heart of her faith, and fights what she cannot, in good conscience, accept in her church.


The Hon Kristina Keneally

“Sometimes people ask me why I don’t just leave such an anachronistic institution and join a Christian church where women can have a say, serve as ordained minsters and formally contribute to theological and moral teachings. Sometimes I ask myself the same question. It’s not easy being a Catholic feminist – sometimes it is downright infuriating – but I love the sacraments and the liturgy of the Catholic church, and I love the value it places on scripture and tradition. Why should I abandon my expression of faith to the all-male hierarchy? Why not stay and advocate for a more inclusive church, better theology, and teachings more reflective of the lived experience of women?” 


An interview with Kristina Keneally on the upcoming Synod on the Family

imageRemember to register for the WOW conference! The invitation is open to all to stand in solidarity for gender justice in religion. Register here.

WOW’s third international conference is set to take place in Philadelphia from 18-20 September 2015. Advocates for women’s ordination from around the world will gather to celebrate, be inspired, and join together as we grow our movement and go forward.

11068396_10155637200555046_5698416265870848026_nA few weeks ago I was invited to speak at the 5th annual symposium of “Donne e Religioni” called, “Sottomissione o libero arbitrio: La condizione femminile come indicatore di progresso e crescita culturale e sociale.” (Submission or free will: the status of women as an indicator of progress and cultural and social growth.) 

The two-day event was hosted by an entity called, “Associazione culturale… sounds good” and the ecumenical journal, Confronti, and a handful of other organizations and held in the Palazzo San Macuto June 4-5. The impressive building was interestingly once was one of the main offices during the Holy Inquisition, as well as the site of Galileo’s trials. 

The symposium featured mostly Italian academics from universities around Italy, with specializations in everything from Otto Meininger to ISIS to sex trafficking to women in the Italian armed forces. Here is the full program.  I was honored to be on a panel with the theme: “l’illuminismo suscita la rivolta, lo schiavo vuole l’incondizionato” with Amalia Margherita CirioMarinella PerroniVittoria Tola, head of the Union of Women in ItalyAnna FoaLetizia TomassoneSilvia Greco

Sala del Refettorio, Palazzo San Macuto

Sala del Refettorio, Palazzo San Macuto

I gave a short presentation called Equal in Dignity, Prohibited from Governance: Manufacturing an Incisive Presence for Women in the Church where I provided an overview of WOC’s ministries and a deconstruction of some of the language used by the hierarchy, all in hopes to shed light on our Church’s institutional sexism and the importance of “claiming ordination” as a pivotal frontier for dismantling patriarchy.

I must admit I was nervous to present at this event, especially as an obvious cultural outsider. One of the harder things to accept/recognize living abroad is that I don’t possess the same social and cultural heritage or symbols of those around me, and it can be difficult to discern what forces are at play. Nevertheless, our message was well received: the organizer of the event was cheering when I finished, and several attendees offered their gratitude, interest, and “complimenti” after the presentation.

Here are some “highlights” from my presentation:

Excluding women from ordination goes to the root of our institutional sexism. I would like to claim the word itself as the most obvious symbol of a church which is ill, a church which tells the world that women are not equal to men, and a church that has rapidly lost its credibility and its smartest women because of this injustice. If we are afraid of a schism because of the possibility of women’s ordination, my response is always: the schism has already happened. The women, the next generation, my generation, and many men have already left.

… I would like to emphasize again, if we see the Church as an actor in global peace, ending poverty, nuclear disarmament, and violence against women, to name a few, then we must also see the Church as having a role in dismantling sexism in the world. I believe women are the key actors in establishing a more peaceful and just world – and need to be the centerpiece of any campaign against poverty, war, or promoting human rights that the Vatican or the Holy See promotes.

Sponsors of the event

Sponsors of the event

What gives me hope is that what we know of Pope Francis is he is a man open to conversion. He encourages encounter, asks us to go to the margins of our society and our church — places were women always are. I pray that even in his incomplete rhetoric about women and women’s leadership, this suggests or grants permission for others – especially those who have power within our church – to speak and think more boldly about the potential of our church. How beautiful and vibrant would our Church and world be if women were truly equal.

As a side note, I was excited to also quote Mary McKlintock Fulkerton, who I heard recently at a conference at Georgetown on Vatican II and ecumenism. She spoke clearly about the need for women’s ordination and mentioned the Women’s Ordination Worldwide conference in September to refute the suggestion (most recently and publicly cited in the Vatican’s “Women’s Cultures” working document) that women don’t want to be ordained. I loved her use of language, stating that there is no “male bodily skill” required for the priesthood.

As Dr. Mary McKlintock Fulkerton of Duke University, recently stated, there is no “bodily skill” required for the priesthood. Motherhood is a bodily skill, yes, but no use of “male anatomy” should be necessary for the priesthood. (This should not be considered a gendered trade-off either, as women cannot be defined solely by their ability or decision to bear children.)

It was a complete honor to bring the interests and passions of WOC membership to such an intercultural forum — felt like a “first” for WOC, and a wonderful development in our outreach.

For the second time the “Collaboration of Men and Women in Ministry,” a working group of the Justice and Peace and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) promoters in Rome, hosted Italian theologian Marinella Perroni for a Saturday lecture. Mostly women religious and handfuls of non-religious attended the discussion, “Women and the New Testament: The Apostolic preaching in the first communities,” which considered the apostolic traditions and its redactions, and ultimately the heritage of a tradition of “woman as enemy.”

Marinella Perroni

Marinella Perroni

The hope of the Collaboration group for this particular event was to provide a mini Bible study on women in the Acts of the Apostles. In general, the group strives to forge better relationships with the Spanish speaking promoters and men, and more broadly make the case that “collaboration in ministry” is a justice issue (which incidentally many struggle to conclude).

I found Marinella’s schema for the talk very helpful (although may be familiar to some), and will provide it here with a little commentary to follow.

The Acts of the Apostles: a small compendium of porto-christian female historiography:

  • Numerous allusions of a general character in many different narrative contexts (1:14; 5:14; 6:1; 8:3 – 12; 9:2; 13:50; 17:4-12; 22:4)
  • The Community of widows of Joppe and the story of Tabitha (9:36-42)
  • The conversion of the merchant of Purple in Philippi (9:36-42)
  • The conversion of Damaris of Athens (17:34)
  • The Rome of some women in the communities of their respective cities (Maria in Jerusalem 12:12-15; Priscilla in Ephesus 18:2, 18:26; the four daughters of Philip in Caesarea 21:8-9).

The Dual Personalities of Paul:

  • Ecclesiology without discrimination: Gal 3:26-28
  • A shared missionary responsibility: Rom 16
  • The behavior of women in the liturgical assembly: 1 Cor 11: 1-16; or 1 Cor 14, 34-35?
  • Who comes from whom: 1 Cor 11: 7-12
  • Mutual submission: Eph: 5:21-24

Post-Pauline Churches:

1Tim 2,8-15: “In every place, then, I want the men to lift their hands up reverently in prayer, with no anger or argument. Similarly, women are to wear suitable clothes and to be dressed quietly and modestly, without braided hair or gold and jewelry or expensive clothes; their adornment is to do the good works that are proper for women who claim to be religious. During instruction, a woman should be quiet and respectful. I give no permission for a woman to teach or to have authority over a man. A woman ought to be quiet, because Adam was formed first and Eve afterwards, and it was not Adam who was led astray but the woman who was led astray and fell into sin. Nevertheless, she will be saved by child-bearing, provided she lives a sensible life and is constant in faith and love and holiness.

Marinella suggested that some feminist interpretations of Paul are unfair in light of some of his earlier writings, especially as it seems clear that he believed women to be missionary apostles. In Romans 16, Marinella pointed out that the women were given titles based on their work (whereas men were given terms of endearment), including deaconess, missionary, benefactor, leaders of domestic churches, and even his own protectors (in situations where the women were more well known than Paul).  In 1974, the Italian translation changed what should read “deaconess” in reference to Phoebe to “servicer.”

As a side note, in English I think it is generally considered pejorative to use “deaconess” or “priestess” but in a language with gendered nouns and adjectives, I think it is actually (in Italian for instance, when the word doesn’t exist and adjectives need to agree) an important distinction.


In Cor 11: 1- 16 Marinella suggested that the requirement for women to cover their heads could have been a way for Paul to highlight that women as well as men can prophesize. She also suggested that Cor 14: 34-35 was also possibly an administrative measure, as the Corinthians were known to be charismatic with many cults (who talked a lot?). I’m not sure I can accept that all women should be silent because some group (women) were talking too much, but if we look to Paul as a manager (who also believes in ecclesiology without discrimination) then contextually it may make more sense (and still be wrong!).

The blaming of women and the selective traditions that guide many of our structures today keep women as untrustworthy objects rather than the protagonists of faith that they were in the early Church. Marinella described that the institutionalization of our church is built on the fear of power in the hands of women. Even today, she suggested, we as a society we are still shocked (and mistrustful) when a woman is in a position of power.

A deeper reading of Paul’s later misogyny was new and shocking for even some of the organizers of the events, who shared that it was not part of their formation. While many of this may be familiar to readers, it was wonderful to see so many following Marinella line for line with their Bibles. As you can well understand, after reading quotes from Tertullian, it was truly one of those laugh or cry realities, so common in our Roman Catholic Church.

In a short question and answer time, she was asked about the terms “feminine genius,” “complementarity,” and whether or not the current “trend” from the hierarchy to speak about including women is a true desire or simply a strategy.  Marinella spoke of distain for the trend to speak of the singular “woman” in popular Vatican-speak today, as well as the incredulousness of “the peripheries” as a place to take a field trip to.  For another blog!

She did however, end her presentation with her dream for the day that a woman walks out onto the balcony of St. Peter’s as pope and we no longer need the word “periphery.”

The Pontifical University Antonianum, with the Embassies of Chile, Great Britain, the United States, and the delegation of the European Union to the Holy See hosted a full-day program on Tuesday 28 April, titled: “Donne nella Chiesa: Prospettive in dialogo.”  The event was in Italian and Spanish (except for two presentations in English). 

Sister Mary Melone, the first woman appointed as rector of a Pontifical University (Antonianum), welcomed nearly 150 people from 30 countries to the packed auditorium, uniting the group together by declaring our common love for the Church and our love for women.


Sr. Melone acknowledged that this is an audacious meeting, noting the prophetic nature and witness of women, but should be considered along the conversational lines of the recent “Women’s Culture’s” gathering from the Pontifical Council on Culture, and Pope Francis’ call for greater spaces for women in the Church. However, she emphasized, these conversations have been “in the pipeline” for some time now, (although unacknowledged in official circles), and we need to “be concrete” in our ways and means for greater roles for women in our Church: “this can no longer be postponed.”

Sr. Melone continued to say that these changes cannot be simply offering functionary roles to women, but must be complex and developed through dialogue. When we rethink the role of women in the Church, she said, men must also rethink their role in the Church.  Women can no longer be “mere guests,” for women are “drivers of change,” in the Church and the world.   

Cardinal Ravasi, head of the Pontifical Council for Culture, followed Sr. Melone by giving an ill-suited presentation of historical, Biblical and cultural sexism, offering damaging and uncomfortable quotes about women. He claimed that we must “go beyond” historical analysis, as “history should judge the past,” and our outlook must be for the future. It seem like this is something he thought the audience would want to hear.

However, he deepened his discussion by calling for an essential analysis about the “delicate” question of women, including: identity and difference; human nature; biogenetics; neurological differences; and cultural. Ravasi took this opportunity to tangentially talk about the “nightmare” of the “theory of gender” today, citing that in Australia there are 23 different genders, and on Facebook upwards of 50 options. This echoes harmoniously with some of Pope Francis’ strange proclamations on gender, likening it to “nuclear war,” at times.

Ravasi returned to his theme of an outdated past by acknowledging that history has eliminated women: “who knows what we have lost because of this!” He concluded with an outlook for the future, without a hint of how.

Then, my new personal hero, Professor Cettina Militello took to the stage with her prepared speech on models of the past and how we can carry them into the future. She said, what the Cardinal has just shared is Biblical misogyny, but we are far more interested in a discipleship of equals, the partnerships shared between the original apostles.  “A society of discrimination cannot be the society visioned by (Jesus) who removed all discriminations”

Militello deviated slightly to address the Cardinal’s understanding of gender, and called his presentation the “radicalization of theories of gender— a demonization of gender” — and attributed these attitudes to several of the last papacies.  She explained gender is not about the number of “types” of gender, but is to be consider an expression of nature, not a threat to nature. Confusion and fear around gender come from changing societal and cultural roles ascribed to men and women. Militello described that “gender theory” properly understood offers the advantage of acknowledging the phenomenon of humanity working together, rather than “constitutional identities.”

Full Panel

Cettina Militello, Cardinal Ravasi, Ambassador Michelle Bachelet, Sr. Mary Melone (L-R)

The bulk of her presentation truly captured me. She named our “new” openness to women, as an openness “not without shadows,” and combed through various Vatican documents where in some places they condemn sexism or acknowledge women’s increasing roles in society, but uphold damaging stereotypes of women and the sexism of the “founding fathers”; “the unfinished business of the Year of the Woman” in 1975; Ordinatio Sacerdotalis; Inter Insigniors and their devastating results.  I scribbled what I considered soundbites and themes, that I will share here. Hopefully her full presentation will become available:

  • Inequality has a religious context that is not just held by fundamentalists.
  • As Christians we are equal in our baptism – and must be equal in the fullness of the Eucharist. The subordination of women reflects the misogyny of the “founding fathers.”
  • There have always been women carrying out ministries with unique qualities; women have always had the gift of prophecy.
  • Any effort to safeguard “women’s nature” is an attempt to safeguard male authority.
  • When only men can reflect the Christ and women can only reflect “the feminine,” we become defined by our sex, not our humanity.
  • Women cannot just supplement the ministries of men. People suggest women to become secretaries of pontifical councils, undersecretaries, but these are not yet leadership roles. Women must be liturgically tasked: women are called to play a role.
  • It is an abused stereotype to say that women are different at an ecclesial level.
  • Ordination needs development in our church. It cannot be just a claim to power, but we need a reformation of the Church that removes obsolete models of power.
  • We must move from subordination to co-responsibility.

I tried to take pictures of Cardinal Ravasi during this presentation, but it was hard to capture his discomfort completely.

Following a short break we came back for a panel, moderated by Flaminia Giovanelli, the only woman secretary of a Pontifical Council (Justice and Peace), and featuring 5 women from different regions of the world. Giovanelli spoke only briefly, but called for women’s contributions to the Church to be considered an advantage, and women must follow their vocations and be who they are called to be. 

Africa: Sr. Gloria Wirba (Cameroon)

Latin America: Carolina Del Rio (Chile)

USA: Sr. Carol Keehan

EU: Maria Giovanna Ruggieri (Italy)

Asia: Sr. Helen Leung (China)

The presentations of the panelists were all very strong, some more general than others. I found Carolina del Rio’s presentation especially illuminating, as she described the dual forces of Machismo and Marianism in Latin America. Del Rio also spoke adamantly against the “exaggeration of motherhood,” and the need to rework our symbolism to include the many roles that women play. She noted that any solution cannot be simply magisterium focused, and suggested efforts to “talk less on women and more with women.”

Sr. Carol Keehan and Flaminia Giovanelli

Sr. Carol Keehan and Flaminia Giovanelli

Sr. Carol Keehan began her presentation by acknowledging that it is hard for Catholics in the U.S. grasp that we are only 6% of a global church (admittedly, something that I have been thinking about as my perspective of the U.S. Church shifts in light of greater distance). Sr. Keenan admitted that she doubted anyone cares what at 71 year old sister thinks, so she surveyed and spoke with high school and college girls and women from Georgetown and DePaul Universities. (Something perhaps more “decision-makers” in the Church ought to do…)

She found the students love Pope Francis, but are looking for more meaningful, decision-making roles for women in the Church: the church is “only using half of its talent” and “undervaluing God’s gifts.”

Taking this research, Sr. Keehan offered a few points on the “how” question – how to increase roles for women in the church. Getting the “o”-word out of the way, she began by suggesting that ordination is not essential for every leadership role. (Moving on….)

  • We must abandon tokenism – women cannot continue to be listened to or participate in “second class” roles
  • Many of the students she spoke with expressed frustration about being excluded from “decision about issues with which they have experience: marriage, family.” These decisions are being made without the input of women from the Vatican to their parishes. Can there not be a Synod of Women? A Synod of Families?

IMG_4288She concluded by reemphasizing that “our Church is better served when the gifts of men and women are used.”  Any changes must be accompanied by prayer, dialogue, discernment, and a willingness to do this differently.

The afternoon was filled with language “working groups” discussing and developing ideas heard in the morning sessions.  As events “on women” seem to be trending now around Rome, this was by far one of the more thoughtful and authentic I have attended or read about.  We await the day when this is not newsy nor novelty, but today I think we can applaud that a public conversation — largely “on women,” by women — happened at a Pontifical University, with many diplomats and leaders in the Church present. I genuinely sense a greater comfort around Rome in claiming and vocalizing the need for decision-making roles, authority, and a rethinking of power structures to include women. While these conversations may seem typical or tired to many readers, I celebrate this as an effort at the Vatican level to mainstream discussions of women and gender. 

(All photos by Patrizia Morgante, used here with permission)