The Table

Over the weekend I attended the meetings for a group called, “Council 50” – which is hoping to host a gathering in Rome in November 2015 to bring together representatives from all over the world to share their particular political and social contexts, and their positive experiences of being church. It sounds exciting but the irony of meetings about meetings is not lost on me…

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For a second I sympathized with the bishops and cardinals, meeting to discuss issues on marriage and family life the next two weeks, and really to plan for the Ordinary Synod in the fall of 2015: meeting about meetings.

The Council 50 group is unique for our work because of the large involvement with Italian reform groups and base communities. Again I put myself in the Synod hall as our meeting flickered between Italian, English, French, German, and half translations of each.  Words, intentions, and humor get lost and found around the table (try drafting a mission and vision statement simultaneously in several languages!) as we hope to understand each other. Again, a small semblance of sympathy for the bishops here, despite their professional outfitting and translation services, international meetings can be a bit of a circus.

However, while the bishops are meeting to discuss family and marital life, the obvious lack of families is a particularly embarrassing situation. While, it may be in the minds’ of bishops and cardinals, they think they are being inclusive and welcoming by hosting several couples, it cannot be stressed enough that these “decision makers” have actively chosen to not pursue married life, and presumably a reproductive life. I just think, are bishops not embarrassed at the sight and structure of their meetings?  Reports that married couples are “stealing the show” demonstrate the very lack of experience of family and married life in the Synod. And while Cardinal Nichols may have said the sexual lives of couples is not something bishops talk about much… they certainly talk a lot about the reproductive lives of women.

Deb Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch

Deb Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch with our report

As sometimes comical or scattered our meetings felt over the weekend, we were always discussing how we are Church and how to invite other people to tell us about how they are creating and building church communities, with some of these people shockingly in the room. The lack of diversity of who will actually contribute to the working document for the Bishops is one example of the painful separation of power in the Catholic church. The opaque selection process for lay couples and the layers and layers of interpretation, summary, and analysis of what is discussed in the synod halls indeed must partially explain the growing distance between orthodoxy and orthopraxis, the theological and the pastoral for many Catholics.

Nevertheless, it is encouraging to see the process of the bishops’ meetings starting with the stories of couples and families, and even in these first few days, the tone and topics seem encouraging. This morning Deb Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch and I were able to hand several copies of our collaborative report, “Voices of the People” to Archbishop Kurtz, president of the USCCB, who thanked us both and shook our hands, and Jeffrey and Alice Heinzen from La Crosse, Wis. (who each hugged us!) on their way into the synod hall. All three were gracious and warm, thanked us for our work… before going behind gates and closed doors.   

Recommended reading so far:

Sex and Social Justice at the Synod on the Family

You’ve Got Male: Synod on the Family Slideshow

Cutback of information makes this synod harder to read

By all accounts, the theme of these Synod sessions should have been collegiality. Pope Francis, instead, has chosen a topic that interests and affects almost all Catholics, in some way: family. Every day, home-grown collegiality. Undoubtedly a populist, Francis has engaged the world’s Catholics in discussions of family life, the Sacraments, divorced and remarriage, family planning… it is incredible how this topic, (and even a flash of hope) has ignited the baptized to chime in.

In November and December 2013, fifteen U.S. Catholic reform organizations sent out a survey in preparation for the Synod on the Family. 16,582 participants responded.  Dr. Peter J. Fagan from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine analyzed the survey responses and produced the final report.

The results of the survey were similar to other sociological data, but the number of respondents who self-identified as weekly Mass-goers was 52 percent, a surprisingly high number given the overall average is 24 percent according to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University. Demographically, 83 percent were laypeople and 11 percent vowed religious or ordained. On the important issues of contraception, sacraments for divorced and remarried Catholics and same sex relationships:

Sr. Mary John Mananzan

Sr. Mary John Mananzan

● 1 percent said the teachings of Humanae Vitae were completely accepted. 76 percent supported alternatives.
● 75 percent of divorced and remarried couples felt they could approach the sacraments regardless of church recognition of their union.
● 73 percent said marriage equality was extremely or very important.

These numbers and the volumes of responses are not isolated to those in the U.S., but reflected many of polls from around the world.

“Right now it looks like there are very few participants at the Synod who will be representing the voices of many Catholics who already feel excluded from the Church,” said Deb Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch.  “It is our work to do all we can to make sure those voices are heard and that the circles are widened to include those who represent the sensus fidelium on issues  where our lived experiences cannot be expressed adequately by male celibates.”

Kate McElwee and Sr. Mary John Mananzan

Kate McElwee and Sr. Mary John Mananzan

As a representative for WOC I was able to share some of this work at the Catholic Reform forum held in Rome these past few days. Among the other representatives was  Sr. Mary John Manazan, OSB from the Philippines. An incredible feminist theologian, Sr. Mary John took a more expansive view as she outlined her suggestions to the Synod-goers: address patriarchy and kyriarchy in our church and in our families.  Patriarchy in all forms creates a culture of violence against women; therefore, starting with the Church, we need non-patriarchal families, where dominance does not decide the safety or health of women and children. Sr. Mary John brought the taboo issues of FGM, incest, domestic violence right to the altar of the Church where this meeting was held. Her presentation brought the realities of what is often couched in vague terms to the devastating, on-going effects of our Church’s and our own complicity. Other speakers included Robert Mickens, Paul Collins, Marilyn Hatton, among others. (Read more about the event here ).

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Bishop Geoffrey Robinson speaking at the European Forum for LGBT Christians

In the afternoon the European Christian LGBT Forum hosted an event  “The ways of love” in the Faculty of the Waldenses.  The forum was chaired by the Vatican expert Marco Politi, and featured Australian Bishop Geoffrey Robinson and theologian James Alison. The room was full of familiar faces from New Ways Ministries, FutureChurch, and Council 50 organizers, but also about 100 attendees, mostly Italians. An obvious lack of women’s voices (and presence) was the only short-coming of this well organized event.   

The following day, the International Movement We Are Church (IMWAC) hosted a press conference with representative from three continents sharing recommendations to those attending the Synods sessions. Many of the speakers highlighted flawed doctrine, misapplied “traditions,” and emphasized that theological and theoretical discussions should not be “played against” pastoral needs. IMWAC surveyed their members worldwide and produced a list of seven questions for the synod:

IMWAC press conference

IMWAC press conference

1. What Images of the family will be used?

2. What is a family?

3. Will the complexity of the modern world be addressed?

4. How can the situation of families and partnerships in crisis be addressed?

5. Will the differing circumstances of women and men in families be address?

6. How will the status of children be viewed?

7. What impact do modern reproductive technologies have on families, marriages, and partnerships?

The reality shared in the room was that Catholic people are already making decisions about their families and reproductive lives without the church: “that train has left the station.” But as Catholics we believe our church can be a moral leader in the world, by following the example of Jesus. (If we first even humanize gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons, affirm the bodily autonomy of women, embrace equality for women in all ministries and society, and reframe the imposition of celibacy on clergy, to name a few). One speaker referred to Pope Francis’ intentions to go the the margins of society and work there; however in our Church it is really the bishops who are on the margins of the complex realities of family life. Many mentioned the some “quick fixes,” the feasibility of some of these recommendations is seemingly possible and within reach — and yet Pope Francis has not made a move on some of these “easier” reparations.

It was acknowledged around the table that “women’s issues” always come last on these lists. And while as reformers we look to what Pope Francis not saying or doing, Miriam Duignan reminded the group that we must also pay attention to what Pope Francis is actively saying about women, the words that he does choose to say are flippant, sexist and rely on outdated and offensive gender roles.  If you haven’t watched WOC’s video, “Vatican: It’s a Man’s World,” most of these quotes come from Pope Francis.

Today another reform coalition called “Council 50″ will meet to plan a gathering in a year’s time, marking the close of the Vatican II Council and the signing of the Catacomb Pact. Rome truly has been transformed these past few days by the presence of so many engaged, interested Catholics who are here to give witness to the pastoral and sacramental needs of families. I will be looking for where the Synod of Bishops becomes permeable to the choruses of voices literally surrounding them. Where, in their closed sessions will we see any bubbles from the letters, surveys, and reports calling for a more relevant, a more pastoral church?

Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) held its steering committee meeting this past week just outside of Dublin, hosted by our Irish delegates from We Are Church – Ireland.  The annual meeting brings together leaders in the women’s ordination movement  from Australia to Bangladesh, Poland to Italy, Germany to Canada, representing a spectrum of strategy and practice.  Holding our differences, WOW strongly emphasizes the word “ordination” in our work as we advocate for the inclusion and equality of women across all ministries in the Catholic Church. WOWlogo1

The agenda focused largely on our upcoming conference: “Gender, Gospel, and Global Justice” to be held 18-20 September, 2015 in Philadelphia, USA. It has been ten years since the last WOW Conference and will be held just days before the World Meeting of Families, when Pope Francis is expected to visit Philadelphia. WOW envisions this Conference to bring the discussion of women’s ordination to a global stage, drawing activists, feminists, theologians, women religious, clergy, students, and Church-going Catholics together, to speak in a chorus of voices. We believe that gender justice in our Church and our world is rooted in Jesus’ life and message, and transforming our Church from the sins of sexism will transform our communities and the status of women everywhere.

Our hosts, We Are Church – Ireland, organized an afternoon with theologian Mary T. Malone, who discussed her latest book, “The Elephant in the Church: A woman’s tract for our times,” followed by small group discussions on five topics. Over forty people gathered for this discussion, contributing greatly to the challenges of our work: (1) fighting clerical culture; (2) the failings of priests; (3) waning motivation and growing frustration; (4) encouraging “good priests” as well as women priests; (5) the tragedy of a Church does not honor the voices and experiences of women, and the congregations that suffer because of this loss.

Mary T. Malone meets with WOW and local Catholics

Mary T. Malone meets with WOW and local Catholics

As a member of the steering committee I led a group to address the first concern (clerical culture), something deeply understood in Ireland, especially in light of the systemic abuse of power in covering up sexual abuse scandals. Around the table we had a wealth of experience: former priests, ordained women priests, lay ministers, and of course, all of us priestly people. For many, seeking or pursuing ordination was seen as elevating oneself in the community, claiming a closer position to God. Models that recognize the shared gifts of people, without stratification, without hierarchy were discussed as more fulfilling, holistic, and healthful. Connection to the “Global Church” is better experienced, similar to many of the early mystics, through one’s personal relationship with God, not through Rome.

With a Roman Catholic Woman Priest (RCWP) at the table, we discussed the bridges that have to be created and compassionately modeled from where we are now as a Global Church, and where we would like to be, where perhaps, some suggested, ordination is no longer necessary.

 

For WOW, we recognize these bridges (honor and embrace in full membership and work of RCWP), but if we recognize that ordination, as we know it, is the requirement for full participation in the decision-making, theological debate, official teaching and writing, and of course the Eucharistic celebrations – this is the lynchpin, the threshold that breaks along gender alone. As Teresa Forcades recently said, “All the decision-making is linked to something called ordination, and ordination is linked to something called gender.”  It was a challenging conversation, a good conversation that ultimately asks Catholics to seek both nourishment, (spiritually, theologically, communally) to know God in holistic and sustaining ways, and for some, to find the energy to keep a foot in the Institutional Church to work for transformative change, that we know will change the world. Read more statements from WOW

WOW Delegates meeting

WOW Delegates meeting

Mary T. Malone writes that “The priesthood, as we know it, was designed by men, inhabited by men, theologized by men, liturgised by men, and experienced by men. It was designed for men by men.” It was clear in my small group that the construct of ordination is broken and has formed a sick hierarchy, a sick institution.  Malone spoke about how much of feminist theology responds to male theology, when there is a richness in the theology of women, theology by women that empowers women and the people of God to thrive as spiritual, experiential beings made in the image of God.  This tension– the attempted conversation of activists and theologians with the Institutional Church, and the freedom of knowing that access to God is available to all, without exception or exclusion, without mediation– causes vertigo in the women’s ordination movement, personally and in our messaging.  I must admit there is a truth to the kind of madness of having our feet seemingly walking away from one another.

Yet, returning to the fifth discussion point, we ultimately must believe in the riches of our faith. We know its beauty and find joy in the sacraments. We are in a discipleship of equals, as Jesus preached, radically inclusive and in solidarity with all those on the margins. We are the body of Christ, and we are the Church.

“If you feel deeply enough, you stay.  Not because you’re a masochist, but because it’s worth it. You’re struggling for the soul of something.” Elizabeth Johnson

WOW Steering Committee Meeting, Dublin 2014

WOW Steering Committee Meeting, Dublin 2014

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Mary Jeremy Daigler. Incompatible with God’s Design: A History of the Women’s Ordination Movement in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church. Lanham, MA: Scarecrow Press, 2012. 199 pp., appen., biblio., index. ISBN 978-0-8108-8479-3. $75.00.

There was a time in my life when I devoured every article and book on women’s ordination. I was passionate about every aspect of the issue. Those intense feelings waned over the past decade or so as I moved on to understand and live out my priesthood in different ways. Yet over the years I wondered if I’d ever experience that intensity again. To my surprise, reading Daigler’s book brought back that excitement for me. This is a rigorous and thoroughly researched history of the movement that will be required reading for anyone who wants or needs to be informed on our movement as well as a good read.

Incompatible with God’s Design is a page-turner filled with personal stories and drama and yet it is also balanced with the keen insight and reporting of a seasoned historian. Daigler is a good storyteller yet she is also able to recount historical events and characters without casting her emotions or judgments that could sway even the most dispatched writer or academic.

The book lays out its subject matter as if weaving a tapestry. Daigler chooses as her theme “design” as in God’s careful creation and each chapter develops that masterpiece with matching titles—“Illuminating a Design,” “Braid,” “Mosaic,” “Circles,” “Cross,” “Centripetal Lines,” and “Upward Spiral.”

In each chapter the author moves us through history. She begins with the St Joan’s International Alliance in 1911 in England, to our foremothers here in the States with the story of Mary Lynch, the beginning of WOC, and the tireless and generous work of many disciples—women and men alike. Daigler traces the pre- and post-Vatican II eras, the role of women religious in the movement; organizational stitches and seams; the Vatican teachings and how they were promulgated; international influences—with lots of detailed examples of the movement across the globe; all the way up to the current time, spreading out the quilt of challenges and hurdles still needing to be conquered.

Many workers of the movement are introduced and given names, places, dates, and the groups they were part of; how they understood women’s roles in the church, and how they went about forging the movement. Daigler is also a capable sociologist as she details the attitudes, cultures, and ethos to which each group subscribed and how they understood the burgeoning movement. Few stones are unturned and the countless people who worked in the movement are given place and stature, including many male clergy who were supportive in the Vatican II and post-Vatican II days. It will be astonishing to many young women who read this book as they will discover that there were so many prominent clerics who were interested, involved, truly supportive of women’s ordination, and, equally telling, they seemed unafraid.

The title of the book comes from a document of the Second Vatican Council, Gaudium et Spes (Church in the Modern World), specifically article 29: “Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design” (emphasis mine). Daigler draws out that design and show precisely over and over and over precisely what needs to be curbed and eradicated.

For readers wanting to scour important sources, Daigler offers some apt appendices: Mary Lynch and Aileen Murphy’s dedication ceremony to the movement; Theresa Kane’s Welcome to Pope John Paul II; the family tree of the women’s ordination movement; and other archival collections. These appendices offer a budding women’s ordination scholar ample back- ground for any serious paper or thesis on the topic.

The women’s ordination movement owes a great debt of gratitude to Mary Jeremy Daigler for this magnum opus. She has put in writing the definitive story that needed to be told. Our other good fortune is that Daigler wrote this book to not only honor those early disciples of the women’s ordination movement in the United States but she also hands over the mantle to the next generation of leaders who are also deftly carry- ing on this important work.

Diana Wear has been an editor for WOC’s New Women, New Church newsletter for over a decade and a half. She writes for us from Richmond, Calif. This article first appeared in New Women, New Church in Spring/Summer 2013, vol. 36 n. 1.

Guest post by Jack Wentland, Progressive Catholic Coalition

Since 2004, WOC has been a sponsoring organization of the “Inclusive Catholic Liturgy”—with female and male priests presiding—at the national gathering of the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) Convergence as one of the other sponsoring organizations of the Progressive Catholic Coalition [PCC].

Former WOC Board Member, Aileen Hayes, and WOC Assistant Director, Kate Conmy in 2011

Former WOC Board Member, Aileen Hayes, and WOC Assistant Director, Kate Conmy in 2011

On November 23 and 24, 2013, WOC sponsored the PCC information table and shared funding for the cost of space for Eucharist. The information table at the gates of Ft. Benning in Columbus, Georgia, shares information about church reform and the call for justice with thousands of participants in the SOAW Convergence.

The Eucharist, celebrated each of the previous nine years by two priests representing each gender, was led in 2013 by a group of five presiders, the majority womenpriests. In 2004, the first year of the PCC presence at SOA Watch, participants in the “Inclusive Catholic Liturgy” presided over by Crystal Chan of Call to Action and David Corcoran of CORPUS, brought 80 participants, twice as many as expected. And over the years since then, the number have grown. The past three years, funding by the sponsoring organizations of PCC as well as from individuals has allowed for reserving larger space in the Columbus Conference Center, this year attracting a record number of over 300 participants—all ages and various faith backgrounds.

In addition to providing the Eucharist, representatives of the organizations sponsoring PCC offer materials about each of the organizations at the PCC information booth at the gates of Fort Benning where the “School of the Assassins” is located. This year as in most years, SOAW participants came from as far away as Canada and Alaska; they came from as near as Duluth, Georgia. Veterans of, as well as those new to, the movement, they all came with one intention: to overcome the injustice of having a tax-supported U.S. Army training school where hundreds of graduates from dozens of Latin American countries over the years have been implicated in human rights violations and unspeakable atrocities against the people of their own countries.

378072_10150988562205368_514812028_nThe PCC Information Table was first sponsored in 2003, making 2013 the 11th year WOC has sponsored that phase of the PCC presence at SOAW. This was the 10th year at which a Eucharist has taken place at the event—with WOC as one of the sponsoring organizations of the PCC. The idea for promoting a coalition of reform groups was the brainchild of then-CORPUS Board member and FCM member Mary Ann Cejka. She suggested that—since there is a large number of young people from Catholic colleges among the thousands attending and they are not aware of the work of the “reforming church”—an information table at the SOAWatch gathering would promote awareness among this “next gen” population. Mary Ann was commissioned by the CORPUS Board to recruit other reform groups—among them, Call to Action, Federation of Christian Ministries, Future Church, New Ways Ministry, Roll Away the Stone, Women’s Ordination Conference, Roman Catholic Womenpriests (now Association of Roman Catholic Womenpriests. More recently CITI Ministries, Inc. has become a sponsor. “The Progressive Catholic Coalition” was the name chosen for the ad hoc grouping of reform organizations.

A VARIETY OF PARTICIPANTS

Over two thousand students, prison abolitionists, teachers, nuns, immigrants, musicians, farmers, activists and workers from across the Americas mobilized to the gates of Fort Benning from November 22-24, 2013. This diverse group joined once more to express our humanity and solidarity against the school of death and destruction. This year, those from Latin America and the Caribbean shared their stories with us about how they experienced and witnessed the bloody, violent and flagrant violations of human rights at the hands of graduates of the “School of Assassins”—a designation adopted by the SOAW after the U.S Army changed the name of the school because of the negative attention caused by SOAW’s revealing the notorious record of SOA graduates in carrying out violations of human rights by graduates trained at the U.S. Army school.

It was a true manifestation of the theme: “Justice – Not Impunity!” The speakers at the SOAW 2013 are listed at http://soaw.org/november/schedule/featured-speakers-at-the-2013-november-vigil/

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A PRISONER OF CONSCIOUS SPEAKS

One conversation during the weekend was most memorable. Nashua Chantal of Americus, Georgia, who has been a yearly participant at the SOAWatch gathering since 2005, had recently been released from Federal Prison after completing a six-month sentence for “crossing the line” in 2012. Undaunted, indeed encouraged, by his stint in prison, he joined in the weekend in his customary “sad” clown makeup and costume, with clothing and head inscribed all over with the words “Study War No More!” But this year was different. For the seven years he’d been there when I had photographed him, he had chosen to keep a silent vigil holding a purple banner proclaiming those same thematic words that covered him. This year he entered into conversation and posed with young people. His theme: “There’s a need to provide information with those in prison about the work of SOAW and the reason we’re here. With time on their hands, they can learn about the issues and become informed advocates for social justice.”

WHAT”S BEEN ACCOMPLISHED?

The question that often arises regarding the efforts of the SOAW is “Have the activities of the past years had any effect? What’s been accomplished?” The answer to that is both “Very much!” and “Not enough!”

VERY MUCH—So Far

On November 14, 2013 an SOA Watch delegation met with Denis McDonough, the National Deputy Security Advisor to President Obama in the White House, to ask that the SOA/WHINSEC be shut down by Executive Order. In January, 2014, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced legislation to suspend operations at the school and investigate human rights abuses in Latin America. H.R. 2989, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2013 renews the legislative efforts against the notorious U.S. military training institute, formerly known as the School of the Americas. Each year for the past few years, this resolution in various forms has gained co-sponsors, a necessary step to get it to the floor of Congress.

Through direct visits to the leadership of six countries in Latin America— Ecuador, Nicaragua, Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Venezuela—SOAW has been able to convince the administrations of those countries to stop sending their officers to SOA/WHINSEC for training.

At the end of March, 2014, hundreds of advocates for closing the SOA/WHINSEC took part in the “Spring Days of Action” converging on the halls of the U.S. Congress to speak to their representatives about the issues raised in H.R. 2989 and asking them to sign on as co-sponsors.

NOT ENOUGH – Where You Can Help

Getting H.R. 2989 to the floor of congress can be accomplished by a continued concerted effort by justice-seekers across the country. Readers can review the list of sponsors to see if their representatives have signed on to H.R.. 2989 at http://soaw.org/take-action/legislative/articles/4030-legislative-update-winter-2014

If their representatives are listed, call the congressional or local office to thank them for their support. If they’re not listed, call them to ask support by signing on as a co-sponsor.

Even if this resolution does not gain enough sponsorship to bring it to the floor of Congress in this legislative session, rep McGovern has pledged to reintroduce in future sessions. Contacting Congress about this resolution will not go out of style.

Further formation about the 2013 event is at http://www.soaw.org/news

Workshops offered at the event are listed at: http://soaw.org/november/conference/

A picture gallery of the weekend is at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/soaw/

Supporters of the movement are listed at: http://soaw.org/november/how-to-get-involved/soa-watch-is-grateful-to-our-many-supporters/

Ongoing news about the results of the work of the SOAW can be found at:

http://www.soaw.org/presente/index.php

REPRESENT WOC AT SOA WATCH 2014

Finally, please consider this a call to action to WOC members to take part in this ministry of justice. The SOA Watch is scheduled for November 22-23, 2014. Since 2004, the PCC planning group had begun preparations for the SOA Watch event with conference calls beginning in August. Members can contact WOC or Jack Wentland directly for details by emailing jackwentland @ gmail . com or calling 860-888-2502.

Lillian Lewis, ordained Roman Catholic Womanpriest

Lillian Lewis, ordained Roman Catholic Womanpriest

News of Lillian Lewis’ ordination by the Roman Catholic Womenpriests led to reflection about the many men and women who are profound ministers in my life. If they chose, I would support them in their call to the priesthood. Not all one billion worldwide Catholics can relate well to men. Furthermore, not all men are comfortable giving a sermon, and some might even agree that their female counterparts should step in for them. Women may not be competent or comfortable providing counseling that addresses some male issues; concurrently, men who do counsel as Catholic priests may feel similarly—or even inadequate—when it comes to addressing women’s issues.

Personally, both women and men have been influential as faith and life-guiding teachers—in a variety of ways. The Catholic Church has reached a stage where fewer men are called to the priesthood. Although this “personnel problem” may be a catalyst for women being called to the priesthood, this problem is not the sole reason for women seeking ordination Southwest Michigan’s Diocese of Kalamazoo released a document written by Bishop Paul Bradley that explains the impossibility of female ordination within the Catholic Church. He states that this impossibility “can be a difficult teaching for many because the priesthood is often seen through the lens of power and it can be easily forgotten that holiness is the [criterion] of greatness in the Church, not ordination.” Church leadership seems to assume that women seek ordination to gain power, but I view the Roman Catholic Womenpriests as merely seeking equal opportunity among men and women to serve and influence others positively in faith.

Common argument suggests that allowing women to enter the priesthood is a break from tradition—a value upheld proudly by the Catholic Church in a fast-changing society. What I question about the current state of the Catholic Church is its lack of optimism when it comes to weighing the possibility of positive change. This past Memorial Day weekend I experienced the consequences of the diminished availability of Catholic priests first hand. For years, my family and I have attended one of two Sunday morning masses at my grandmother’s home parish in a small summer vacation and farm community. However enjoyable this trip, faith community is important during times of rest and togetherness. We ended up having to travel to a parish in another town and participate in a mass with a priest who commutes between two parishes on a given Sunday in order to fulfill ritual obligation. I was glad to attend mass, but recognize disconnect between the message of a church that prides itself on tradition, and my experience with an unfamiliar community and faith leader.

The ordination of Lillian Lewis along with other women who feel called to the priesthood, and their acceptance by the Catholic Church, could have led to a parish appointment in my grandmother’s community. With a priest (male or female) dedicated to the local parish, a relationship bond could be developed and sustained, allowing return to what used to be a better and well-anchored faith community among permanent residents and visitors alike. Instead, we have an itinerant preacher focused less on the faith of a single community and more on the need to provide ceremony to multiple parishes in a given weekend.

Will Donahue

Will Donahue

 

Will Donahue is a student at Alma College, and a third year member of Interfaith Council and Alma Choir.

 

On the 20th anniversary of  Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, we were welcomed at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

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Holding the letters to Pope Francis outside St. Peter’s

More than 700 letters calling for discussion on women’s ordination were received by a top Vatican official, who accepted the letters and said: “This is amazing.” The stories and voices of those calling for women priests are being heard.
At a press conference earlier that day, the following remarks were shared: “Women’s Ordination Worldwide encourages Pope Francis to stop making Jesus the Vatican’s partner in gender discrimination. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis is an outdated, fallible and painful document created by his predecessors to diminish the leadership of women.  We are asking Pope Francis to open the doors of dialogue to talk with us about women’s ordination.” Read the full statement.  View the photo gallery.
Thank you to all those who submitted powerful and heartfelt letters to Pope Francis, and to all those who support our work. On this historic day, we took a step forward.

 

JpgBecause woman’s work in the Catholic Church is never done and is invisible or silenced or decided by men and we’re the first to get excommunicated and our sex organs are more important than what God calls us to do and if we preach the Gospel we are “female machismos” and if we are ordained it is illicit and if we raise our voices we are “chauvinists with skirts” and if we enjoy a woman preaching we’re “clericalized” heretics and if we don’t we’re “feminine geniuses” and if we love women it’s because we are disordered and if we ask our bishops not to be politicians and/or doctors we’re not even Catholic and  if we expect a role in the Church we’re selfish to want to be a mother and a decision-maker and if we stand up for our rights we’re “hostile to the Church” and if we don’t we’re good Catholic girls and if we want to get married it better be complementarian and produce children (without IVF) and if we don’t we’re maligning our greatest capacity and because the hierarchy continues to block our access to safe contraception but men can be Princes of the Church and because we’re still under the stained-glass ceiling of a Church whose doors are “definitively closed” we’re made to feel guilty for wanting more from “Super Pope” … and for lots and lots of other reasons we are part of the women’s ordination movement.

www.womensordination.org

Based on Joyce Stevens’ 1975 manifesto, because woman’s work is never done

What are some of your lots and lots of other reasons for being part of the women’s ordination movement

 

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On the recommendation of a WOC member, Sr. Beth, I had the opportunity to sit down to tea with two Italian members of her congregation, the Franciscan Sisters of the Poor here in Rome.

“Why did Sr. Beth tell you to contact me?”

Spunky didn’t quite translate as we both grabbed words and charades between languages to express ourselves; I settled for: “she said you’re fun and active.”

These women are active, spending their days (and more often, nights) with domestic violence victims and survivors, as addiction counselors, and supporting families in need. Repeatedly, the sisters expressed “living the Gospel” as the reason they came, and the reason they stay in the Church. Interestingly, the average age the Italian sisters in their order is 47 (in the U.S. it is closer to 70).

The sisters asked about my work, and I explained the work of the Women’s Ordination Conference, tacking on advocating for decision-making roles and true leadership for and by women in the Church.

Rapidly consulting via eyeballs, they said, “We are more comfortable because you said leadership.”  It became very clear that this was a cautious, official meeting. After sharing their personal stories of vocation (both involving an encounter with a younger, active nun), we discussed the differences between American sisters and Italian sisters, and the cultural perceptions of nuns. One of the sisters expressed that she did not want to be a nun because she still wanted to “be a woman” — referring to the genderlessness of nuns (as seen in Italy).

On the subject of women’s ordination the sisters expressed that is not their main concern: their vocation is to live the Gospel, and don’t see the priesthood as a prerequisite or a barrier to that end. However, they were very supportive of greater leadership roles for women within the Vatican, emphasizing their “good minds” and degrees: “We are ready to be chiefs.” The sisters also described that the role of the priest is transforming, and they wondered aloud what the future of the role of the priest will look like, especially as Francis is creating “extra-hierarchical” councils, and consultative bodies.

For many women’s ordination supporters, this perspective is difficult: for what greater leadership role is possible for women within our Church if it does not include the reception of the sacrament of Holy Orders? How can women be content with the requirement that a man must always preside at the liturgical sacrament celebration of the Eucharist? That a man must always preach the Gospel?  Is it not true that women can also represent Jesus’ continued presence among us?

In the conversation, I felt these sisters were responding based on their own calling, their own vocation, and not necessarily on the issue; just as I heard someone say recently, “I’m not called to the priesthood, but I am called to be preached to by women.”  I believe our work in the future is to make women’s ordination an inescapable “issue” for anyone in our Church who strives to live the Gospel, to work for justice. I’m so grateful for the time I spent with these amazing sisters, and pray for our continued partnership in the future. Thank you Sr. Beth!

 

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The Beginning of Lent, 2014

Dear Cardinal O’ Malley

I am writing to you and to all the ordinaries of the dioceses in the United States to ask you and your fellow bishops in your role as teachers to provide a clear and credible theological explanation of why women are not being ordained to the priesthood in the Catholic Church. I write not to challenge the teaching of Ordinatio Sacerdotalis on women’s ordination. Rather, my concern is the theological explanation of this teaching— theology being, as Anselm said, “faith seeking understanding.”

Two years ago, I wrote to all of you with the same request. At that time, I was teaching in the School of Theology and Ministry at Boston College. The teaching on women’s ordination was extremely important for many of the students—women, of course, but men as well—and a number of them were simply leaving the church because the theological explanation that was offered made no sense to them. Before my letter, I had already stepped aside from active ministry as a priest until women are ordained. After my letter, Jesuit-run Boston College terminated me as a professor. My provincial, with the urging of several archbishops, has given me two “canonical warnings” threatening me with being “punished with a just penalty” for voicing my concerns.

In case you are wondering who is writing to you, I am an Augustinian priest, solemnly professed for over 50 years. Before serving at Boston College (2003-2012), as Professor of the Practice of Pastoral Care and Counseling and Dual Degree Director (MA/MA and MA/MSW), I taught in the Graduate School of Religion and Religious Education at Fordham University (1981-2002). My areas of expertise are in pastoral care and counseling (Fellow, American Association of Pastoral Counselors) and the psychology of religious development (Ph.D., Psychology of Religion), areas that today would be considered practical theology. I also have graduate degrees in theology, philosophy, pastoral counseling, and social work.

I mention this background because as a practical theologian I too have questions about the theological explanation of why women are not ordained. In all of my study, in all of my training, in all of my counseling experience, and in all of my years of teaching I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are not fully able to provide pastoral care. Likewise, I have not come across a single credible thinker who holds that women are deficient in religious development or maturity. From the perspective of practical theology— a theology of the living church, a theology that takes experience seriously—I find absolutely nothing that does not support the ordination of women to priesthood.

It seems that Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, the document on the ordination of women that the Vatican and the bishops keep pointing to, is actually an historical explanation of the issue. It looks back at what it we think Jesus was doing in appointing the 12 Apostles. An historical explanation, however, raises a number of questions. Was commissioning the 12 a unique event? Did Jesus mean to ordain the way we understand ordination today? Was it the intent of Jesus to inaugurate ministry only males could carry out? Did he ever say this? Was Jesus only doing what he thought would work best in the patriarchal culture of his day? What was it about the religious role of the scribes and the Pharisees—all of whom were male—that so incensed Jesus? Was Jesus patriarchal? Did he see women as inferior to men? Did Jesus envision women in ministry? Finally, what about the history of ordination in the last two thousand years, an amazingly checkered history that clearly includes women?

The problem with historical explanations is that they suffer from an incomplete logic. They cannot complete the circle. On their own, they cannot say that “what was” also “had to be.” On their own, they cannot say that this particular event must have this particular meaning. History necessarily involves interpretation. Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, for example, gives a paradigmatic meaning to the commissioning of the 12 Apostles. Could not another perfectly logical interpretation of the meaning of that event be that a number of patriarchal men—then and now—were and are dead set against women having any authority over them?

If history is not a good proof, it does have many valid uses. A very brief look at the history of slavery, the history of racism/religious intolerance, and the history of women’s inferiority in the church is helpful in challenging our tendencies to absolutize as well as in chastening some our hallowed self-evaluations. Each of these three issues is about what makes us equal and fully human. Each is the cause of incredible violence—often in the name of God—violence that is beyond all telling.

  • Slavery—That men, women, and children would become slaves either by conquest, retribution, or inferiority was seen as something almost “natural.” Strangely, Jesus and St. Paul did not seem to have had a lot of problems with it. For centuries the permissibility of slavery was seen as part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church. Over time, however, and in conjunction with racism and religious intolerance, the thinking in the church changed dramatically. Now, the inherent evil of slavery is part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church.
  • Racism/Religious Intolerance—Jews came to be seen as “perfidious” and were severely persecuted. Muslims were “infidels” and had crusades led against them by the popes. It is fair to say that for centuries the inferiority of Jews and Muslims was part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church. Later, with the colonization of the Americas and then of Africa, the question was whether or not these native peoples were really human beings with souls like those of European males. It took a long time with immense suffering, but eventually the utter abhorrence of racism and religious intolerance became part of “the ordinary infallible teaching” of the church.
  • The Inferiority of Women—Women’s inferiority was seen as “natural” by the cultures that cradled Christianity. In our history, this inferiority was generously reinforced by the teachings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. These two wonderful theologians— arguably the two most influential in the West—not only questioned whether women had valid souls, but they outdid each other in describing women in the most vile and profoundly dehumanizing ways. No thinking in the church is more virulent and intractable than the patriarchal strain that so disrespects women. When the Vatican reasoned in the 1970s and 1980s that women could not be ordained because “they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus,” it was affirming an “ordinary infallible teaching” with roots incredibly deep in the substrate of our church.

A theological explanation weighs any issue against the core of the Christian message. It obviously takes historical events and their interpretations into account, but the focus is on those understandings of the Christian faith so central that our Christian identity and the very mean- ing of the faith are at stake. In their ordinary infallible teaching that women cannot be ordained in the church because “they are not fully in the likeness of Jesus,” the Vatican and the bishops were offering a much- needed theological explanation of the issue. It was an explanation meant to complete the circle, an explanation meant to settle the question of women’s ordination in terms of Christian identity.

Unfortunately, this teaching that “women are not fully in the like- ness of Jesus”—qualifying, as it does, as a theological explanation —is utterly and demonstrably heretical. This teaching says that women are not fully redeemed by Jesus. This teaching says that women are not made  whole by the saving favor of our God. This teaching says that the “catholic” church is only truly “catholic” for males. In time, many Vatican officials and bishops rejected the ordinary infallible teaching they had just affirmed. Now they say: “Of course, women are fully in the likeness of Jesus in the church.” Respectful words to be sure, but are they real?

We revere Jesus as priest, as prophet, and as ruler. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they fully share in the priesthood of Jesus—but in fact women are completely excluded from the priesthood of Jesus. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, they speak for God as Jesus did—but women are completely without voice in the church; as if they were children they cannot read the Gospel at the liturgy and are forbidden to preach the Word. If “women are fully in the likeness of Jesus” in our church, then they fully share in the formal authority of our church—but women, solely because they are women, are completely barred from church authority.

As a bishop, how long will you champion the inferiority of women in the church? How long will your teaching on women be an obvious and eye-popping contradiction? How long will your demeaning patriarchal stance violate women’s human and religious equality in God’s name?

Two more years have come and gone. The priests are voiceless. The academic theologians are nice and safe. The bishops make statements but do nothing that would be recognized as engaged teaching. The adults—desperate for something that respects their intelligence—leave the church in droves. How many serious people, young and old, have giv- en up on ever finding a theological explanation of women barred from priesthood—an explanation not hopelessly patriarchal and sexist, not serving inequality and subservience, not aiding and abetting violence?

Again, it is the beginning of Lent, a time of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, a time of for all of us in the church to be mindful of how we are in our caring and in our justice. Cardinal O’Malley, is providing a credible, non-heretical theological explanation of why women are not ordained in the church something you can do as part of your teaching responsibility as a bishop, as part of your caring and your justice?

Sincerely,
John J. Shea, O.S.A.

reprinted with permission

Read more on this story on National Catholic Reporter Online -Augustinian priest: Teaching that women are not like Jesus is ‘heretical’