The Table

 Yesterday, Pope Francis made headlines when he agreed  to set up a commission to study opening the diaconate to women. The unexpected news brought much joy to the many women who are called to serve as deacons in the Church.  Maria Angelika Fromm is one of those women. Upon hearing the news, Angelika wrote to WOC:

My first reaction was joy. There is movement. My second reaction was that women need ordination too, not simply a blessing, and not something separate or different from men. The permanent diaconate should be the same for men and women, and together they can minister for the special needs of the people. This would be a step toward ministries without hierarchy. Lastly, the Commission should include theological, pastoral, and historical specialists, men and women, who have worked for decades on this issue.

This is Maria Angelika Fromm’s story about her call serve in the diaconate.

Ifromm was born into a very Catholic family in the German Democratic Republic, known as East Germany, in 1951. In those days, everyone who disapproved of Communism could mainly chose between fleeing the country or retiring to a private life. For my family, living the Catholic faith and having a close bond with our church community was radical in the political climate. My naive-pious grandmother in particular gave me the foundation for a deep faith. Instead of joining the youth organization “Junge Pioniere,” I went to religious education classes in the afternoons and realized that politically, this was not approved of by the teachers. This made me stand up for my faith and live with the negative consequences from an early age.

When the political pressure increased, my family decided to risk the flight. As poor refugees, we moved to a Protestant neighborhood of Lower Saxony in former West Germany. Again, I found myself in the position of being an outsider, as the daughter of poor refugees and as a Catholic in a Protestant community. I continued to stand up for Catholicism, in a very traditional way, before the Second Vatican Council. My faith gave me strength in this position as an outsider.

I started reflecting on my faith in my teenage years, and, caught in the spirit of Vatican II, started studying the bible intensely. I soon discovered the question of women’s rights in the church. I asked myself, why are women so irrelevant in the Roman Catholic Church when Jesus of Nazareth had no problem including them in his circle of disciples and as leaders in his ministry? I also became aware of the fact that in the early church, women were deacons.

Full of enthusiasm, I decided to study theology in Münster, where many important theologians of Vatican II were teaching. In their traditional way of thinking, my family could not understand this decision and I had no financial support. Regardless, I knew being in charge of a parish was my vocation. Following Vatican II, I was full of hope that the church would allow women to hold office. At that time, a feminist approach to theology was not known in Germany. However, I wrote my thesis on the role of women in the New Testament. This thought was new and had to be approved by the University.

WOC_Rome 111I completed my studies in 1973 and took a position as a middle-school teacher for German and religious education. The office of pastoral associate had not yet been established, but I was volunteering for pastoral care at my school and in the parish. Regardless of my title, I was in charge of my parish’s liturgy without a problem, and I could feel the spirit of change within the German church. With my own family growing, I continued teaching and developed children’s and family church services. I was happy whenever I could read books about feminist theology, which was established in Germany in the late seventies. I lived my visions of holding an office through my volunteer work developing liturgies, and as a teacher for children and youth catechesis. The longer I established myself within my parish, the more I began to win over many of the parishioners with my new findings concerning feminist theology and women’s rights.

Then in 1994 I was hit by disappointment when women were officially excluded from clerical office by the Roman bulletin Ordinatio sacerdotalis, despite all the beautiful words about women’s dignity from John Paul II.  It was now obvious that the unjust canon – Canon 1024—was going to remain untouched and that the gaps within the hierarchy of the church were going to increase. I had reached a dead end.

Hope emerged in 1995, when the We Are Church movement started in Austria and Germany. It seemed like a new chance to get the rigid church moving again together with like-minded people. From its beginning, I enthusiastically participated within the movement, pushing for equal rights for women within the church.

In 1996, I was one of the co-founders of Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) at the European Women’s Synod in Gmunden, Austria. It was here that I noticed the purple stole on Myra Poole and Valerie Strout, women’s ordination advocates from the UK. Inspired by the idea,  I brought purple stoles  to Germany and together with other women of the We are Church movement, we expanded its meaning to be a visible symbol of demonstration for the equality of women in a changed and renewed Roman Catholic Church. Since the hierarchy denied feminist theologians from even discussing women’s ordination, the only thing left to do was to protest, in a public display of the truth.

During our demonstrations in the ensuing years, we have had hundreds of conversations with members of many parishes who do not have a problem picturing a woman pastor in today’s Germany.

In addition to my activism for women in the church, I continued to be committed to pastoral care and service to people on a volunteer basis. How I live and what I do is based on my vocation to be a deacon. The service of a deacon, the way of life, exemplified by Jesus, is a basic function of the church and is a viable option for women. Furthermore, a number of German theologians agree that administering the sacraments is part of liturgy—that women are already functioning as deacons. I do not believe that the 2000-year-old office of the priest, embossed by men, with exceptions in the early church, is desirable for women. Today, we need an office based on partnership. The permanent diaconate brought into being after Vatican II, has unfortunately not been opened for women yet. I believe opening the diaconate for women, based in partnership, would be a trend-setting way for the church to further develop this office and furnish it with new powers.

There is also a spiritual reason for my vocation. The phrase “scars are eyes” can be applied to my life. Many obstacles in my life, including flight from East Germany, divorce, and illness have opened my eyes to the misery of others. I consider it my obligation as a woman deacon to minister to those pushed to the margins and to meet them at eye level. After being pushed out of the parishes in my diocese because of my criticizing the church, I went back to university to study Islam and I have been participating in interreligious/intercultural dialogue for some years now. I have a vision of being a woman deacon who serves as mediator and bridge builder between the religions and cultures.

The continual unfolding of the healing feminine influence and the commitment to a joint understanding of peace and justice in our societies, despite crisis, are sources of energy for me, which let me prophetically live and endure in the Roman Catholic church.

Maria Angelika Fromm writes to us from Mainz, Germany. 

This is a guest post from Roy Bourgeois, Jane Via and Janice Sevre-Duszynska on their Holy Thursday witness outside the Vatican Embassy in Washington, D.C. on March 24, 2016.

From 2002 through 2016, the Vatican has condemned the ordination of women priests. Since the ordination of  “The Danube Seven” in 2002, the Vatican has tried a number of strategies to quash our movement: excommunication, silencing, shunning, firing and ignoring. Now ten years since the first U.S. ordinations on the boat in Pittsburgh, the door has been opened for the first time.

12042642_10156649068295368_1510251452953464461_nDuring Holy Week, March 24, the feast day of Oscar Romero, in the era of Pope Francis and his Year of Mercy, a conversation — turbulent at first — began.

Outside the Vatican Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, D.C. on Holy Thursday, March 24th the three of us — two women priests – Jane Via and Janice Sevre-Duszynska, and one excommunicated male priest –Roy Bourgeois — washed the feet of supporters on the sidewalk in front of the embassy as cars and buses passed on the busy road.

We prayed and shared our statement of purpose to Pope Francis and the Catholic Church calling for the full and equal inclusion of women and LGBT people.  We read from Scripture, and prayed again this time that church leaders would remember Jesus’ teaching to be servant leaders and love all disciples as Jesus had. We thanked those who gathered with us, re-read our statement of purpose lifted up our signs, and – still in albs and stoles – stepped onto Vatican property and walked toward the door. We had no idea how our action would play out.

Before we crossed the circle drive, suddenly filled with police vehicles, we were surrounded and intercepted by Secret Service officers announcing we were trespassing on private property and had to leave. We walked past and through them to the door where Roy posted our statement then rang the doorbell. To our surprise, the door opened and Roy was able to hand in a manila envelope with a signed copy of our statement asking that it be forwarded to Pope Francis. Then, we turned to face the street holding our signs for passing traffic to see. They read: Pope Francis: Ordain Women, God IS Calling Women To Be Priests and God Created US All Equal – Gay & Straight.

10649795_10156649068380368_3534668190522680447_nThe officers began the ritual notice: “You are on private property. If you don’t leave, you will be arrested. Do you understand?” Over the next two hours, one supervisor after another, each higher than the former, arrived at the embassy and spoke with us. There were pauses for radio calls, the arrival of even higher supervisors and then the announcements would begin again. The highest authority, who arrived in a suit, announced that he was from the State Department. He threatened us with the dire state of the D.C. jail and “the very bad people” we would share space with if we were arrested.

Intermittently, two to three officers would disappear around the side of the palace-like building to confer with the Papal Nuncio and staff. Eventually, the officers told us the Nuncio would like to meet with one of us, specifically a woman. We declined the invitation, suggesting the officer tell the Nuncio we would meet if all of us were invited. After all, we were only three people, not a crowd of protesters. Told, “That was not the invitation,” we remained silent.

The day became hot. We were dressed too warmly in order not to be cold in jail if we were held. The sun beat down on us. Above, the Papal flag, yellow and white, fluttering in the breeze, provided occasional relief, blocking the sun.

More negotiations between the officers and the Nuncio followed, until officers announced the Nuncio would come to us.

He came up the steps and onto the porch alone, while his staff remained in the driveway. Officers joined him on the steps, standing on either side and behind us. Wearing a Roman collar, the man introduced himself by title and, although we asked him several times, he declined to give his name.

524771_10156649068230368_4349012172086201206_nHe engaged Roy first, who tried to speak for LGBT people, how they suffer because of church teaching, and of God’s love for all people. The Nuncio kept interrupting him. He was arrogant, insolent in style and tone, lecturing us on church teaching, as if its truth was self-evident. The exchange became heated, raised voices talking over one another. Officers closed in on Roy, ready to restrain him if needed.  Janice intervened: “The Church’s teaching creates suffering for LGBT people and they are murdered in Africa and Latin America.” “They commit suicide,” Roy said and shared the difficulties of someone in his own family. The Nuncio replied that the church didn’t kill anyone; these people had their own consciences; they made their own decisions.

The Nuncio then invited one of us women priests to talk with him inside the embassy. We looked at each other, then said: “No, it would have to be all three of us in solidarity.”

Roy told him that the church was hurting women and itself by not ordaining women. The Nuncio said that issue had been a closed door since John Paul II.

“You need to read Catholic theologians Gary Macy and Dorothy Irving,” Janice said as he looked at her intently. “Their research gives evidence of women’s leadership in early Christianity including deaconesses, presbyteras and bishops up until the 12th century.” His face revealed no hint of surprise. “The US church has lost 33 million Catholics because its leadership has refused to hear the voice of the Spirit within the people who embrace women priests and LGBTs. There is a connection,” Janice said, “between the church’s oppression of women and violence toward women and their children in the world.” He responded that the church isn’t responsible for violence in the world.

Janice Sevre-Duszynska, 2013 Getty Image

Janice Sevre-Duszynska, 2013 Getty Image

When the Nuncio finally approached Jane, after again refusing to give his name despite very polite inquiry, told us he had been Nuncio since 2011, disclosing his identity as Carlo Maria Vigano, the Nuncio responsible for inviting Kim Davis — who refused to follow federal law and give marriage licenses to GLBT people — to meet Pope Francis, sparking a media firestorm and public outrage that the Pope embraced Davis and encouraged her to keep up her good work. Then Vigano, in an indignant and derisive tone asked, “Where did you get those?” in reference to the alb and stole Jane was wearing. The irrelevance of the question resulted in Jane’s blank stare and his move away. His comment reminded us of the Rome police asking Janice the same question in front of St. Peter’s Square before detaining her during the March 2013 papal Conclave.

As he was leaving, we told the Nuncio we would stay until we were assured Pope Francis received our statement of purpose. He said Francis would eventually get the statement – which he said he already read. As he neared the side of the building to return into the Embassy, he said, “You can stay as long as you like. If you need something to eat or drink let us know.”

Shortly afterwards, officers explained that the Nuncio declined to arrest us. We could stay. Most officers departed, leaving only two vehicles, on at each side of the circular drive.

Minutes later, we heard noise above us as we stood on the porch, holding our signs. Looking up, we saw the Papal flag disappearing into the embassy.

It was afternoon by now. We had had nothing to eat or drink since our early, light breakfast. We were glad we were fasting, delaying the inevitable as long as possible. We talked further about our witness here on the steps of the Vatican Embassy, the Nuncio’s choice not to arrest us, and how to proceed. We decided we would “occupy” the porch and lawn of the embassy for 24 hours from the time our trespass began. We would sleep on the porch of the Vatican Embassy on Holy Thursday.

Vatican8During the hours between 1pm and 8pm, Roy stood with his banner on the Vatican’s porch while Jane — whose arm was in a cast from her wrist to her elbow — and Janice held our signs for women priests and LGBT equality on the lawn until nightfall. We attracted the attention of thousands of drivers on busy Massachusetts Avenue, many who gave us thumbs-up or tooted their horns in approval. We also made friends with John Wojnowski, 73, who was sexually abused when he was 14 by a priest in Italy. John, who has been protesting with his huge sign – accusing the Vatican of protecting pedophiles — outside the embassy for 17 years, told us the incident changed who he was. “I’ve lived with the idea of committing suicide everyday (since),” he said.

As night fell, the wind picked up and it grew colder. We sat on the embassy porch bundled in our light jackets as a number of police squads pulled up. A plainclothes secret serviceman told us we would be arrested on his way to talk with the Nuncio. Meanwhile, friends arrived to take Jane and Janice to a restroom and provide water and blankets. We took only one blanket each, thinking we would spend the night in jail where the activists’ rule is: have your ID and metro card only. Roy had a different perspective. Throughout the day, he repeatedly told us, “The Vatican is not going to arrest women priests.”

Not long after our friends left, the secret serviceman announced, “The ambassador says it’s okay for you to stay overnight.” Initially too wired to sleep, we sat talking. About midnight, another friend and supporter arrived with wine and paper cups. Having had no solid food since early morning and few liquids, we drank cautiously. As the day had become night, the warmth became cold, and the wine warmed us and relaxed us.

Eventually, we laid down in a row, our heads next to the embassy door, with one thin blanket between us and the concrete and our stoles as our pillows. We cocooned ourselves in our individual blankets, warm but not warm enough, draped our signs over our blankets, and tried to sleep.

Friday morning, we woke to a cold but sunny morning. We left Roy to hold down the porch while we sought restrooms and coffee. Then we returned to the lawn and traffic for more witnessing.


Photo by Bob Cooke

At 10:00 a.m., 24 hours after our trespass began, we prayed with one another and packed to leave. As we stood on the sidewalk, the Nuncio came down the driveway toward us. His attitude was completely different. He acknowledged our courage and thanked us for being nonviolent. He said he wanted to shake our hands before we left.  He told us that Francis knew we were there and that Francis had received our statement. Another discussion began, but this time, he allowed us to speak. Though he never showed agreement, he listened. He expressed his belief that the demise of the Protestant churches is the result of the ordination of women and that LGBT people are as they are due to some sin in them. We gave him brief condensed versions of our most basic arguments. At his request, his priest companion, who was watching our interchange, took photos of us standing together and smiling.

As we were preparing to leave a cyclist passed us, then stopped and backed up. A young woman of about thirty, she smiled at us and asked if we were there the day before witnessing to women’s ordination. When we acknowledged we were, she thanked us and launched into a description of the theology course she was taking at Georgetown, their study of Canon 1024 (which says only a baptized male can be ordained) and her conviction that change in the church was so important. At that point, and for the first time, she looked directly at the Nuncio, the only one among us wearing a Roman collar, and said, “I hope that you decision-makers will be supportive.” With a smile and a wave, off she went. The three of us watched her go in amazement.

At one point in the conversation, Janice turned to address the priest who introduced himself as the Nuncio’s councilor. He repeated what the Nuncio had said before:  that the Church receives its instructions from God. Janice responded that Holy Spirit Wisdom, Sophia Wisdom, works through the church, especially the people of God, and transforms our thinking; that women are in need of feminine images of God because without them there is damage to our souls; that men can be filled with hubris and arrogance from not experiencing feminine images of God; that we need women to celebrate Eucharist – as womenpriests do – with our sacred, holy, feminine bodies.  Janice asked him if he was aware of femicide in our world. “We need the Gospels interpreted from the experience of women living and dying,” she said. “God speaks through the Church,” he replied.

Janice looked at him and smiled as a thought came through. “Didn’t St. Francis of Assisi teach the church?” she asked. His eyes lit up and he smiled. “So do women priests and the LGBT community,” she added.

Farewells said, including handshakes and Italian kisses on the cheeks, the Nuncio left and we climbed into a cab.

We reflected on how events had unfolded in unimaginable and remarkable ways. We think the Spirit moved all of us, in and out of the embassy, so that seeds were planted in the hearts of decision-makers; but only time will tell. For us, a night in the DC Metropolitan jail sharing a bare metal bed with herds of cockroaches, will have to wait for another day. Meanwhile, perhaps the Vatican is listening…Like the persistent widow of Luke’s gospel, we keep knocking at those decision makers’ doors.

More photos from this witness, by Bob Cooke

Holy Thursday Prayer Ritual, by Jane Via and Janice Sevre-Duszynska

Bridget Mary Meehan’s Blog on the witness, including the Statement delivered to the Nuncio

In it’s third year, the “Voices of Faith” project, hosted at the Vatican’s Casina Pio IV on International Women’s Day, brought together men and women in this Jubilee year, under the theme “Mercy Requires Courage.” I was honored to be included as a guest for the second time, and am continually grateful for the powerful platform that the Voices of Faith organizers have cultivated to bring attention to women in our Church and in the world. 

voices-of-faith1“Our speakers show that it takes courage to overcome adversity and become a leader. It takes courage to break through traditional barriers to access and provide education; to venture into war- torn countries; to help war victims believe in peace.” – Chantal Götz, managing director of Voices of Faith, an initiative of the Fidel Götz Foundation (FGF).

The first portion of yesterday’s celebrations presented powerful witnesses to women’s tenacity and strength despite every opposition. The depth of spirit and courage of these women and the witness of their experiences will continue to inspire me. I have never doubted the strength of Catholic women, and these women’s extreme circumstances and passionate resolve brought a stark and emotional reminder to the realities of many of our sisters around the world. 

For several of the speakers, the undercurrent of their story was access to education and opportunity – which often was coupled with an intervention or encounter with women religious or Jesuits. As many of us can relate: the prayerful relationships and the ministry of those on the margins is a saving grace. While we heard many “success stories” of women pursuing education, families resettled into safe housing and secure countries, speaker Cecilia Flores-Oebanda reminded us that it is, “back to the battleground…” — our work continues. Painfully, the justice in these stories seemed too isolated, often foundation-driven, and without systemic support. Several omissions were obvious, especially considering the number of times pregnancy and young mothers and brides were invoked without a sense of pressure toward the Catholic Church’s role in sexual and women’s health around the world. 

I was reminded of a brilliant paper given by theologian Nontando Hadebe during a meeting of  the “Theological Colloquium on Church, Religion, and Society in Africa,” at the Jesuit-run Hekima University College this past July. Speaking specifically about the kidnappings and violence of Boko Haram, and the Black Lives Matter movement:

“How outraged are we?… There just needs to be an institution that says no — no more! We need an institution that is outraged and that sustains that outrage as a prophetic teaching.” – Nontando Hadebe

After last year’s event I also wrote: “If only the church could institutionally and spiritually support these women in their work, and in the world. Imagine if the church hierarchy actually expressed faith in these voices.”

The second half of the afternoon was meant to “stir the pot” a bit more and focus multi-generationally and introspectively on the theme of expanding women’s leadership in the Church. Moderated by the international director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, Fr. Thomas Smolich SJ, five women had a conversation about “What women want.”

The first round of comments seemed to express a great satisfaction and pride with all of the ways women are the “heart of the Church,” working on the margins and taking leadership in their communities. A common statistic of women’s achievements in the Church was used, citing that several Catholic organizations and institutions around the world are run by women, and moreover 80% of parish work is done by women.  Dr. Carolyn Woo, president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, USA and panelist, reaffirmed that “women’s impact is felt.”

At this time, I wrote in my notebook: “So everything is fine?”

The panel continued with some familiar but important sentiments of women feeling (or being told to feel) they are not Catholic “enough,” stories of questions and doubt in one’s faith (“Why can’t women do this?”), the realities of Catholic women feeling unwelcome. Here was an obvious absence of clear reasons why one might feel unwelcome in a parish.  However, very quickly the panel seemed to answer its own questions with the antidote that women have vital work in the church as consulters, advisors, role models, and mothers. There was great enthusiasm around possible ways to increase women’s presence through advisory appointments, consultative roles, and specific mention of the Pontifical Council for the Laity and the Family.

Living in Rome, I have come to observe this linguistic dance as “Rome double-speak” — praising women, naturally, and then engaging euphemisms about what leadership might be available without specifics. It sounds good: “visible at every level,” “women’s leadership,” but vague enough to let the listener imagine (or wish) the subtext.  In particular, the energetic remarks of Yale Divinity School student Nicole Perone, which championed that women can aspire and achieve any position in secular society, fell short in mentioning ministerial positions for women, or the “ordination requirement” to most positions of authority in the Church.


“What women want: a multigenerational conversation on expanding women’s leadership in the Church”

Dr. Carolyn Woo then shared a powerful and frequent image of a closed door for women: women knocking, knocking, but someday “they will stop,” and we will have the silence of not knocking.  Dr. Woo then shared five points, which elevated the panel and, admittedly, broke some hearts:

  • Women in roles of authority in the Church must move from being the “exceptional to the habitual.”
  • Are women engaged as family, as guests, or as guest-workers in the Church? 
  • Are the voices of women seen as threatening or enriching?

“I think because so much of the conversation, particularly the dominant conversations and the loudest conversations, have focused on women’s ordination — which is off the table — but whenever women plead, or speak, or recommend, or propose there’s this skepticism or suspicion: Is this conversation leading to ordination? Is this a slippery slope so that everything women want is eventually to the priesthood?… I think that is unfortunate because along the way we fail to hear … the voices of the mothers, of the single mothers, of the lay pastoral associates.” – Dr. Carolyn Woo

At this point,  I was shocked at this hard line, which considering the coded language surrounding the rest of the panel, felt cruel to articulate.  Ordination for women remains an open, painful, and crucial issue for Catholics around the world. For those who care deeply about the Catholic Church, justice, and empowering women “at every level,” this anti-women speak is damaging to any collective vision and work for the equality and dignity of all women.

  • What is the feminine genius? Often it is confused with women’s sensitivity: “But what about women as social critics or social activists like Dorothy Day? What about women who are scandalous like Dorothy Day and Mary Magdalene and the woman at the well?”
  • A sense that we need to talk about women’s rights in the world, including owning land, and options outside of “being married off.” However, women should not seek titles or privileged statuses.

(What a rollercoaster!)

In an equally painful moment, Geralyn Sheehan later affirmed Woo’s point by saying that she doesn’t want to be a priest. This individual reasoning fails to grasp the broader scope of the discrimination of women in the Church, and frankly misses the point. 

While there were beautiful and empowering soundbites throughout the panel, an opportunity was lost to speak truth to questions surrounding why women (and men) leave the Church, namely by dismissing the vocation of priestly ordination (and its current link to roles of authority in the Church), skirting issues of LGBT Catholics, and omitting the reproductive healthcare of women. If women continue to speak in coded language about “what women want,” then I believe we are knocking on the wrong door. 

I encourage all of you to watch the recorded video and engage your communities in discussion. The Voices of Faith team use the hashtag: #AllVoicesCount, so in that spirit, please use that hashtag and share your reactions on social media.

Again, I am grateful for the platform Voices of Faith have continued to cultivate these past few years: it is an important witness for women everywhere and a step forward for the Vatican. We at WOC pray for the International Women’s Day where all voices count, and all issues are on the table.


Recommended Reading:

Today, International Women’s Day (March 8), is a global day dedicated to celebrating women’s social, economic, cultural and political achievements. On this day in 1857, hundreds of women in New York City’s garment and textile factories staged a strike in protest of long working hours, inadequate pay, poor working conditions, and the lack of the right to vote.  This event marked the first recorded organized action by working women anywhere in the world.  Again on March 8, 1908, roughly 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding economic justice.

Mommy For Pope

Tiny WOC activist, Aurora, spreading her message for women’s equality in the church (Thanks to her mom, former Board Co-President, Johanna Hatch, for the photo) #MommyForPope

In the same feminist spirit of International Women’s Day, the Women’s Ordination Conference affirmed a strong commitment to economic justice and updated employee policies to reflect our feminist values.  The WOC National Board of Directors met this past weekend for its annual winter meeting.  The board unanimously approved an updated employee policy manual, which includes the following feminist policies:

  • Flexible Work Hours
  • Lactation Friendly Workplace
  • Paid Family Leave for Full-Time Employees (up to 8 weeks)

It should be noted, WOC’s paid leave policy extends beyond traditional maternity leave to include partner support following childbirth, adoption, elder care, family emergencies, and other related medical circumstances.  

Research has shown paid family and medical leave produces significant positive benefits for working families, employers, and the economy. According to the U.S. Department of Labor:

  • “Paid maternity leave can increase female labor force participation by making it easier for women to stay in the workforce after giving birth, which contributes to economic growth. When parents are better supported at work through paid family and medical leave, they are also less likely to rely on public assistance benefits.”
  • “Paid leave leads to better outcomes for parents and children. Maternity leave improves child health outcomes, including increased birthweight, decreased premature births and decreased infant mortality. Paid leave encourages men to take paternity leave and serve as caregivers, which has a number of positive effects for families.”

The research also proves organizations offering paid leave have greater worker retention, less turnover, and save significant costs associated with replacing employees and training new staff.

Paid leave is at the center of national debate on worker’s rights.  As a member, donor, and employee of WOC, I am beaming with pride that our small but mighty organization is leading the way on the issue.  As a supporter of WOC, you already contribute to WOC’s feminist social justice values. I hope you, too, feel proud in our latest policy changes.  We’d love to hear your feedback. Please feel free to comment below or email me your comments directly at [email protected]. Happy International Women’s Day!  


Like baby Aurora’s “Mommy for Pope” onesie in the photo above? You can purchase “Mommy for Pope” merchandise at our online store here:

samoa_cookieArchbishop Robert Carlson won’t be stocking up on Thin Mints and Do-si-dos this year. He’s on a one-man crusade to rescue Catholic girls in the St. Louis Archdiocese (former home to ecclesiastical fashion icon, Cardinal Burke) from the corrupting influences of Girl Scouting.

Having read the Archbishop’s letter, I’m quite certain it isn’t Catholic values that are incompatible with Girl-Scouting (as he claims), but the values of a man who fears that which he cannot control: skilled, confident, self-sufficient women.

Let’s glance at a few of Girl-Scouting’s accomplishments over its 100-year history in the United States to decide for ourselves whether the Archbishop disbanded the Catholic Committee on Girl Scouts to protect the well-being of Catholic girls, or something else.

However you slice it, Girl-Scouting boasts an impressive record of preparing girls to live exemplary lives. Take a look at these numbers:

  • Seventy-five percent of current female senators are Girl Scout alumnae.
  • Fifty-three percent of women currently in the House of Representatives are Girl Scout alumnae.
  • Five of the six current female governors are Girl Scout alumnae.
  • Every female secretary of state in U.S. history is a former Girl Scout: Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Clinton.

Of course, you’d have to believe that women belong in high-profile leadership roles to value the above points.

How about business? It looks like Girl Scouting has that covered too:

  • More than half (52%) of women in business are Girl Scout alumnae.
  • Older women in business are more likely to have been Girl Scouts as girls; sixty-one percent of businesswomen age 65 and older are Girl Scout alumnae, as are 56 percent between the ages of 45 and 64.
  • More than half (57%) of Girl Scout alumnae in business say that the Girl Scout Cookie Program was beneficial in the development of their skills today.

Remember #GodLovestheGirlScouts?

Again, if female empowerment isn’t a value the Archbishop holds dear, it would be quite easy to dismiss these statistics as inconsequential.

STEM anyone? Opportunities for girls to explore science, technology, engineering, and math are made possible in Girl Scouting by partnerships with AT&T, Lockheed Martin, and NASA. Interestingly, more than 20 NASA career astronauts were former Girl scouts, and the first woman to spacewalk, Dr. Kathryn Sullivan was, you guessed it, a Girl Scout.

Girl Scouting can even take credit for having been ahead of its time in 20th century America. Efforts began to desegregate scouting in the 1950s, causing Dr. Martin Luther King to identify Girl Scouting as “a force for desegregation.”

But, maybe forward-thinking isn’t the Archbishop’s cup of tea.

While the benefits of Girl Scouting may not be obvious to the Archbishop, one hopes he’s aware that the Girl Scouts, in addition to the innumerable growth opportunities it offers, also affords girls the chance to earn religious recognition awards developed and administered by their chosen faith community. The Roman Catholic Church currently offers seven of them.

At the end of the day, it’s lay Catholics who decide if their daughters join the Girl Scouts, not the Archbishop. If the Catholic girls of St. Louis are going to benefit from Girl Scouting, they’ll have to join troops outside of the Church, because the Archbishop has closed that door (why does that sound familiar)?

Buy cookies, my friends.

MMACCRecently I had the opportunity to speak with an incredible community in San Diego, the Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community (MMACC). This is a community that I continually refer to when asked about the variety of women priests’ communities and ministries. MMACC is a thriving parish of around one hundred families, celebrating more than a decade of community and social engagement. They have been featured for their activism and leadership in TIME magazine, O Magazine, LBGTQ Nation, and others.  From their website:

Although we remain a work in progress, we are a vital, engaged, community of believers committed to gender equality in the church, contemporary theology and service to one another and the world. The vision unfolds.  – Jane Via, RCWP

Their current pastor, Nancy Corran and pastor emerita and WOC board member, Jane Via invited me to visit and speak with the community. It was an incredible opportunity and fortuitous lectionary to share the mission of the Women’s Ordination Conference and the ways each of us are vital to our successes.

Here is a video clip of my presentation:


Katherine Philipson

Dear Women’s Ordination Conference Members and Supporters,

I’m joyful to start work this week as WOC’s new Office Manager based in Washington D.C. It’s an honor to get to work for a courageous, visionary organization advocating for women’s ordination and for a more feminist, anti-racist, and accountable Catholic Church.

I’m originally from Oregon where both of my parents are retired ministers in the United Methodist Church. All of my life, my mother has nurtured inspired me with her extraordinary love, wisdom, and leadership in our family and in the church – so working toward women’s ordination is also personal for me.

Outside of my time with WOC, I currently serve as a volunteer leader with three newer organizations: the U.S.-Africa Network -which fosters relationship and solidarity among progressive activists from the U.S. and the African continent, 99Rise which organizes civil disobedience to get money out of politics, and the D.C. chapter of Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) which organizes white people to participate in the multiracial struggle for racial and economic justice. I also love to sing and am part of a women’s social justice a cappella ensemble.

If I can be of assistance with donations, newsletters, WOC materials, or other inquiries, please feel free to be in touch with me by e-mail, phone, or mail. I look forward to getting to know you!


Katherine Philipson
WOC Office Manager

Contact :
[email protected]
Office phone: (202) 675-1006

PO Box 15057
Washington, DC 20003

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”
― Arundhati Roy

Margaret Johnson, WOC Board Member

Margaret Johnson, WOC Board Member

As a feminist Catholic and advocate for women’s ordination, I bring Christ to birth in bearing witness to and helping to build the movements that are transforming our Church. I joined the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) and became more engaged in WOC’s work in the aftermath of the April 2012 Vatican mandate against LCWR and the resulting creation of the Nunjustice Coalition. In the years since, I’ve continually reminded myself of LCWR President Sr. Pat Farrell’s exhortation from that time, “You can crush a few flowers, but you can’t hold back the Spring.”

What strikes me as so inspiring in her words is the inevitability and trust that spring will emerge from the darkness of winter. We are in dark times, in our church and our world. The power of living in this dark pregnancy of winter shows up in the ongoing work that must be done in order to stay in the struggle. This is internal work, spiritual work. It’s prayer. And it can be difficult.

In my time as a WOC board member and in progressive Catholic spaces such as Call To Action and Guerrilla Communion, I’ve had soul-baring conversations with women and men, sharing and holding each other’s dreams and visions, our wounds and battle scars. This internal work is also done by discerning how we are being called, as people dedicated to intersectional social justice work, to continue to renew our practices and challenge our assumptions so that we better reflect the prophetic call of equality and dignity for all in the Church.

I’ve witnessed this force additionally in the outward work of organizing and building this movement. In September, I was honored to be a part of the third Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) conference: Gender, Gospel, and Global Justice, held in Philadelphia. The WOW conference, representing 19 countries, was a tremendous outpouring of the global community of feminist Catholics who came together to stand up for justice in the Church. A few days later, during the Pope’s visit to Washington, D.C., I watched seven brave people of faith, including four women priests, commit nonviolent civil disobedience outside St. Matthew’s Cathedral and succeed in getting Pope Francis’ attention. Their signs read: “Pope Francis: Ordain Women,“ “Primacy of Conscience,” “Women Priests are Here” and “Lift Excommunication.”

Action for women's ordination in September 2015 in Washington, DC

Action for women’s ordination in September 2015 in Washington, DC

These were powerful, prophetic events. It might seem that the energy and exuberance that was felt in their midst would indicate that these moments, indeed, were marking the coming of our inevitable Spring. But in reality we are still in the darkness. We feel the biting cold, surrounded by the vastness of the night sky, and we are temped to feel overwhelmed. We find ways to stay present and celebrate. We create light for each other in small ways, knowing that the daylight grows a little longer each day. Soon, our seeds will sprout and the flowers will bloom. And the bright light of the sun will finally shine down on our vision realized of a Church that welcomes all at the table.

Margaret Johnson is a massage therapist and life coach living in Washington, D.C. and serves on the board of directors of the Women’s Ordination Conference. She has served as a Jesuit volunteer, a Catholic Worker, and a parish social justice minister. This post is cross-posted on the Call To Action blog here.


For the past few weeks in Rome there have been countless celebrations of “50 years since” Vatican II created commissions, congregations, documents, you name it. A group called “Council 50” is joining the party this weekend with their own international conference. The effort will bring 100 delegates and participants from around the world: Burkina-Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, Togo, South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Mexico, the United States, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, South Korea, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Poland, Spain, and the United Kingdom.Council 50

I first attended a planning meeting for Council 50 back in February 2014, when my colleague and I fondly dubbed it, “The Great Mystery,” for a then-foggy agenda (likely lost in translation) and an all together unfamiliar Italian meeting style. Now, having lived in Italy, I suspect this was more of normal processing/chaos that is often kept hidden in the interest of la bella figura, but nevertheless results in something lovely (/functioning/superior, etc). Living in Italy is having to trust what seems like chaos (the looming piles of papers in government offices, for instance, the lack of computerized systems…), and suspending “American logic,” with faith in what one cannot understand.

The organizers of Council 50 have diligently met and shaped a program that is both clear and open for Mystery. When I was part of the planning team, the aims were to bring the People of God together from around the world to share how they are “being Church,” in their political-sociological-historical-cultural contexts. To raise up the work of base communities and extra-parochial Christian missions and produce a Charter informed by the weekend’s dialogues. The Charter, “A Pact of the Disciples of Jesus,” is based on the structure of the Pact of the Catacombs and proposes a commitment to “reorient our world… into a world of peace, justice and solidarity,” and “work for the revival of our Church.” Currently there is a draft framework that will be cultivated and shaped by the participants of the conference.

On Saturday there will be a keynote address by one of my increasingly favorite theologians, Dr. Nontando Hadebe, a theologian from South Africa and Zimbabwe (and contributor to the “Catholic Women Speak” book), and workshops co-facilitated by some familiar names such as Jamie Manson from the National Catholic Reporter and Christian Weisner from International Movement We Are Church, and many less familiar names that I am excited to hear from.

Italian Carabinieri officers check a nun as she arrives to attend Pope Francis’ Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (Photo courtesy Reuters/Tony Gentile.)

Italian Carabinieri officers check a nun as she arrives to attend Pope Francis’ Wednesday general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican. (Photo courtesy Reuters/Tony Gentile.)

This past week Rome has been in the news for threats of violence and terrorism, and I’ve witnessed a very visibly increased military presence everywhere from my local metro stop to surrounding St. Peter’s Square.

Yesterday the U.S. State Department issued Security Warnings for the Vatican and the Duomo in Milan, and “general venues such as Churches, synagogues, restaurants, theatres, and hotels.” The Year of Mercy has sparked even greater security concerns, with millions of pilgrims headed to Rome. My Italian tutor even expressed that she wished Pope Francis would cancel the Jubilee because she doesn’t trust the security measures (not to mention it is riddled with typical planning delays and daily criticisms in Italian papers).

But as Fr. Lombardi has said, this is why we need a Jubilee Year more than ever:

“I would say that the Jubilee of Mercy shows itself even more necessary. A message of mercy, that love of God which leads to mutual love and reconciliation: This is precisely the answer we must give in times of temptation to mistrust.”

Admittedly, I am nervous here.  But this weekend, I will trust the Great Mystery – in what feels like chaos and in what I cannot know – and gather with the international community to share in the Gospel call for justice and peace.

Last week two colleagues and I went to the Pontifical Council for Culture to meet with a top secretary to share about our working group in Rome and to learn more about the “Women’s Consultation Group” of the Council. Our 1.5 hour meeting, in Italian, was very friendly and open. The official we met with was quite pleased with the work that the Council does with women and happy to share. He serves as the facilitator of the Women’s Consultation Group.

vatican-womenAs you will recall, the Council for Culture hosted several gatherings on the topic of “Women’s Cultures” early in 2015, notably the “Life of Women” campaign to the great befuddlement of the media and most outside the Vatican. WOC initiated several call to actions on social media to counter the non-ironic request of the Council to share (in one minute, for one week):  “who you are, what you do, what you think about your being a woman, your strengths, your difficulties, your body, and your spiritual life.” 

These questions came from a “Women’s Consultation Group,” which the official we met with explained began while preparing for the year’s theme on women. The organizers within the Council, and particularly Cardinal Ravasi, had the idea to consult some women on this topic and invited a group within Italy to share their expertise and thoughts. This is a frustrating point for many as there was no formal or apparent process for who was invited or not.

After the Plenary session (here is my write up about it) at the Teatro Argentina in Rome and following meeting, the Council decided to make the women’s group a stable consultive commission, meeting approximately three times a year, if possible. The group is now about 30 women, most who live in Italy (to keep costs low, he said), and some who are abroad and are called for advice on specific topics or themes via Skype. The group has met once since the Plenary, and will meet again in December.

We Are Church Ireland

We Are Church Ireland demonstration

These women are “advisors,” and as my colleague said, “advisors don’t have to be asked to advise.”  The “extra”-curial nature of the group is clear, and an obvious reminder of the continued lack of systemic or institutional agency of Catholic women. However, the official shared that some of the controversial output of the Council were the decisions of the women’s group, including the Man Ray image used on the Council’s website, and the choice of actor for their campaign video. 

He shared that there is great interest in this Consultative group, and the Council receives many requests from outside the Curia for more information about the group. When asked if this model could be used in other Councils in Rome, he said that within the Curia there is not much interest.  

Interestingly, the official noted that Catholic women from the US “targeted” the Council for Culture, for what he explained as accusing the Council of “always showing the same image of women as victims or mothers.” Similarly, there has been criticism that the women’s names are not listed on their website, to which the official shared that it is hard to maintain because of the changes in the group and in attendance.

What I found most interesting about our meeting was when the Monsignor shared his thoughts on women leaving parishes as “una fuga.” Reflecting on his own sister’s criticism of the Church, he said the Church must answer the question of why women are leaving parishes and this is why it is so important to listen to women today. The model we have now for women does not work and so we have to create new models, he said.

The official gave us each a copy of the Council’s quarterly booklet, “Culture e Fede” published with essays in English, Spanish, French, and Italian. I was surprised to read several pointed critiques of the documents of the Council and consultative group in the publication. In particular, a reflection from Prof. Edward J. Alam, suggested the “philosophical and theological and historical poverty” of the western-centric outlining document, as well as the “fundamentally flawed assumptions in the text,” written without great discussion.

“…On page 17, “[I]t is not a question of bringing about a revolution against tradition,” revealed what the burning issues really was: the ordination of women to the ministerial priesthood. This was confirmed to me in the many informal discussions I had with participants outside the formal meetings. I wish there had been an emphasis of the priesthood of all believers, which both men and women participate in through their baptisms, and a more serious focus on those profound truths such as “women were the first believers, the first witnesses,” but these fundamental facts, to my dismay were dismissed in the text as mere “rhetoric and cliches.”

And a contribution from Ulla Gudmondson, Ambassador of Sweden to the Holy See (2008-2013):

“Isn’t it time for the Catholic Church to apply once again, as as the Second Vatican Council, the twin methods of aggiornamento, absorbing process in the secular world, and ressourcement, digging deep in its own rich tradition, to make way for the free and full participation of both women and men, as creative human beings, at all levels of Church life?”

To my delight, Ulla also quotes Pippi Longstocking: “Whoever is very strong must also be very kind.”

Overall, I was impressed with the time and space this official gave our small delegation, and with his familiarity of many of the critiques of his office and efforts. As opposed to being detained (listen at 45:32) outside the Vatican, I’ll take it.