The Table

“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.

Sr. Carmen Sammut, a Missionary Sister of Our Lady of Africa originally from Malta and president of the International Union of Superior Generals (UISG) shared her experience as a non-voting auditor of the recent Synod on the Family this morning in Rome. Nearly 125 attended the public event to hear Sr. Carmen’s perspective on the three-week process.

Sr. Carmen Sammut and Pope Francis

Sr. Carmen Sammut and Pope Francis

The other sisters auditing the Synod were Religious of the Sacred Heart of Mary Sr. Maureen Kelleher, a founding member of NETWORK and a lawyer, and Costa Rican Capuchin Sr. Berta Maria Porras Fallas. Here is Sr. Carmen’s intervention.

Sr. Carmen began by reminding the group that in 2014 Extraordinary Synod, UISG was not invited, despite meeting with Vatican officials and sending letters requesting an invitation, while five invitations were extended to male religious (USG). This year, after meeting with several other Vatican officials again, the sisters were given three seats, compared to the ten for men. “Do not think it was automatic!” 

Sr. Carmen shared that she met Pope Francis briefly during a coffee break and informed him of this, giving him an invitation to the upcoming UISG meeting in May 2016. Pope Francis said he had not received any letters (despite UISG being assured by high-level Vatican officials they would be delivered). The next day, UISG received a hand-written, hand-addressed note from Pope Francis, and the following day, a fax with scheduling information arrived. “When they want things settled, they are settled very quickly!”

Carmen also joked that in 1974, two sisters were included in the Synod, and forty years later they have three seats. (50% increase?)…

UISG meeting with Sr. Carmen Sammut

UISG meeting with Sr. Carmen Sammut

It is clear to say that Sr. Carmen was guided by the words of Pope Francis throughout the Synod. She quoted at length from his presentation during the 50th anniversary of the Synod of Bishops, where Pope Francis described his vision of a listening Church: base/particular communities, Conference of Bishops, and Synod of Bishops as an “inverted pyramid” of a Synodal Church. She reflected on how quietly engaged he was throughout the Synod, without interrupting the process. 

Sr. Carmen chose to be in a French speaking small group which followed a “See,” “Judge,” “Act,” model as they progressed through the working document. The weakness of this method, she suggested, was the abundance of material and the lack of prayerful time to discern and “distinguish the movements of the Spirit,” and to be able to “go beyond one’s own wants.”

In Sr. Carmen’s small group, she described the time spent talking about one’s families in all of their diversity and struggles as the easiest and most encouraging: “The image I thought of was of the Risen Christ, showing his wounds.” She also shared that the issue of permanent ordained women deacons was discussed a couple of times in her small group.

en_banner_invitation_carmen_synodIt was only at the end of the second week that the auditors were allowed to give their interventions, which meant that Sr. Carmen described feeling somewhat “anonymous” until after she had spoke. Among many flaws in this system, a  “major flaw” was that by the end of the second week the Synod had worked through the first two parts of the working document, and would not likely return to it in light of an auditor’s intervention referring to an earlier section. 

Similarly, when it came time to review the document to be voted on, auditors were not given copies to read. Without knowing what specifically was being referred to, Sr. Carmen described feeling concerned about some of the comments shared… and hoped it was not the whole group who wanted to keep the status quo. At the same time, Sr. Carmen described feeling sorry for the bishops for the first time in her life, (and especially those who do not speak Italian): the hard questions of living and teaching love and mercy, for being free enough to live beyond fear, to hold Church doctrine, teaching, and the needs of the people together. She suggested that this underlined the role of religious in our Church, as prophetically living this responsibility.

Following Sr. Carmen’s presentation, several questions from UISG members came about the role of women in the Church, and if there were threads of what a “theology of women” could mean, if bishops seemed interested in talking about women? Carmen shared that the role of women was one topic among so many, and not until she spoke did many of the bishops seek her out.

Miriam Duignan and Kate McElwee in St. Peter's Square

Miriam Duignan and Kate McElwee in St. Peter’s Square

In the end, Sr. Carmen seemed encouraged that the “Holy Spirit is still walking with the Church,” and “they didn’t forget us completely.” I don’t think that anyone in the room was satisfied with the inclusion of women in the Synod, but many expressed that the paragraph specifically on women (27) was strong, discussing violence against women and greater decision-making roles for women in the Church:  

Può contribuire al riconoscimento sociale del ruolo determinante delle donne una maggiore valorizzazione della loro responsabilità nella Chiesa: il loro intervento nei processi decisionali, la loro partecipazione al governo di alcune istituzioni, il loro coinvolgimento nella formazione dei ministri ordinati.

The sisters were overwhelmingly pleased to have Sr. Carmen represent UISG and women religious at the Synod. Sr. Carmen offered two questions to conclude her reflection, asking UISG and leaders of their congregations to think about: “How does the Synod influence us (religious)?” and “What should the topic of the next Synod be? What do we want Bishops to study?”

Sometimes it is hard to emotionally sort between relief that something is over, and the feelings that will come. I will share more details of my own thoughts in another post, but briefly: the sense I get in Rome is that most are satisfied that the Church did not go backwards, left openness on some issues to be interpreted by Pope Francis, raised up the concept of the internal forum, and real questions about women were raised (if not really discussed, or discussed with women). No women voted, but a lay man did. Pope Francis’ leadership style was tested, and eventually respected. The Institutional Church talked (to itself) for the first time in many years. 

Suggested Reading:

At Synod Closing, Pope Stresses Inclusion, Open Hearts, Mercy (New Ways Ministry)

The Bishops Bend, The Pope Proclaims the Good News, and “Why you and not them?” (FutureChurch)

Where were the voting women at the Synod? (America Magazine)

Synod on remarried Catholics, consensus in ambiguity (National Catholic Reporter)

Global women religious leader asks them to do synod’s unfinished work (National Catholic Reporter)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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

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

Reasonably Catholic: Kate McElwee on Grab Bag episode 

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

NCR: Women ordination advocates’ multi-media appeal 

NCR: Women’s ordination conference opens in Philadelphia 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Photo credit: Tom Fox

Photo credit: Tom Fox

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

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

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

NCR: Theologian: ‘Gender insights challenge priesthood theology’ 

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

Erin Saiz Hanna on CNN

Erin Saiz Hanna on CNN

NCR: Priests offer support for women’s ordination 

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

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

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

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

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

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

NCR: As meeting ends, ordination advocates claim renewed purpose 

CNS: Protesters urge pope to approve women’s ordination 

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

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


Photo Credit: Giulia Bianchi

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

LA Times: To Pope Francis: What about women? 

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

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

CNN: Not Everyone is a Francis Fan 

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

WUSA: Protesters issued citations during papal visit to DC 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Real News: Priests to Pope: Stop the Sexism 

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

NBC: Women Priest Protesters Arrested During Pope Visit 

The Rivard Report: Gender, Gospel, and Global Justice 

Credit: Molly Butler

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest post by Jeannette Mulherin, WOC board president.

Laura Singer at WOC's 35th Anniversary

Laura Singer at WOC’s 35th Anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WATCH Congratulates Christina Rees CBE on Queen’s Birthday Honour

Rabbi Rebecca Alpert:

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

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

LGBT Religious Archives, Oral History Project with Rebecca Alpert

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

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

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

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


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

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

My defense against the charge of apostasy

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

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

Feminism and Religion: Faith Doesn’t Need Walls

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


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