The Table

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full Panel

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

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

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

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

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

Africa: Sr. Gloria Wirba (Cameroon)

Latin America: Carolina Del Rio (Chile)

USA: Sr. Carol Keehan

EU: Maria Giovanna Ruggieri (Italy)

Asia: Sr. Helen Leung (China)

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

Sr. Carol Keehan and Flaminia Giovanelli

Sr. Carol Keehan and Flaminia Giovanelli

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Between Easter and Pentecost, International Church Reformers gathered for four days in Limerick without a strict agenda. The intention was to get to know each other, share ideas about Church reform, and explore ways of supporting each other in our work structurally and at the grassroots. We began our time together answering why we accepted this invitation, and then why we really accepted this invitation.  The meeting was in many ways sponsored by the Association of Catholic Priests in Ireland and Fr. Tony Flannery, but facilitated by two invited leaders, who skillfully created space for sharing, “harvesting,” and organic organizing.

Why did you accept this invitation, really?  In addition to the opportunity to work with colleagues of mine on more international level, for me, the really was in some part because of the more rare invitation to attend a meeting with so many male priests interested in reform. In some sense, this made me very unprepared for what was to come. 

What was specifically on our very open agenda was a Mass together. A small group of us thought it would be important to suggest an invitation for co-presiders at our celebration. And so, on the third day, after nearly all of the group had “checked-in,” offered up their frustrations at “in-action,” their excitement for the richness of our conversations, their energy, I asked our group to consider an invitation.

I couched my intention to suggest co-presiders by first acknowledging the ministries and importance of all of our work, and how we fit together in a living system of change — each doing our part. I also thought it was important to name some of our passions as vocations, including priestly vocations. I suggested that as we consider action globally and locally, and perhaps we might consider this an opportunity to act, by having a conversation about the possibility of inviting a co-presider to celebrate our Mass.

Warned by Tony and a few others that this very careful question (which was discussed in a small group first, and agreed that I bring this to the larger group) would be more difficult than we might have thought… what came of this question was an intensity and a raw pain, a brokenness, that I am not sure I have ever witnessed in such a broad spectrum.

Once the invitation was (what I hoped was) gently in the center of the room, we went around the circle of nearly 40 of us, twice.  Some of the threads and statements that stuck with me (others may have held on to other moments), vocalized by either one or many that I feel I can share:

  • Fear of one’s bishop, the reality of excommunication;
  • Is this about courage or consequences?
  • What does this mean for our reform agendas if we are not willing or able to do this?
  • The responsibilities of leadership, and reflecting one’s community and constituency;
  • Pain, anger, sadness (is this a time to act?);
  • Does putting a woman on the altar “skip” the hard parts? Must change come through official channels?
  • Priests who love their work, who fear being reckless, but also fear being a coward;
  • Anger that this issue has been brought up, changing the tone and focus of our meeting.

Tony Flannery wrote in his blog post:

I suppose I can say that the issue of women’s place in the Church surfaced… in a way that was far deeper than anything I have understood up to this. And it created enormous dilemmas for most of us sitting around.  There was a great deal of hurt, sadness and tears, with many people clearly wrestling with their own conscience and coming face to face with their fears in a very open way. One of the consequences was that we were unable to celebrate Eucharist together, as we had planned, and instead had a prayer service. But that  bald statement does little justice to the level of sharing that went on, and to the reasons why we felt we could not proceed.

I was crying for most of this conversation, like eye faucets had been turned on inside. Through tears I saw so much pain in the faces and processing of priests and reform leaders, disappointment and anger. For me, the anger came later – but in the moment it was grace and sadness that were most present. I want to respect the intimacy of the meeting and the legitimacy of all of the feelings shared, and acknowledge the tenderness that followed in comforting one another, in our shared and also very personal pain, sadness, anger, fear, and brokenness.  As I was surrounded by embraces after our conversation, there were many little huddles of support. Kind words of, this is the conversation we needed to have, the Holy Spirit was speaking, helped relieve some of my own guilt that I personally had somehow deprived our new community of the Eucharist.

A very insightful prayer group formed after our conversation and prepared a prayer ritual for us, using bread and wine as symbols that we would not partake in together.  One theme that ran through the entire conference was the power of a broken heart, Parker Palmer’s idea of “breaking open” of hearts. What became clear is the hearts of our church are broken, breaking, divided, and in pain. I pray when we break open, we open to hold the whole world. I believe, as Christians, this big, broken, open heart is how we know and find God.

I know there will be more reflections to come from this meeting, as many of us are still processing the experience. For now, to read more, see: Tony Flannery’s blog, the Irish Times, and press release from the conference.  The press release offers a fuller picture of the exciting organizing, concrete work, and strategies that came from our time together in addition to this experience. More to come!

Current and past WOW Leadership Circle delegates, including Marilyn Hatton from Australia, who will be joining me in Ireland.

Current and past WOW Leadership Circle delegates, including Marilyn Hatton from Australia (front, left), who join me (front, center) in Ireland next week.

An “International Network of Church Reform Movements” conference will take place next week, from Monday 13th April to Thursday 16th April, in Limerick, Ireland. Hosted by Fr. Tony Flannery, the participative conference will bring together 36 leaders of the Church Reform Movement, from 12 different countries. Fr. Tony, an Irish Redemptorist priest and writer was banned from ministry by the CDF in 2012 for what it considered heretical views on the Eucharist and priesthood, joined the “Catholic Tipping Point” tour in the U.S. in 2014, and will be a speaker at the WOW 2015 conference. I am honored to represent WOC (and WOW) at this event, and to share our concerns and efforts with the international community.

Many familiar names in the reform movement will join me, including Marilyn Hatton, WOW Leadership Circle member from Australia, Deborah Rose-Milavec of FutureChurch, Jeannine Gramick of NewWays Ministry, Astrid Lobo Gajiwala from India, Helmut Schuller from Austria (also part of the Catholic Tipping Point tour in 2013), and Martha Heizer of We Are Church International, excommunicated last year for celebrating mass in her home without a priest.

​Fr. Tony’s writes on his blog: “The main focus of the event will be to get to know each other, with the aim of supporting Church Reform, both at the level of structures of authority and at the grassroots. This is the first time that this group will come together, so a lot of it will be sharing experiences and ideas on Church reform. Some of the topics expected to be discussed throughout the week include sharing perceptions of the reform agenda of Pope Francis, the future of parishes and communities, women’s equality and how to communicate with the Vatican.”

In advance of this meeting, I shared my hopes and “burning issues” with the group:

As I have recently moved to Rome to enhance our international networking and presence, I am interested in learning more about the mechanisms of the international reform movement, and how/if they relate to efforts in the US, and women’s ordination efforts worldwide. For me, it is important to discuss the need for more public voices in support of opening all ministries to women, and explore the ways in which that outward solidarity may be harnessed to speak more loudly to power. (Again here I will mention the WOW conference in Philadelphia, as an opportunity for this group, and others to offer a public endorsement of this work.)

As a feminist living in Rome, I am interested in speaking about accessible forums or channels for change (what has been tried, what hasn’t, what works, what doesn’t), and where we might find or cultivate sympathizers and allies at the Vatican.

I am looking forward to traveling to Ireland, and sharing my experiences at The Table! Stay tuned… (Meanwhile, starting tomorrow in Boston, Catholic Organizations for Renewal, a U.S. based network will gather to discuss church reform issues as well!)

Read More: Catholic reform leaders from around the world to meet in Ireland next week (The Tablet)

During the Call To Action conference in Memphis, Tennessee, a group of young Catholic feminists decided to shake it off. Check out the video below, brought to you by the young adults of CTA, WOC, Guerrilla Communion and other progressive Catholic groups and gatherings, for some inspiration to shake it off.

Late at night in Memphis, a scheme was born: a song-and-dance flash mob, inspired by Taylor Swift’s song, “Shake it Off,” (and I think here we have to say the Holy Spirit). The song was joyfully debuted after an inclusive Catholic liturgy to the hundreds of Catholics gathered for the weekend.

We are excited to have found a video of the momentous event which we share with you for those moments when you are in need of a little feminist pick me up! Please enjoy and share this video, captured just on a mobile phone, featuring feminists from various Progressive Catholic organizations. Full lyrics are below so you can sing along what we already know: “If the church is gonna grow, then misogyny must go!”  Here’s to the cross pollination of the movement and to the energy and resilience of Catholic feminists everywhere!



I go to Mass each day,

I sure know how to pray,

But God has more to say, oooh oooh

God has more to say, oooh oooh.


I’m tryin to create,

But I don’t wanna wait.

What would Jesus say?  oooh oooh

Yeah what would Jesus say?  oooh oooh


Spirit won’t stop movin’

Can’t stop, won’t stop groovin’

It’s like I got this calling

In my mind sayin it’s gonna be alright.


Cause the bishops gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

And the pope will excommunicate, ate ate

I’m just gonna shake shake shake shake

Shake it off, shake it off

Shake it off, shake it off


Nuns never miss a beat,

But always take the heat.

Pope Francis just don’t see, oooh oooh

Hey, Francis don’t you see?  oooh oooh


If Church is gonna grow,

Misogyny must go,

That’s what they don’t know, oooh oooh

Yeah that’s what they don’t know, oooh oooh


Spirit won’t stop movin’

Can’t stop, won’t stop groovin’

It’s like I got this calling

In my mind sayin it’s gonna be alright.


Cause the bishops gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

And the pope will excommunicate, ate ate

I’m just gonna shake shake shake shake

Shake it off, shake it off

Shake it off, shake it off


Cause the bishops gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate

And the pope will excommunicate, ate ate

I’m just gonna shake shake shake shake

Shake it off, shake it off

Shake it off, shake it off

* This post is was co-written by Ellen Euclide of CTA and Kate McElwee of WOC, and cross-posted on the Call To Action 20/30 blog


Over the weekend, in addition to the groundbreaking work that took place at the Vatican, groups of interfaith feminists gathered in solidarity to proclaim: “We are Equal in Faith!” Groups prayed and fasted together, screened the Equal in Faith video, and participated in a social media campaign #EqualinFaith. 

Here are some of the highlights:

Rochester, NY says: we are equal in faith!

Rochester, NY says: we are equal in faith!

Equal in Faith organizers include representatives from Ordain Women (Mormon), the Women’s Ordination Conference (Roman Catholic), and Ordain Women Now (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod). Launched on U.S. National Women’s Equality Day in 2013, we call attention to the marginalization of women in faith communities and foster solidarity across faith traditions in the struggle for gender justice in religion.

Please continue to use the #EqualinFaith, and follow the Facebook page, and/or send to your photos to equalinfaith @ to be included in this post.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity to attend the Voices of Faith gatherings at the Vatican, which included a mass, storytelling event, and panel held to mark International Women’s Day.

In its second year, this Goetz foundation initiative has rallied around a quote from Pope Francis: “It is necessary to broaden the space within the church for a more incisive feminine presence.”

voices-of-faith1The day began at the Chiesa di Santa Maria Regina della Famiglia in Vatican City, with three celebrants: Archbishop Anil Couto, Bishop Brian Farrell, LC, and Fr. Noel Maddhichetty, SDB. In the small chapel, behind the Palazzo del Governatorato, “in the heart of the Vatican” – which Archbishop Couto joked, “now we know the Vatican has a heart,” we sang, “All Are Welcome,” to begin the celebration.

I went to this gathering not knowing what Voices of Faith hoped to achieve. I share their belief in the importance of showcasing women’s hard work, amplifying marginalized and unreached/unheard voices, and celebrating what our church is capable of; yet, I went with the notion that this event would not articulate the need for equality for women. (Equality is the basis of WOC’s International Women’s Day interfaith initiative #EqualinFaith). However, early in the day, I was proven wrong: not only did the Archbishop deliver a homily on equality, one of the few that I have heard from a man,  he also read aloud testimonies from women studying all over India about their experiences as women and girls in church and society. That kind of air-time for women’s words during the homily is very rare.  But then, seamlessly following the Archbishop, Kerry Robinson, went to the altar and offered her own homily. I really couldn’t believe it was happening.

After mass, the storytelling event began – similar to the event last year, stories of women who have lived incredible lives, working in conflict regions, working with refugees, enhancing access to education, and anti-trafficking efforts to name a few. But it was Jesuit Fr. Agbonkhianmeghe Orobator, S.J., who delivered one of the most commanding and moving testimonies, about the kidnapping of Nigerian girls, and the real danger of all girls who hunger for education: “Educated Nigerian girls are becoming an endangered species.” Through tears, he never once claimed to be a voice for these girls, but a voice who cannot remain silent in the wake of so many injustices to girls in the world.

At this point, I think it must be acknowledged what these women and Fr. Orobator are doing is in part because of, and despite of multiple oppressive and patriarchal systems, many of which the Vatican maintains. Until women’s voices are equal to the voices of men, our church participates in the same forces of oppression that these brave women and men work to fight every day. I await the day the Vatican uses all of the resources and gifts of the church (especially the work of these women) to work for peace and justice.

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.

Gudrun Sailor, Dr. Tina Beattie, Deb Rose-Milavec, Ulla Gudmundson, and Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala. (L-R)

Gudrun Sailor, Dr. Tina Beattie, Deb Rose-Milavec, Ulla Gudmundson, and Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala. (L-R)

Which brings us to the second half program, a panel discussion moderated by FutureChurch’s Deb Rose-Milavec, featuring Gudrun Sailor, Swedish Ambassador Ulla Gudmundson, Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, and Dr. Tina Beattie. A few notes from the panel:

– Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, who was one of the main authors of the Catholic Church of India’s gender policy, noted that even in the best circumstances, “women can make recommendations,” as power is linked to ordination.

– There is an exhaustion around conversations that begin, “we need to more of…” women’s theology, greater spaces for women… etc, without practical steps to get there. Deb brilliantly urged Tina Beattie to “put some skin” on her more abstract visions.

– Ulla Gudmundson expressed her own frustration at the adjectives used to describe women (tender, patient, motherly, warm) – with these qualities, Ulla suggested Pope Franics is a wonderful example of the feminine genius. She would describe herself as adventurous, curious, and independent.

– Tina Beattie put forward that if we are asked to accept that women’s ordination is “off the table,” then there is no reason why there can’t be equal representation in all other Vatican positions. Tina also spoke of her research in mother mortality, and the absence of “official” Catholic voices on this issue. (It should be noted that Tina is an advocate for women’s ordination and a keynote speaker at the WOW 2015 Conference.)

– Gudrun Sailor echoed a hope for change in Canon Law – which unnecessarily separates the clergy from the laity – as well as a change in mentality of how change might happen in the church (hoping for a shift from the top-down model).


Astrid Lobo Gajiwala; Deb Rose-Milavec, and Ulla Gudmundson

– Astrid also spoke about a need for inclusive language, a God liberated from male-constructs. She said every time she reads “man” as possibly meaning “humanity” she is left to doubt her inclusion. Astrid also spoke about a church where we can all respond to God’s callings regardless of being male or female, and the need for women’s stories and voices during the homily.

I counted the word ordination several times during this panel, not as a point of debate, but as a roadblock for full equality, to which the women responded with creative and realistic hopes for ways to bring women’s leadership into a more actualized reality. I urge you to watch the full video (available here), and imagine yourself hearing these powerful voices in Vatican City. I wish that more Church officials were present to hear these discussions, but perhaps for the first time, the voices of women –discussing women’s full equality in the church– were broadcasted from the Vatican – if only for a day.  As Dr. Mary McFarland said during the event, while we often ask, “Where are the women?” perhaps the better question is, “Where will they be tomorrow?” 

Kate McElwee and Deb Rose-Milavec inside the Vatican, after the day's events.

Kate McElwee and Deb Rose-Milavec inside the Vatican, after the day’s events.

Read More about Voices of Faith: NPR; Vatican Radio; New York Times; National Catholic Reporter; Catholic New Service

Last week I had the opportunity to meet an amazing young German woman, vocal about her call to the priesthood visiting Rome with her parish. Jacqueline Straub, her parish priest and I sat down for coffee and cornetti…


Kate McElwee and Jacqueline Straub

Jacqueline was recently featured on a “LifeLinks” series called #ForChristsSake, highlighting the stories of three people who are called to ministry in their faith tradition, but because of their gender, sexuality, or relationships are not able to pursue their vocation. As soon as I saw the LifeLinks video, I wrote to Jacqueline on behalf of WOC to commend her bravery and offer our prayers and support for the prophetic witnessing that she brings to our church.

Many of our connections came to light during our meeting: Jacqueline went to parts of the “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” Germany tour and has met many of the European women priests. She was featuring in another documentary with Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza (a WOW2015 speaker). Her parish recently attended a meeting with “Catholic Tipping Point” Helmut Schuller’s Austrian Priests’ initiative to discuss how some parishes are sharing roles, and their use of the “Thomas Mass” – for those with questions and doubts.  Incredible connections that not only make the world feel cozy, but led her priest to devise a plan to have Helmut, Jacqueline and myself all reunite in Vienna.

Jacqueline, a fellow parishioner, and her priest visiting Rome from Austria

I asked her priest about his “conversion moment,” and he didn’t express an “a-ha” moment, but simply said that he has met many women who are called to the priesthood, and he trusts them and God.      AMEN!

What I loved most about meeting with Jacqueline is that she says things that few people in the women’s ordination movement really say… 

“I have time. I can wait. Things will change.”

(Jacqueline’s priest however, seemed very ready to hand his parish over to her, within the year.)

Her spirit and energy were a shot in the arm — needed optimism, for someone who clutches to hope in what can feel like a lost battle.

While Jacqueline is not idealistic or naive about this, she believes that she must stay and work within the channels of the Roman Catholic Church — and to her credit, she has received what read like personal responses from Cardinals and officials at the Vatican. Jacqueline’s story will be in the Winter/Spring 2015 issue of New Women, New Church, available to current members of the Women’s Ordination Conference (renew here).


In the beautiful Teatro Argentina around one hundred people, including actress Nancy Brilli and Cardinal Ravasi gathered to experience the production of the Pontifical Council for Culture and RAI tv’s collaboration on “Women’s Cultures” (#LifeofWomen). Videos and live-testimonials crowd-sourced over the ill-timed week of December 23 – January 4, were broadcasted for the first time and accompanied by three (male) jazz musicians.

Following the controversial report and Man Ray image of a headless and bound woman figure, expectations from the English-speaking world were low. The removal of the English language video featuring Brilli, and the overwhelming backlash should serve as a reminder (to all of us) that, as AP wrote: “the Vatican often forgets it’s a global institution, not an Italian one.”

Sour Rita Giaretta

Sour Rita Giaretta

While the report acknowledged some of the gender-specific violences against women, it was fraught with socially-constructed stereotypes and attempts to say they are “natural,” with corresponding gender-defined roles. This thinking and language have been challenged and rejected in scholarship for decades, and are wildly culturally and spiritually unacceptable.

The report also categorically rejected the idea of women’s ordination, stating that “statistically it is not something that women want,” despite the reports that said “a number” of the submission for the #LifeofWomen Campaign were from ordination advocates… and no statistics are cited.

There were high points and low points of this experience:

High points:

  • This happened. The Vatican asked women: “What is it like to be a woman?” – asking only for one week, and only in 1 minute video clips, but someone thought to ask. I know many of you are rolling your eyes, but this a crumb instead of the usual absence said crumb. 
  • Some of the work that women religious do to fight sex trafficking, domestic violence, poverty, and inequality was highlighted, although in a strange, “Vagina Monologue” starkness, three women religious were able to hold a microphone and talk about their life’s work, with Cardinals and ambassadors in the same room.
  • Clips from public policy expert Anne Marie Slaughter’s TED talk on why women “still can’t have it all,” where she discusses “real equality” as not valuing women on male terms. This excerpt expanded on the issue of childcare, maternity and paternity leave, “a culture of care,” socializing men and women to embrace roles within the family and the workplace, and generally how women (and family life) are treated in the workplace.
  • Theologian Marinella Perroni’s #LifeofWomen video was included in the final screening. Perroni was president of the Italian Women’s Theologian collective, and is a strong  advocate for women in the Church and society.

Lots of men on stage, reading quotes from men. (Not in a #heforshe way)

Low points:

  • While men played music on a stage, men read quotes from other men: John Dunne; Joseph Conrad; Vittorio Zucconi. A young married couple came to the stage and only the husband spoke. In discussing maternity leave, an article and photo of Marco Buselli was used. These insensitivities to the loss of women’s narratives is not only jarring, but inexcusable. 
  • Stock images of women of color in colorful clothes without context, without a voice, without their stories (and I am assuming without their consent), flashed on a screen to uppity jazz music. Displaying images of women in war-torn countries, with children, praying, crying: who are these women? 
  • The event concluded with screenshots from social media, highlighting those who used the hashtag #LifeofWomen: a very selective sampling, void of the overwhelming numbers of those from @OrdainWomen and for those in favor of women’s ordination.  Again, this political editing undermines the Council’s very “attempt” to amplify the voices of women; women have been anonymous voices and instrumental players erased and silenced throughout history, and this was no different. As a colleague recently said, “There are good intentions. But the barriers are up against women.”

Overall, this exercise shows us how clumsy the Vatican can be with anything to do with women (even the name, “Women’s Cultures” – as if women are some sort of bacteria!).  Nevertheless, fighting the forces of Italian, Vatican, and patriarchal norms, a public forum where women were discussed, with women in the room, it’s not nothing.

For some of the stellar contributions from women’s ordination advocates See #LifeofWomen.

Updated: Here is the broadcast of the public event in Rome:

The Working Group on the Collaboration of Men and Women in Ministry is a small but mighty group organized by the Justice and Peace, and the integrity of Creation (JPIC) promoters. Last weekend nearly one hundred people (mostly sisters) attended a seminar organized by the group with Catholic theologian, Marinella Perroni, Professor of New Testament at the Pontifical University St. Anselmo in Rome and the former president of the Association of Italian Women Theologians.

Marinella Perroni

Marinella Perroni

Prof. Perroni offered a thoughtful and incisive reflection and exegesis on the role of women in the New Testament and the Church today. We discussed the balance of this work as between “resistance” and “resilience” – a very similar idea to the “hermeneutics of suspicion” and the “hermeneutics of recovery:”

la prospettiva di genere: una resistenza comprensibile, una “resilienza” auspicabile

resistenza: Là dove si solleva il sospetto sulla neutralità del discorso, dove si mettono in discussione stereotipi di genere e si tenta un’organizzazione più inclusiva degli spazi, certamente accade qualcosa (Lucia Vantini, Il Regno gennaio 2015).

resilienza è un termine derivato dalla scienza dei materiali. In psicologia connota proprio la capacità delle persone di far fronte agli eventi stressanti o traumatici e di riorganizzare in maniera positiva la propria vita dinanzi alle difficoltà. Bisogna concepire la resilienza come una funzione psichica che si modifica nel tempo in rapporto all’esperienza, ai vissuti e, soprattutto, al modificarsi dei meccanismi mentali che la sottendono.

With resistance we must challenge the “gender neutrality” of scriptures and storytelling, challenge gendered stereotypes, and work for more inclusive spaces in our Church and society. Resilience is more of a psychological coping of trauma and stress, the “reordering” of one’s life to live a positive or healthful life in the face of difficulties, informed by one’s experiences.


A room full of mostly women religious, with photos of men all around the walls.

Perroni debunked uno stereotipo molto radicato: the modern understanding of the twelve apostles, especially in light of the resurrection(Jn 20,1-2.11-18), with several mentions of women who were followers of Jesus as part of  a discipleship of equals, where men and women followed and served Jesus together. In Mk 15, 41 (Mt 27,55s), women and men are mentioned as servants of Jesus, while in Lk 8,1-3, the women are in the scene to serve the others (the men).  Today we have departed from the model of a discipleship of equals to what Perroni described as a “patriarchy of love” — a striking description. The patriarchy preaches loving one another as brothers, (and later “sisters”), but that this gentle message comes from a model of inequality.

The patriarchy of love is one that glorifies women (“We are either Eve or Mary: nothing in between”), but reminded us that as soon as women are glorified, they are marginalized. Perroni in particular challenged the Marion/Pauline model in a book by Damiano Marzotto that Pope Francis is said to have read, as reproducing gendered stereotypes: “Women are the spirit of the Church” and men “do power.” We need both. 

Shed light on the role of women in the development of faith in the canonical Gospels.  Women are often “beyond the boundaries,” both territorially (Mt 15,21-28) and religiously (Mk 5,25-34). Perroni described this as being on the border of “religious taboos”– reminded me very much of the Roman Catholic Women Priests!

For those who are interested in studying the readings discussed, the lecture also highlighted: Jn 4,5-30.31-38.39-43; Jn 11.20 to 27; the anonymous disciple of Mk, from 14.3 to 9; Mary of Bethany (Jn 12.1 to 8).

A criticism we often hear of the women’s ordination movement (across any religion) is that women just want more power, to which Perroni refreshingly said: Of course we do.  “However, power should not be seen through the priesthood.” But it is. Our church has divided “sacred power” from “administrative power,” the latter which seems to be something within Pope Francis’ political will to change (“Although I don’t think there will be a woman in charge of the CDF… can you imagine!”).  Nevertheless, with a church that has decided on these divisions, that purports a clerical culture, women’s ordination is intrinsic to any equality.  As a dear friend recently said: “Either ordain women or let’s stop pretending our church fully values and respects women.”

The lecture was wildly well-received and sisters after the event spoke of how important it was to have such a strong and unafraid voice, many of whom plan to take back their notes to study and pray with their communities.  I am so grateful to be part of the Working Group and know that this lecture will embolden and inform our efforts to come.

In a connection that Roman Catholic woman priest, Diane Dougherty fostered, (she described the serendipitous networking as feeling “like Mary and Elizabeth… a baby is jumping in my womb……maybe all of ours”), I had the opportunity to sit down with Forbes writer, Cathy Huyghe on her recent trip to Rome. Cathy is a dynamic woman involved in various organizations and efforts to empower women and girls, fight sex-trafficking, and not to mention, writes about the culture and business of the wine industry. Who could ask for more? 

These three bottles of wine, made from Sangiovese, Syrah, and Merlot grapes, were part of a gift from the FONDAZIONE to the Pope. Photo Credit: Cathy Huyghe

These three bottles of wine, made from Sangiovese, Syrah, and Merlot grapes, were part of a gift from the FONDAZIONE to the Pope. Photo Credit: Cathy Huyghe

I met with Cathy fewer than twenty-four hours after she arrived to Rome and it seemed like she had already held dozens of meeting, fluttering between Vatican offices and various embassies.  The main focus of her time in Rome was to attend a meeting organized by Franco Ricci of the Fondazione Italiana Sommelier as well as the Italian wine guide Bibenda, and attend an audience with the Pope. Cathy is interested in wine as a metaphor, and particularly in the ways Pope Francis has used wine in his messages.

In Rome, it is not uncommon to have meetings with people passing through; many friend-of-friend connections come alive and over espresso one must uncover how we both got here. It was a lovely, lively meeting: we found we share several paths and passions, and will each be able to help one another in our collective work in elevating and promoting women in the Catholic Church.  (+1 for Diane the match-maker!) 

Cathy described our meeting on her blog:

Another coffee, a final one, was with an amazing woman, who is very young, with a spine of steel for the perfectly contrarian work she is doing. You have a sense, looking at her initially, that she is a lamb surrounded by a pack of wolves.

And guess what? The metaphor is here too. Those wolves think that they could smell her blood in the water. But she has a heart of her own, a powerful pounding one that beats for a mission. She survives. And so does the mission.