Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) held its steering committee meeting this past week just outside of Dublin, hosted by our Irish delegates from We Are Church – Ireland. The annual meeting brings together leaders in the women’s ordination movement from Australia to Bangladesh, Poland to Italy, Germany to Canada, representing a spectrum of strategy and practice. Holding our differences, WOW strongly emphasizes the word “ordination” in our work as we advocate for the inclusion and equality of women across all ministries in the Catholic Church.
The agenda focused largely on our upcoming conference: “Gender, Gospel, and Global Justice” to be held 18-20 September, 2015 in Philadelphia, USA. It has been ten years since the last WOW Conference and will be held just days before the World Meeting of Families, when Pope Francis is expected to visit Philadelphia. WOW envisions this Conference to bring the discussion of women’s ordination to a global stage, drawing activists, feminists, theologians, women religious, clergy, students, and Church-going Catholics together, to speak in a chorus of voices. We believe that gender justice in our Church and our world is rooted in Jesus’ life and message, and transforming our Church from the sins of sexism will transform our communities and the status of women everywhere.
Our hosts, We Are Church – Ireland, organized an afternoon with theologian Mary T. Malone, who discussed her latest book, “The Elephant in the Church: A woman’s tract for our times,” followed by small group discussions on five topics. Over forty people gathered for this discussion, contributing greatly to the challenges of our work: (1) fighting clerical culture; (2) the failings of priests; (3) waning motivation and growing frustration; (4) encouraging “good priests” as well as women priests; (5) the tragedy of a Church does not honor the voices and experiences of women, and the congregations that suffer because of this loss.
Mary T. Malone meets with WOW and local Catholics
As a member of the steering committee I led a group to address the first concern (clerical culture), something deeply understood in Ireland, especially in light of the systemic abuse of power in covering up sexual abuse scandals. Around the table we had a wealth of experience: former priests, ordained women priests, lay ministers, and of course, all of us priestly people. For many, seeking or pursuing ordination was seen as elevating oneself in the community, claiming a closer position to God. Models that recognize the shared gifts of people, without stratification, without hierarchy were discussed as more fulfilling, holistic, and healthful. Connection to the “Global Church” is better experienced, similar to many of the early mystics, through one’s personal relationship with God, not through Rome.
With a Roman Catholic Woman Priest (RCWP) at the table, we discussed the bridges that have to be created and compassionately modeled from where we are now as a Global Church, and where we would like to be, where perhaps, some suggested, ordination is no longer necessary.
For WOW, we recognize these bridges (honor and embrace in full membership and work of RCWP), but if we recognize that ordination, as we know it, is the requirement for full participation in the decision-making, theological debate, official teaching and writing, and of course the Eucharistic celebrations – this is the lynchpin, the threshold that breaks along gender alone. As Teresa Forcades recently said, “All the decision-making is linked to something called ordination, and ordination is linked to something called gender.” It was a challenging conversation, a good conversation that ultimately asks Catholics to seek both nourishment, (spiritually, theologically, communally) to know God in holistic and sustaining ways, and for some, to find the energy to keep a foot in the Institutional Church to work for transformative change, that we know will change the world. Read more statements from WOW
WOW Delegates meeting
Mary T. Malone writes that “The priesthood, as we know it, was designed by men, inhabited by men, theologized by men, liturgised by men, and experienced by men. It was designed for men by men.” It was clear in my small group that the construct of ordination is broken and has formed a sick hierarchy, a sick institution. Malone spoke about how much of feminist theology responds to male theology, when there is a richness in the theology of women, theology by women that empowers women and the people of God to thrive as spiritual, experiential beings made in the image of God. This tension– the attempted conversation of activists and theologians with the Institutional Church, and the freedom of knowing that access to God is available to all, without exception or exclusion, without mediation– causes vertigo in the women’s ordination movement, personally and in our messaging. I must admit there is a truth to the kind of madness of having our feet seemingly walking away from one another.
Yet, returning to the fifth discussion point, we ultimately must believe in the riches of our faith. We know its beauty and find joy in the sacraments. We are in a discipleship of equals, as Jesus preached, radically inclusive and in solidarity with all those on the margins. We are the body of Christ, and we are the Church.
“If you feel deeply enough, you stay. Not because you’re a masochist, but because it’s worth it. You’re struggling for the soul of something.” Elizabeth Johnson
WOW Steering Committee Meeting, Dublin 2014