The ads for Ordination Reconsidered, the 1985 Women’s Ordination Conference in St. Louis delighted me. It was "for women who want to be ordained." I had watched the televised reports of the conflict at the 1978 Baltimore Conference. The media, always eager to show women fighting each other, highlighted the Conference split between those who wanted women to be ordained and those who thought women shouldn’t take ordination if it were offered on a silver platter.
Participants at the 1985 WOC Conference were told to imagine the Church as we hoped it would be in 2025, then lay out the steps it would take to get to that vision, and strategize how to make those steps happen. There was an open microphone so women could describe their vision of the Church in 2025. Afterwards we grouped ourselves around those whose vision we shared.
The Group in the Corner
There was a group over in the corner who found each other. They wanted ordination for themselves as soon as possible in the Roman Catholic Church even though it was patriarchal, otherwise sinful and probably wouldn’t be completely reformed by the time they were ordained. At the closing session of the conference, it was announced that the group over in the corner would have a follow-up conference in the spring for women who wanted to be ordained as soon as possible and would do everything they could to make that happen.
About 27 of us showed up that spring. We introduced ourselves and heard a canon lawyer explain where women’s ordination stood in canon law. Other results of that meeting included a solemn commitment to confidentiality with regard to each other, guests and speakers, and a resolution to be a closed group, i.e., no new members lest we spend all our time "catching people up with whom we were and where we’d been." Also, each member would very earnestly strive to come to all the meetings. We hoped other women would form more groups like ours, and we would help them in any way we could. During that meeting we also blessed one of us who was going from our meeting to her ordination in the Old Catholic Church. She wouldn’t be back; she had given up and was no longer seeking ordination in the Roman Catholic Church.
We’ve met twice a year since then, sometimes piggybacking on other national meetings such as We Are Church and Women-Church. We are all members of the Women’s Ordination Conference. Over the years we came to define ourselves as a project of the Women’s Ordination Conference. We often refer to our goal as New Women, New Church, New Priestly Ministry, and when our meetings are in Washington, DC we participate in WOC demonstrations.
Through the years we worked on many projects – exploring what formation for a New Priestly Ministry would be like, what our understanding of the Eucharist is, which of us would be willing to be ordained before the relevant canon law was changed. Glaringly bishops were a necessity for the ordination to which we all heard God calling us. So delegates from our group approached a few bishops we perceived as friendly to our cause. Would they meet with us and get to know us? Because we all knew of persons who’d lost jobs and were otherwise persecuted for their favorable stance on women’s ordination, we promised these bishops the sacred confidentiality we gave to each other: we would not reveal each other’s names without explicit permission, nor what our jobs were, nor any other identifying characteristic.
At that first meeting the bishops gave us a list of other US bishops they believed would be friendly to our cause and might be willing to meet with us. As we met with small groups of bishops and reflected on those meetings later, we developed two strategies: telling our stories and providing solid input. We discern that telling about ourselves and our experiences in ministry is the most effective way to convince bishops to align themselves with us and with our goal. Over the years we have invited the friendly bishops and speakers to our Washington, DC meetings. We have heard about canon law strategies, studies of parishes pastored by women and international surveys of the readiness of third world churches for women’s ordination.
The most long-term project we’ve been involved in was working with some bishops on the Pastoral Letter on Women’s Concerns. As the Letter went through its many drafts, we carefully studied it and suggested changes. Given the tone it would require to get past Roman authorities, we counted its failure to be issued as a victory. In conjunction with the Pastoral Letter and since, we have encouraged the friendly bishops to publish articles that would further the issue. Rome has cooperated with this strategy by frequent pronouncements and escalating sanctions.
The most exciting experience has been meeting with women ordained in the underground church in Czechoslovakia. After the fall of Communism, WOC members went to Czechoslovakia to confirm rumors about the ordination of women and married men. They met with some of the women and were able to convince them to come to the United States for some private meetings. The chance to meet with American women who want to be ordained was the most important factor persuading them to come. We were able to convince them that their story needed to be told. One of the priests is writing her story.
We began by calling ourselves ORT (Ordination Reconsidered Today). Along the way, the name RAPPORT was adopted (Renewed And Priestly People Ordination Reconsidered Today), since our primary strategy is building rapport with our brother bishops and walking with them to wherever God is leading us.
Who We Are
We are married, single, divorced and members of religious congregations who support ourselves in various jobs. We’ve lost members along the way to ministry in other denominations and for a variety of other reasons. We have incorporated new members who want to be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church as soon as possible.
Most of us have Master of Divinity’s or other relevant degrees. Paying our own way, we meet twice a year. Our November gathering is always in Washington, DC at the same time as the annual meeting of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. We are in covenanted community to pray with and for each other, to be honest with each other, and to work together. We are committed to the struggle for the long haul. We can be reached through the national office of the Women’s Ordination Conference.