The case for women priests

Guest Commentary

By Bridget Mary Meehan, Global Ministries University

FALLS CHURCH, July 18 (UPI) "You have given me a reason to return to the church," Kathy recently emailed in response to the news that eight more women would be ordained as Roman Catholic priests in Pittsburgh on July 31, 2006.

That's right. Roman Catholic women priests.

This particular reformation began when Bishop Romulo Braschi of Argentina, a man of uncommon courage and conscience, agreed to ordain seven women priests. Bishop Braschi did so by the power vested in Roman Catholic Bishops who are in full apostolic succession from Jesus Christ. Bishops trace their spiritual lineage (and authority) back to the first apostles, who were given their authority by Jesus Christ, personally.

The ordination took place June 21, 2002 on the boat, "Passau," floating down the Danube. The Vatican promptly excommunicated the women priests.

Shortly thereafter, several male Roman Catholic bishops, in full communion with the pope, agreed to ordain two of the women priests, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and Gisela Forster, as Roman Catholic Bishops (again by the authority given them through the line of apostolic succession. The male bishops granted this ordination in the presence of witnesses, but otherwise in secrecy to avoid reprisal from the Vatican.

In Jan. 2004, Patricia Fresen was ordained by the same male bishops and by Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and Gisela Forster One of the male Roman Catholic bishops told Patricia that day: "We are not doing this for you, but so that justice can be served in our church."

The reason behind wanting to have women ordained as bishops is so that they in turn can ordain priests without risk to the many male bishops who, while sympathetic to the cause of women in the clergy, risk excommunication by the Vatican for their participation.

Six women were ordained as deacons in June 2004 on the ship, "Sissi," on the Danube. O More ordinations followed in 2005, with one French woman ordained to the priesthood on a boat on the Saone, near Lyons. On July 25, 2005, nine women were ordained on international waters on the St. Lawrence Seaway. On June 24th, 2006, 3 women were ordained priests and 1 woman was ordained a deacon on Lake Constance between Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Continuing the line of succession from the apostles, the newly consecrated women bishops gave ordination to Ida Raming. Together bishops Gisela Forster, Patricia Fresen and Ida Raming will preside over the ordination of the women priests and deacons on the boat in Pittsburgh.

Why all the boats? It just seems fitting. Jesus' first disciples were fishermen. Jesus did some of his best work from the bow of boat, and it was in a boat that he taught his disciples how to weather storms. Water itself is the source and maintainer of life.

In the organization Roman Catholic WomenPriests, we see our ministry specifically designed to reach out to those who, like Kathy, have been alienated, hurt, or rejected by the institutional Catholic Church. The are the legion of women who feel like second-class citizens in their own church, divorced and remarried Catholics, gays and lesbians and all those on the margins of church and society. We will minister everywhere we find a need for God's compassion and love. The world is our parish.

As a global congregation we have come full circle. In the early church, the community gathered in home churches for the celebration of the Eucharist. Romans 16 uses the word eklesia ("church") to describe the group that gathered in the home of Prisca and Aquila, a husband-wife ministry team, who were missionary apostles and coworkers with Paul. "Greet Prisca and Aquila who work with me in Christ Jesus, and who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks, but also all the churches of the Gentiles. Greet also the church in their house" (Romans 16:3-5).

And we're right back there today. Many people seek a more individualized, personalized caring church community where they share their faith issues and spiritual journey. According to recent surveys, 20 million people worship at home in "house churches."

During the past eleven years, I have participated in home churches in Virginia and Florida. Groups of up to fifteen people have met in my house to share faith and prayer. In the process, we have opened our hearts on a deep level to share the work God is doing in our lives to reconcile, heal and transform us.

When I am ordained a Roman Catholic priest, I plan to celebrate Eucharist, offer reconciliation services, anoint the sick, preside at wakes in my home church communities and to minister to those who call upon me with any spiritual need.

Whether ministering in home churches, hospices, college chapels, or any other place, Roman Catholic WomenPriests offer a vision of an inclusive church where all are welcome at God's table of plenty at the Banquet of Love. We offer a new model of priestly ministry in which all people and all ministries are equally valued. We will work as partners and equals with others in our communities.

It is not enough to ordain women into a patriarchal and hierarchical structure. The clerical structure needs to be transformed from a dominator model with powers reserved to clergy into an open, participatory model that honors the gifts of God in the people of God. The present gap between clergy and lay needs to be eliminated. We need to move from an unaccountable top-down, hierarchical to a people-empowered discipleship of equals. We advocate a community model of ministry based on union with the people we serve.

The goal of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests community is to bring about the full equality of women in the Roman Catholic Church. The movement Roman Catholic Womenpriests does not perceive itself as a counter-current movement against the Roman Catholic Church. It wants neither a schism nor a break from the Roman Catholic Church, but rather wants to work positively within the Church. We invite our Roman Catholic Church leaders to join us in an open, respectful dialogue so that together we may serve the church faithfully and lovingly.

In her address, "Prophetic Obedience: The Experience and Vision of Roman Catholic Womenpriests" to the Southeast Pennsylvania Women's Ordination Conference in March, 2005, Bishop Patricia Fresen, D.Th., said: "Now we in the Church are on another 'long walk to freedom,' this time freedom from sexism, from unjust discrimination against women in the church, freedom from oppression by the privileged clerical caste in the church. Once again, we need to stand together in protest, to break the unjust laws because we cannot wait forever, and we need, at least at the beginning, to move into the structures that exist, and change them."

It is time for holy disobedience. As Cardinal Walter Kasper, the former bishop of Rottenberg-Stuttgart, Germany and currently president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity wrote: "Some situations oblige one to obey God and one's own conscience, rather than the leaders of the church. Indeed, one may even be obliged to accept excommunication, rather than act against one's conscience."

In obedience to the Gospel of Jesus we are disobeying an unjust law that discriminates against women. Canon 1024 states that only a baptized male may receive Holy Orders. This is in contradiction to Canon 849 which states that Baptism is the gateway to the sacraments which includes Holy Orders. Baptism is the foundation for the validity of Holy Orders not male gender.

Thus, Canon 1024 denies full membership to women in the church and contradicts Canon 849 which opens all the sacraments to all members of the church. In other words, the sacrament of Baptism makes us equals in Christ.

St. Paul taught, "As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there no longer servant or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).

For 1200 years some popes, bishops and scholars accepted women's ordination as equal to men's. In the 10th century Bishop Atto of Vercelli wrote about the early church practice of ordaining women to preside over the churches because of the great need. In 1976 The Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded that there is no biblical reason to prohibit women's ordination.

Pope John Paul II contradicted the early tradition of women in priestly ministry when he wrote: "The church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and ...this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful."

However, Pope John Paul II did not consult the people of God (including the theologians and the bishops) before issuing this decree.

The church teaches that infallible teaching must reflect the sense of the faithful. Therefore, this teaching is not infallible because it does not reflect the sensus fidelium, the faith of the believing community. In fact, according to recent surveys about 70 percent of Catholics approve of women's ordination, including some of the world's bishops.

People ask, "But what of your vows of obedience?" To a child, obedience is doing what you are told. For an adult, obedience is discerning and following God's direction for our lives. Roman Catholic WomenPriests do not take a vow of obedience to a bishop. Our obedience is to the Gospel as we discern together God's guidance for our community.

Women and men are created in God's image and both may represent Christ as priests. Women as priests remind us that women are equal symbols of the holy and that the identity of priests should reflect the experiences and spiritual authority of women. Women priests help the church to recognize women's rightful place as equals in the governing structures of the church.

Patriarchy's dark lie that women are more responsible for the fall of humankind has been smashed as women in priestly ministry defy an unjust law that keeps women subordinate in the Catholic Church. The church can not continue to discriminate against women and blame God for it. Reclaiming our ancient spiritual heritage, women priests are shaping a more inclusive, Christ-centered church of equals in the 21st century.

Bridget Mary Meehan, D.Min., a Sister for Christian Community, will be ordained a Roman Catholic priest in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on July 31. Dr. Meehan is currently Dean of the Doctor of Ministry Program for Global Ministries University, and is the author of 15 books, including "The Healing Power of Prayer" and "Praying with Visionary Women." .

Dr. Meehan can be reached at SofiaBMM@aol.com.
The website is Roman Catholic Womenpriests.