Although the Catholic Church famously refuses to ordain woman priests, a group of women defied the order back in 2002, when seven were ordained in Germany by two Catholic bishops. Since then, according to a fascinating story by NPR, a movement to ordain women as Roman Catholic priests has gone international, as women ordained other women and created a wide network of “Roman Catholic Womenpriests,” as the movement calls itself.
Recently, four women were ordained in Maryland (where, on the other side of the spectrum, an Episcopal parish recently decided to join the Catholic Church), in a ceremony held in a Protestant church. According to the Baltimore Sun, the ritual was “full of song and messages of inclusiveness,” and the church was full of the ordinands’ family and friends, including several husbands (this is another clear move away from Catholic doctrine, since male priests must remain celibate).
In 1994, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the Vatican’s stance on female priests, saying that the church cannot ordain women. And in 2008, the Vatican went a step further, saying that any women who is ordained and any bishop who ordains a woman will be immediately excommunicated from the Church.
Marellen Mayers, one of the Maryland ordinands, said that she had considered converting to Episcopalianism when she realized that her calling was as a priest. I became very conscious and aware of a new calling — to be in full ministry alongside my brothers as a priest.”
Mayers considered converting to the Episcopal Church, which permits the ordination of women. “But the more I thought about it, I could not bring myself to leave the Catholic Church,” she said. “I was raised in the Catholic Church, and I wanted to remain faithful to the traditions and the way my parents brought me up. I was a child of Vatican II and Pope John XXIII.”
According to Lily Percy’s story for NPR, the women have faced significant challenges, and have lost “friends and colleagues within the Church — many of whom fear they will lose their jobs if they support the women’s ordination movement openly.”
But the women are still firm in their vocation as priests. In a interview posted on the Womenpriests’ website, Eileen DiFranco, a priest based in Philadelphia, said, ” Amidst the hurts, the movement grows. Jesus promised us that ministry and discipleship would not be easy. Faith in God rather than fear of the unknown or of change moves us women priests forward.”
The courage of these women of faith is compelling, and even as the institution of the Catholic Church seems increasingly out of touch with its adherents, people like the Womenpriests prove that the religion itself remains meaningful, even if people who defy its boundaries must face significant barriers.
Photo from Randy OHC's Flickr photostream.