In the middle of all of my personal struggles with the death of my mother after years of dementia last Sunday, I have been thinking about women in the priesthood. Last Sunday, as my sister, a Quaker, took her turn sitting with our dying mother, I went downstairs to attend the Catholic service at my mother's assisted living facility.
The service was ably led by a lay woman extraordinary minister of Holy Communion from a nearby Catholic church who distributed pre-consecrated hosts to her elderly flock and adroitly and discretely dealt with such special situations as when one woman with advanced Alzheimers decided (I guess) that she was not up to swallowing even the little piece of host she was given and spit it into the water glass she was carrying. Our lay leader also read and offered a lovely, simple reflection on the gospel passage of the day. As I looked up at her, standing before us in the activities room that was temporarily "church", I could imagine her in a chasuble and wondered why our institutional Church thinks such a caring person cannot be a priest just because of her gender. Personally, I felt truly blessed to be able to be with her for a few moments before returning to my mother's bedside. Not just the Body of Christ, but this woman's strong calm presence gave me strength.
This same question is being asked by the Women's Ordination Conference who are at the Vatican this week protesting in conjunction with the ceremonies closing out the Year For Priests. According to news reports, the women wore lavender stoles, the symbol of the movement for women's ordination, and unfurled banners reading "Born to be priests" and "Vocation is important, not gender". They also distributed leaflets. They were arrested and detained several hours by Vatican police for demonstrating without a permit.
WOC also held a press conference at which they issued the following statement:
Today, during the final days of the Vatican's declared Year for Priests, we are lifting up the voices of Catholics from around the world to call for women to be fully included in our Church, especially as priests, deacons, and bishops. We denounce the injustice of prohibiting women from being ordained.
The absolute hypocrisy of the ‘Year for Priests' celebration cuts to the core of what is wrong with the hierarchy today. The Vatican is all too happy to turn a blind eye when men in its ranks destroy the lives of children and families, but jumps at the chance to excommunicate women who are doing good works and responding to injustice and the needs of their communities. While the hierarchy spends their time covering up scandals and throwing major celebrations for themselves, Catholic women are working for justice and making a positive difference in the world.
At the same time the Vatican announced this Jubilee Year for Priests with great fanfare, it was sending investigators to scrutinize communities of women religious in the U.S. These women who have been the backbone of the U.S. Catholic Church are currently under fire for everything from supporting women's ordination, to refusing to condemn homosexuality.
And while the Vatican celebrates its priests this weekend, every day more than 31,000 lay ministers - 80% of whom are women - serve the Church with paltry pay, no job security, and little recognition. It's clear the Vatican's priorities need a serious realignment.
For far too long, only ordained, male, celibate clergy have dictated -or tried to dictate- how Catholics worship, pray and make decisions. Canon 1024, which states that only men can validly receive the sacrament of ordination, is unjust and does not value the gospel message of Jesus. It must be changed.
The Women's Ordination Conference calls for an official opening of the discussion on women's ordination. The refusal to ordain women is nothing more than an egregious manifestation of sexism in the church. In a church reeling from abuse, scandal, and oppression, it is time for the Vatican to listen to its own research, its own theologians and its own people who declare that women and men are equally created in the image of God.
When women are full and equal partners in every aspect of the Catholic Church, only then, will the Roman Catholic Church be associated with accountability, transparency and justice rather than hierarchy, hypocrisy, exclusion, and scandal. Until then, we will continue to raise our collective voices and organize actions that will bring our church closer to the gospel values of Jesus.