Monday, April 29, 2013

A Lady, Ordained

At the end of last year, the Women's Ordination Conference playfully released a video musical parody Ordain a Lady. This weekend, the first of the 2013 Roman Catholic women candidates for the priesthood was ordained in Louisville, KY. Rev. Rosemarie Smead joins more than 100 women worldwide who have taken this step which, according to the institutional Roman Catholic church, will lead to automatic excommunication.

Rev. Smead, 70, first tried out religious life as a Carmelite nun but the harsh regimen and sleep deprivation took a toll on her health and she was forced to leave after three years. She went back to school and got an undergraduate degree in theology and a doctorate in counseling psychology. She worked for many years in Alabama where she started a clinic for children with learning disabilities and emotional problems in Montgomery and later directed a treatment program for juvenile delinquents in Selma, where she had marched in her younger years in the historic 1965 civil rights march with Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Rev. Smead went on to become a professor of counseling at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, a position she held until her retirement in 2007. She is past president and fellow of the Association for Specialists in Group Work and has received multiple awards for her teaching and service to the profession. She is the author of a number of books, including a 3-volume series on counseling children and adolescents titled Skills for Living.

After her ordination, Rev. Smead plans to do pastoral work with a Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP) congregation, Christ Sophia Inclusive Catholic Community. Starting in May, she will lead monthly services, using space at St. Andrew United Church of Christ in Louisville, where her ordination took place.

As for the prospect of excommunication, Rev. Smead, whose vocation was inspired by Fr. Roy Bourgeois' courageous defiance on the issue of women priests, is not afraid, calling it "a Medieval bullying stick the bishops used to keep control over people and to keep the voices of women silent." "I am way beyond letting octogenarian men tell us how to live our lives," she told Reuters.

The Roman Catholic Women Priests movement has seven more priest ordination ceremonies planned for 2013 -- in May in California and Ohio, June in Virginia and Minnesota, August in Pennsylvania, and September in Wisconsin. Whether the Roman hierarchy and the conservative elements in the Church like it or not, more "ladies" will be ordained and standing behind the altar rather than just kneeling in front of it.

And in a surprisingly candid interview with Der Spiegel on the same weekend as Rev. Smead's ordination, Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, current president of the German Catholic Bishops' Conference, suggested that the time may be right for the Church to consider admitting women to the diaconate. A step or two behind RCWP, perhaps, but moving in the same direction.


  1. Does this small movement have as many yearly ordinations as many dioceses with far larger populations of Catholics, at least in the USA???

    What does that imply about Spirit-inspired religious vocations???

  2. In 2012, RCWP had 9 priest ordinations and 14 deacon ordinations in US and Canada combined. This would be comparable to a large urban diocese in the US. What concerns me is that the RCWP numbers are declining for 2013, especially for deacons. I'm not sure whether this is because the Vatican's campaign of intimidation is succeeding to a certain extent, or because some women who would consider ordination through RCWP are holding out under the illusion (mistaken, I think) that Pope Francis will make some movement in the near future on at least ordaining women deacons, if not priests. For some women, merely being allowed to become a deacon in the institutional Catholic Church without losing all that one loses through excommunication, may be enough.