Tuesday, June 24, 2014

SAVE THE DATE: Women's Ordination Worldwide Third International Conference

Women's Ordination Worldwide will be holding its Third International Conference September 18-20, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The theme will be "Gender, Gospel, and Global Justice." You can sign up on the website for e-mail updates as conference details become available.

WOW held its first conference in Dublin, Ireland in 2001 and its second in Ottawa, Canada in 2005.

Some of you might remember what happened around the Dublin conference but -- because some who are now in power in the Vatican (Pope Francis and Cardinal Gerhard Müller) seem to have forgotten the lesson in their dealings with the Leadership Conference of Women Religious -- let me also use this opportunity to refresh memories.

Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, was invited to give an address at the Dublin conference. However, the Vatican objected and put pressure on her religious superior to prevent Sr. Joan from attending the conference. Sr. Joan herself was admonished not to participate. Her sisters rallied around her and 135 of them signed letters of support for the monastic practice of personal responsibility and Sr. Joan's decision to attend.

Sr. Christine Vladimiroff, OSB, then Prioress of the Erie Benedictines, issued a courageous statement in which she affirmed a fundamental principle of religious communities:

...I spent many hours discussing the issue with Sister Joan and traveled to Rome to dialogue about it with Vatican officials . I sought the advice of bishops, religious leaders, canonists, other prioresses, and most importantly with my religious community, the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. I spent many hours in communal and personal prayer on this matter.

After much deliberation and prayer, I concluded that I would decline the request of the Vatican. It is out of the Benedictine , or monastic, tradition of obedience that I formed my decision. There is a fundamental difference in the understanding of obedience in the monastic tradition and that which is being used by the Vatican to exert power and control and prompt a false sense of unity inspired by fear. Benedictine authority and obedience are achieved through dialogue between a community member and her prioress in a spirit of co-responsibility. The role of the prioress in a Benedictine community is to be a guide in the seeking of God. While lived in community, it is the individual member who does the seeking.

Sister Joan Chittister, who has lived the monastic life with faith and fidelity for fifty years, must make her own decision based on her sense of Church, her monastic profession and her own personal integrity. I cannot be used by the Vatican to deliver an order of silencing...

Sr. Christine went on to say that, contrary to the Vatican, she did not view Sr. Joan's participation in the Dublin conference as a "source of scandal to the faithful." In the end, Sr. Joan went to Dublin and gave her talk, "Discipleship for a Priestly People in a Priestless Period." While Sr. Joan avoided issuing an outright call for women's ordination in her keynote speech, she did raise some critical questions for the Church -- questions that continue not to be answered satisfactorily to this day:

...The major question facing Christians today, perhaps, is what does discipleship mean in a church that doesn't want women anywhere except in the pews. If discipleship is reduced to maleness, what does that do to the rest of the Christian dispensation? If only men can really live discipleship to the fullest, what is the use of a woman aspiring to the discipleship baptism implies, demands, demonstrates in the life of Jesus at all? What does it mean for the women themselves who are faced with rejection, devaluation, and a debatable theology based on the remnants of a bad biology theologized? What do we do when a church proclaims the equality of women but builds itself on structures that assure their inequality? What as well does the rejection of women at the highest levels of the church mean for men who claim to be enlightened but continue to support the very system that mocks half the human race?...

Perhaps in revisiting and meditating on this incident, those in power in Rome will understand why the Leadership Conference of Women Religious and its many supporters are so strenuously objecting to the doctrinal assessment and attempts of the male hierarchy to regulate nuns' speech and activities.

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