Sunday, September 27, 2015

Three new Roman Catholic women bishops ordained

In an intimate ceremony at the buccolic Quaker Pendle Hill retreat center, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) ordained three new women bishops to assist the growing women's ordination movement. The three newly ordained women will join ARCWP Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan. They are:

  • Mary Eileen Collingwood of Hudson, OH, who has served for over 40 years in church ministry. Bishop Collingwood has an MA in Theology from St. Mary Seminary and Graduate School of Theology. Prior to her involvement with ARCWP, Bishop Collingwood served as Director of Religious Education, Coordinator for Marriage Preparation, Pastoral Associate, Director of the Diocesan Pro-Life Office and on various boards and councils. She was ordained a priest in Brecksville, Ohio on May 24, 2014.

  • Michele Birch-Conery of Windsor, Ontario, Canada, was ordained a deacon in Passau, Germany in 2004 and a priest on July 25, 2005 on the St. Lawrence Seaway. A retired professor of English Literature and Women's Studies with a focus on Women and Religion, she lived and ministered on Vancouver Island with outreach to the LGBTQ Dignity Vancouver community. In 2013, Bishop Birch-Conery moved to Windsor where she collaborates with priest Barbara Billey and their Heart of Compassion Faith Communities in Ontario and Michigan.

  • Olga Lucia Alvarez Benjumea of Colombia, was educated by the Dominican Sisters of the Presentation. Bishop Alvarez did USEMI missionary work with indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities and was one of the secretaries assigned to the CELAM general conference in Medellin in 1968. Her formation has included religious studies, pastoral ministry, catechesis, liberation theology, and an emphasis on popular reading of the Bible. She was ordained a priest in Sarasota, Florida on December 11, 2010. She accompanies several communities and works with women ex-convicts and ASFADDES (Association of Families of the Disappeared). She is author of several books and articles in biblical-theological reflection and is a member of the Collective of Ecumenical Bible Scholars (CEDEMI). Bishop Alvarez is also author of the Evangelizadoras de los Apóstoles blog.

The ceremony was attended by many fellow women priests both from ARCWP and the rival Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) group, as well as a smattering of laypeople. Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan was the primary celebrant but she was assisted by retired RCWP Bishop Dana Reynolds and a male bishop, Bernard Callahan from the Ecumenical Catholic Ordinariate.

In her homily, Bishop Meehan pointed out the significance of the women priests' movement. "We are crossing over from a top-down, clerical model of church to a community, circular model that calls forth the gifts of all of its members. The institutional Church teaches that the Priest must be in Personae Christi, in the image of Christ. As women priests preside at the table of worship, we are visible reminders that women are full equals and all the baptized are created in the image of Christ." She said that since the original Danube Seven -- some of whom were present at this ceremony -- were ordained, the movement has grown to 215 members and serves 75 women-led communities. Meehan boasted that "in 2014, I ordained 22 deacons and priests, and now half way through 2015, I have ordained 19. In October, 3 ARCWP bishops will ordain 3 priests and a deacon on 3 different weekends in 3 cities Detroit, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque. There is," she concluded, "no shortage in vocations."

The ordination of Colombia's first woman bishop was perhaps the most historically significant one of the day, but also the most bittersweet. Conspicuously absent was Rev. Judy Lee from The Good Shepherd Inclusive Catholic Community of Fort Myers, Florida. Rev. Lee (photo above with now Bishop Alvarez at an earlier ordination ceremony), who is bilingual, mentored the Colombian women priests extensively at the beginning but later broke rank with ARCWP and joined RCWP. The only Afro-Colombian woman priest, Marina Teresa Sánchez Mejía, also went with RCWP. The rest have stayed with ARCWP and one priest, who goes by the catacomb name "Luz Galilea", participated in this ordination, doing the second reading in Spanish and later joining ARCWP Deacon Silvia Brandon-Perez in singing "Gracias a la Vida."

At the end of her homily, Bishop Meehan had some words for Pope Francis. She noted that "since women comprise half of the membership of the world and of the church, we firmly believe that gender equality needs to be a top priority in Francis' justice agenda." And she added, "We call on Pope Francis to affirm women priests as beloved members of the church and to lift all excommunications and punishments against women priests and our supporters. We also call on Francis to affirm the primacy of conscience for all Catholics including gays, lesbians, transgender, divorced and remarried, women priests and our supporters. By these actions, Pope Francis can open the way to deep healing in the Catholic Church of today and for the future."

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