Thursday, July 5, 2018
No. 274, April-June 2018, pp.101-105
Signs of identity
On June 29, 2002, aboard a boat on the Danube, seven Roman Catholic women were ordained priests according to the Catholic rite by a Catholic bishop who, one year later, would transmit the apostolic succession by consecrating the first women bishops. Since then, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, ARCWP-RCWP 1 has not stopped growing until reaching 250 women in 2017, scattered across various continents. From the hands of a woman bishop I received diaconal ordination (2013) and priestly ordination in March 2015. In both cases, I devoted my ministry first to my Christian community Home Novo in A Coruña.
We know that the institutional Roman Catholic Church does not welcome our ordinations since its Code of Canon Law (Can. 1024) stipulates that "A baptized male alone receives sacred ordination validly." Therefore it did not take long to respond with the corresponding excommunications. We have not been asked about our motives, nor heard in defense, nor have we felt on ourselves the caring shadow of an arm that rests on your shoulder and seeks to love and understand you. Before such a legal display, the commandment to love is a poor and homeless relative.
1. Obedience from spirituality and the gospel: prophetic obedience
These and other displays of little or no empathy towards us make us often wonder what is lost to a woman in this Church.
A vocation is not chosen. It comes where and when it is least expected with its own forms and manners. The Bible gives a good account of some of them. It breaks in in the midst of daily life, it catches you working, studying, caring for sheep. Many will understand me. With a bit of luck it goes on insinuating itself until it becomes obvious; for others it manifests itself with an unbearable glare like an "event." 2. Sometimes this bears a certain similarity to those occasions when Jesus, passing along the seashore, challenged some who "at once left their nets and followed him."(Mt 4:20). That was my case. Without going into detail, I can say, like Jacob at Bethel, "The Lord is here, and I did not know it." No one who has experienced this type of encounter can remain indifferent to so much effort of seduction, much less resist obeying. When Grace enters life, the sacred duty exists to care for it, be grateful for it and share it. I would also add that it is a legitimate aspiration that it be welcomed into your family of faith as a gift for the community and not as a curse. What to say when that encounter results in deep healing-metanoia, as happened with Zacchaeus? After the "get up" comes the "walk." Staying standing and quiet like a statue is the fate dictated for countless women since the first was spoken. Honor to them. When the Church invites us to "pray for vocations," I suggest that it also ask God to limit Himself to fulfilling the Code so that nobody ever again has to die with empty hands and without hope.
And I would add, stop baptizing women now if God cannot freely address them, if they cannot freely answer Him. At some point in history, those who disregard the third petition of the "Our Father" will have to be held to account for this sin against the divine.
I suggest the same to well-meaning people who assess and judge my discernment and condemn me without even knowing who I am. I emphasize that obeying love is the first commandment. It is in force and no theologian able to refute it has been born yet.
2. Obedience from personal conscience and mind
My colleagues and I usually repeat the phrase of Peter and the other apostles -- among whom were women apostles 3 -- "We must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29), without forgetting the martyrial context in which many righteous people have had to speak it since their Master. When a person risks their life for a vocational commitment, it imposes respect. No one in their sound mind takes on the penalties of the caliber that the Holy See reserves for us women priests if they haven't put their lives in the key of radical following. 4
"Conscience is the most secret core and sanctuary of the human being5. There he is alone with God, whose voice echoes in his depths...," says Vatican II (GS 16). To this conscience we appeal, those of us who decide to step forward and say, as Abraham responded to God even before knowing what would be asked of him, "Hineni, here I am." Twice I answered Him, first in Galician before my community, second in English in my global community. I do not know what the theological discipline has ascertained about human perception in the face of transcendence made manifest Presence, but I could write treatises about it.
The moment in which the mind is setting the steps to build the action, it produces a deep humanization rooted in ancestral generations; it produces a person on their feet and ready to go out to be who they are and offer themselves to the world. It produces a joy known only to those who have tasted it. No one should be deprived of experiencing the Grace that God has reserved for them under its own non-transferable form, for their sake and that of the whole community.
Being allowed to take the step on your own path should be a human right; that each person can get to say "I am ..." in freedom and without obstacles, is essential. If you are not you, who is breathing within you? Being fully human and enjoying that which we call dignity depends on it. Hence the special effort Jesus put into raising people up. The recovered vertical position was equivalent to forgiveness and healing. Various scenes in the gospels bear witness to this. Being fully individual seemed to be his motto first of all.
Promising to go forward without looking back and promising to accompany those who are traveling in step with me with the testimony of the gospel and the table set, is nothing but what every conscious baptized person promises. Obeying the Lord's charge to "remember him" should not depend on the permission of an excluding structure that does not take into account the totality of the people of God and allows itself to put obstacles to their choice. They should not be punished just because of the gender or sexual preferences of the baptized person. Our human nature has already been assumed in Christ and not partially, but in its totality. There is no small print at the foot of the Cross.
I did not allow myself to disobey any longer; 30 years had already been a long time. No man I know had to discern so much to be ordained a priest. I was not moved by "fads" or "principles of the social order of any historical period" 6 but by the Holy Spirit herself. Equality is not a fad, it will not pass. It is not a worldly whim, it is the will of the Creator.
When we hear that they want to make pass for infallible doctrine the assertion that the Church cannot ordain women, I postulate as an infallible doctrine that injustice and discrimination is a sin in the category of serious violence. They will end, God willing, just as slavery ended despite Church support in its time.
3. Obeying the Church
The Church should have the sacred mission of promoting the personal and community path towards the fulfillment of the will of God. We are daughters of the Church. It could be that we love her more than is reasonable since, although mistreated, we remain because she is ours and of our communities, because our baptism made us hers and we await a warm and respectful welcome from her. She is "the people of God," the Council said. We know she can change, that sometimes there are surprises, that someday she will listen to her old married priests, to the exhausted communities that no longer even know how to answer at Mass, as it once heard the voice of the indigenous people and slaves in songs of the human soul.
When the urban communities of the first world -- and not just them -- are already self-sufficient with Eucharists without priests. When the dominant idea in many environments is that the clergy get in the way, perhaps it is urgent to listen to those who describe other ways to be Church. Communities now exist where we can perform different roles and tasks without creating submission or abuse. They will not have to step down from the altar nor will we have to go up if it is at floor level; all the people will be equidistant.
And the people will not be starved for the Eucharist. This is, first and finally, what most propels me and comforts me in my decision. Having personally witnessed countless situations of communities separated for years from the Lord's table, I swore that that would not occur while I had these hands. These are my vows, this is my obedience, not celibacy since I have chosen to love and under all forms within my reach.
Women deacons -- this fully current theme -- were a thoroughly proven reality, as other evidence shows that women had leadership in the early days. Archaeology, epigraphy, and the texts support both common sense and the sensus fidei. Christian women give equal faith testimony, their blood flows red in martyrdom just like a man's, and always has. And we haven't waited for any commission or ordinations for that. And if our ministries are to be legalized in the end, I would ask that rose-colored formulas with bows not be invented, non-sacramental forms that set us apart from the holy orders, because the Ruah blows just as holy when she encourages us. Today many underground forms of women's ministries are taking place that require light and knowledge. God willing, we will free ourselves from fear and our light will be put on the mountaintop like a beacon.
When it comes to naming things, we must attend to the absolute criteria of justice proclaimed by Jesus for his Kingdom. Obedience is first to him, to the commandments of the Holy Spirit, to conscience. Service is not blind servitude to laws and mandates but collaboration of adult human beings on an equal footing, with audible and heard voices. Serving at the altar can not be for some coming with the table set and speaking the holy words, keeping for themselves the priceless gift of collaborating with the Savior in his saving task that I now know and value more than life, and, for others, changing the altar cloths, scrubbing the stones, replacing the vessels and cloths...and vanishing to the back pew.
If we are to give witness to the world about the dignity of women, and I do not doubt that both Pope Francis and most of my brothers and sisters have this intention, the times we are experiencing in our world are decisive. Feminism is not a fad of these times, it will not pass nor should it pass as long as our full humanity is not acknowledged in words and in action. We don't want to break with anything but to enter into what exists, slowly and carefully, to bring our charisms, our voice specialized in weakness and pain, our arms sculpted by years of care and our capacity to sleep with one eye open. Everything shared in the common heritage where we, in turn, will take the symbols, clothes, rites, and words accumulated for centuries and finally everything will be fully of the multitudes. Yes, we even take responsibility for the rabid anticlericalism that we are already bearing without deserving it ... we have endured too much and in the end it's time to raise our heads, balance the forces and, for the wounds that have been caused, band aids are not enough. We're all needed.
I ask the authority structures what is creating "the inability of the Church to ordain women." Because you and I know that there is not a single serious biblical or theological argument against laying hands on us. Let's seek dialogue, let's seek the holy exercise of compassion rather than coercive medieval mechanisms. With all due respect, saying to an adult person that what she wishes cannot be "because I who am your father says so," does no good now.
It damages ecclesial communion and, moreover, it harms the image of the Church. It damages an urgent witness we must give to the world at a time when we are being killed, raped, and denigrated everywhere. It's urgent. As the Kingdom is urgent when the Word burns within you. Meanwhile there is one single enemy, a murderer: sexism. I don't want to think we have it in the house. God doesn't want it.
2. María Elena Garmendia, Porque soy hija de Abrahán. Sacerdocio femenino ¿un clamor del espíritu? Desclée de Brouwer, Bilbao, 2017.
3. M. Perroni-Cristina Simonelli, María de Magdala, una genealogía apostólica, San Pablo, Madrid, 2017.
4. Cf. Normae de gravioribus delictis Decree
5. The inclusive language is my contribution; the original says "man."