Monday, May 19, 2014

Female priests, bishops at work serving Catholics in the U.S. by Dolores Campbell, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia
"A letter in the Cape Breton Post in Sydney, a lady from Glace Bay who accesses
it in Sarasota, Florida and viola – an email interview with Bishop Bridget Mary
Meehan, a bishop of  the association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP) who
ministers at St. Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community in Sarasota,

Ordained a priest in 2006 in Pittsburgh, PA , one of eight priests and 4
deacons, Meehan made history as a member of the first group of women ordained in
the United States. She had served  for 15 years as a lay pastoral associate at
Fort Myer Chapel in Arlington, VA, doing much of what male priests did as part
of her ministry. After holding communion services and being approached by
members of the congregation thanking her “for the lovely Mass”, Meehan realized
that people were open to having a woman serve them as priest.

It was thanks to the RCWP that she finally realized her long-held hope of
ordination, having first felt the call when she was in grade 8 and visited the
Immaculate Heart of Mary novices, later becoming a Sister for Christian
Community. The community is an independent group of women who do not answer to
the Vatican. If they did answer to the Vatican, they would probably be part of
the Leadership Conference of Women Religious who have recently been admonished
by Rome for, among other things, their choice of speakers to their various
conferences. One writer referred to Rome's intervention as a “whack-a-nun”

Although women served as deacons and priests in the early church,  probably the
first modern-day  ordination of women took place in 2002 aboard a boat on the
Danube river by a consecrated bishop of the Catholic church, Meehan, who quotes
the old adage “in order to change an unjust law, we must break it”, herself was
ordained a bishop in 2009, one of five women in the first ordination of women as
bishops for the RCWP in the Unites States. She has gone on to ordain women, 13
in 2013, with three more to be ordained in various American cities this month. 
A recent count indicates there are 124 women priests. The Vatican has reacted,
of course, as one would expect, by excommunicating the women priests and bishops
as well as priests who have participated in these ordinations or in liturgies
celebrated by the women priests.

In the beginning, Meehan served a house community that soon outgrew her home,
but fortunately, they were able to rent space from St. Andrew United Church of
Christ in Sarasota where they hold a weekly Saturday liturgy and consider
themselves an “inclusive, egalitarian, empowered Catholic community”. As a
bishop, she doesn't serve a diocese but “diverse, independent” faith
communities, “sharing the same vision of Gospel equality that Jesus lived and
the early church practised in the first century”.  While Meehan disagrees with
the Catholic church on birth control, homosexuality, divorce and remarriage, she
professes a love for her Catholic faith and insists that Roman Catholic Women
Priests are not leaving the church but are “leading the church into a new era of
justice and equality for women as equal images of God and equal partners in

Asked why she thinks women wish to be priests in a church that refuses them
ordination, Meehan is adamant that some women, like some men, believe they “are
called to serve the community of faith as liturgical, sacramental and spiritual
leaders” She believes that RCWP are “visible reminders that women are equal
images of God” and will cause the hierarchy to accept what many Catholics will
have accepted as they “embrace women priests”.  While she expresses love for
Pope Francis who preaches justice and equality, she isn't sure that he will
agree with ordaining women. Meehan hopes, however, that Pope Francis will
“affirm the priority of following one's conscience” and that he will move to
change or withdraw the “harsh punishments” that have been enacted against
members of RCWP.

While RCWP priests and bishops are not sought out by Catholic parishes, many
other faith leaders reach out to her with offers to hear more about the RCWP
movement. Members of the movement have diverse views but focus on “justice and
equality for all, especially those on the margins of church and society” and
that, according to Meehan, definitely includes women priests.

And while Meehan and her fellow priests and bishops carry out the work of
Christ, here in our diocese we hear there is no place in our church for “mature,
well-adjusted and faithful” women to serve the people of God. Meehan would agree
that the people of God deserve much better."

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