Sunday, June 7, 2015

"She's Not Waiting for Church's Permission" by Carrie Seidman, Article about Bridget Mary Meehan in Sarasota Herald Tribune on Jun 7, 2015

Fighting for social justice, gender equality
By Carrie Seidman

"Bridget Mary Meehan loves swimming, line dancing and 

listening to the Louis Armstrong songs her father 
used to play on his trumpet. 
She loves her daily ice cream and diet soda at McDonald’s, 
her Irish homeland and a good feisty debate.

But most of all she loves the Catholic church — 

the very church that has excommunicated 
her more than once.

“How many times? Let’s see...” says Meehan, 

a nun and an ordained bishop in the renegade group 
known as the Association of Roman Catholic 
Women Priests. “The first was in 2008, when I was 
put in a category with those who’ve committed the highest form of Catholic crime — members of the Mafia and priest pedophiles. 
But apparently I’m lower than the priests because 
they can still take communion.”

The denunciations have done nothing to deter Meehan 

from her passionate commitment to achieving
 equal status for women in the Catholic church 
and facilitating no less than “a transformation
 of all unjust structures, in the church and in the world.”

“We’re in the midst of a ‘Holy shake-up,’” 

says Meehan of herself and the more than 
200 women internationally who have been ordained 
outside Vatican circles. 
“We’re the Rosa Parkses of the Catholic world. 
You have to start somewhere and 
we’re not waiting for permission from the hierarchy.”

Both Meehan’s faith and her strong sense of self 

were instilled in her earliest years, 
growing up in a bucolic cottage near Tiperrary, 
with no running water but plenty of opportunity
 for communing with nature and God. 
In fact, the cows, chickens, lambs and 
goats were just as much a part of her 
religion as the angels and saints.

“It was like Mary and Jesus were extended family,” 

she says. “Spirituality was all about the earth, 
water, nature. Faith was something you breathed.”

When she was 8, her family immigrated to Virginia, 

where she attended Catholic school and 
met her first postulants. 
She felt a call to serve the church, 
but fought it, bargaining with God to 
give her a reason not to become a nun.

But rather than entering George Mason University, 

where she’d been accepted, in 1966 
she joined the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters
 in Pennsylvania.

Ten years later she took a leave to care for her 

mother and never returned. 
Instead she joined the Sisters for Christian 
Community, a non-canonical, ecumenical organization 
of 500 women who believe the spiritual destiny of all 
is to become as one with God.

She spent 15 years doing pastoral work at an interfaith 

chapel in a military community outside Washington, D.C., 
while earning her masters and a doctorate of ministry. 
Her studies immersed her in the historical connections 
of women to the church that are ignored or challenged
 by the present-day hierarchy and planted 
a seed that bloomed after she watched a 
woman lead Mass at an Episcopal service.

“It was a transformative moment,” Meehan says.

 “I realized that this was not just theory, 
but that it could become a reality.”

The Roman Catholic womenpriests movement was

 born in 2002 in Europe, when a male bishop broke 
church law to ordain seven women. 
By 2006 Meehan had become one of the first 
12 women ordained in the U.S.

The movement has since split into two amicable factions —

 Meehan likens them to religious orders — 
the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, 
devoted to achieving equality in church, and 
Meehan’s branch, committed to fighting 
for social justice across the board.

Through a “minor miracle,” the low-ball offer Meehan 

and her late father made on a home in Sarasota’s Oakwood Manor
 mobile home park in 2004 was accepted without a counter. 
Once they had moved here, she began hosting a “house church” in their living room. Everyone — including the gays, lesbians and
 divorcĂ©es barred from traditional Catholicism — 
was welcome at the Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive 
Catholic Community.

Meehan’s actions have drawn a string of rebukes from 

Catholic clerics, notably the leader of the 
Diocese of Venice, Bishop Frank J. Dewane. 
Each reprimand has ignited media attention, 
which, Meehan says, has only served to bolster her cause.

“Every time they do that, I say it’s the gift that 

keeps on giving,” she says with a polite grin.

The church outgrew her living room long ago and 

found an accepting home at St. Andrew United Church of Christ, 
where it meets every Saturday at 4 p.m. 
The priest leads a full church discussion 
rather than delivering a sermon and, 
during snowbird season, there are as many as 
75 in attendance.

Meehan has been pleased and encouraged by 

Pope Francis’s efforts to address injustices to the poor and 
oppressed. But when he visits the U.S. in September, 
she plans to mention just what he is neglecting.

“His agenda for justice and inclusion must be for everyone,” 

she says. “You can’t have economic and gender equity 
without women, because it’s all inter-related.
“I honestly think he recognizes our movement as prophetic.

 But right now, women are the elephant in the church’s living room.”
Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan of the Roman Catholic Women Priests. HERALD-TRIBUNE PHOTO BY NICK ADAMS

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