We rejoice today that God is doing great things for us as we grow our international movement by ordaining 3 new women bishops: Olga Lucia Alvarez Benjumea, from Latin America, Mary Eileen Collingwood from the United States, and Michele Birch-Conery from Canada. Each of these women brings unique spiritual gifts and diverse life experiences that will inform their role as bishop in a circular model of leadership within a discipleship of equals.
Olga Lucia Alvarez Benjumea of Medellin-Colombia shares that her mission as bishop in Latin America will be to foster an inclusive community where the gifts of the people will rise up to break the bonds of clericalism and to grow a community of empowerment. She writes: “It is with God's strength that I encourage the growth of the Church through faith and Christian values based on the gospel teachings of justice and equality in an inclusive and true way so as to expand priesthood as a service in the church.”
Mary Eileen Collingwood from Hudson, Ohio, has a background in education and ministry that has put her in touch with the operative mindset and working structure of the church, and is keenly aware of the necessity for reform. Mary has focused her energy toward living the vision of women as equal partners in policy making, teaching, leadership and ordained ministry in the Roman Catholic Church. She has a confident demeanor and clearly articulates her thoughts that are anchored in her deep spirituality. Being married and raising children has given Mary a broad understanding of the unexpected joys and sorrows of daily life. Her life experiences of marriage and family open perspectives that Catholics today would appreciate in their bishops.
Michele Birch-Conery of Windsor, Ontario, Canada celebrated her 10th anniversary as Canada’s first woman priest on July 25th. Michele brings knowledge of our history and originating intentions that are crucial to our continuing evolution. Her cumulative life experience and spiritual development offer wisdom and build a bridge to hold differences in unity and equality. She affirms the diversity in our ministries and in our inter- generational realities: "I'm committed to our non-clerical model of priesthood that promotes equality and non-violence, within the communities of the ordained, and in our inclusive sacramental communities. In these “discipleship of equals” faith communities, we meet in the heart of Christ and thrive in the vitality of our shared unconditional love.”
In the Magnificat, Mary Mother of Jesus, proclaims God’s faithful love for the fullness of life for all especially the powerless and downtrodden. Mary’s words echo the prophets’ message that continue to challenge us today: to speak truth to power, challenge discrimination, and work for justice.
Like Mary, we, too, proclaim that God is doing great things for us. God is working through our movement to lift up women as equals in our Church and to promote the full humanity of women in the world. We believe that women’s rights are human rights and that gender equality is the will of God for everyone. In Genesis 1:17 we read: “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them; female and male, God made them."
In a recent TED talk entitled “Why I Believe Mistreatment of Women is the Number One Human Rights Abuse," Jimmy Carter maintains that the misinterpretation of religious scriptures is a strong determining factor in violence and discrimination against women worldwide. Carter says:"That is an all-pervasive problem, because men can exert that power and if an abusive husband or an employer, for instance, wants to cheat women, they can say that if women are not equal in the eyes of God, why should I treat them as equals myself?”
The belief that God is male and that men are created more in God’s image than women is the foundation for the misogynist attitude that men are superior and women are inferior. While we know that language about the Holy One is metaphorical and limited, the use of exclusive language and male only images puts God in a man’s only box that elevates man to the status of God. Such idolatry reinforces sexist attitudes and practices that have been taught by the church for centuries. Women have too often internalized this oppressive thinking and accepted their own subordinate status. But today, feminist theologians are expanding our God language to include God as “she.”
In the Bible, we encounter a rich array of feminine images for the divine. Holy Wisdom is translated in Greek and Hebrew as feminine, Sophia in Greek and Hokmah in Hebrew. She is portrayed as mother, sister, bride, hostess, prophet, preacher, friend, liberator, and the creator in the Books of Job, Proverbs, Sirach, Baruch and the Wisdom of Solomon.
In our first reading “Sophia permeates all living things, enters into holy souls and makes them friends of God.” In this encounter with the feminine divine we are reminded of our call to care for the earth because, ultimately, we are one with all life and the entire cosmos.
Today there is a growing awareness of our connectedness with all living beings in our very essence. The entire cosmos is giving birth to God each and every day in a communion of love and life.
As we ordain 3 women bishops today, we recognize their heritage within the Divine Feminine Wisdom tradition as embracing an awareness of our cosmic oneness alive in mystical knowing and in evolving theologies. Most of all, they are aware of the relationship between divine consciousness and human rights advocacy for taking action in encouraging compassionate global communities. Our bishops, together with our ARCWP community and the church, are emerging and evolving into a companionship of empowerment, in a community of disciples and equals.
Our international movement began in 2002 when seven courageous women were ordained on the Danube. Our first women bishops were ordained by male bishops in apostolic succession. Therefore, our orders are valid. We are disobeying an unjust, man-made church law that discriminates against women. In 2015, our worldwide Roman Catholic Women Priests membership is 215. The good news is women priests are changing the church, one inclusive community at a time. We now serve more than 75 communities.
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.
The bishops’ primary function is to ordain deacons, priests and bishops to serve inclusive ecclesial communities in mutual partnership. Our vision is a circular model united with the people we serve; hence, the bishop ordains and is also an enthusiastic communicator of our renewed vision. We do not have dioceses or exercise jurisdiction over anyone or anything. Bishops have 1 vote, as do others in the community, on decisions that affect us all.
In her book Abounding in Kindness, Elizabeth Johnson affirms the challenge that the church faces in transforming clericalism and patriarchy. She writes: This “add women and stir” recipe just results in further problems as women are pressured to disregard their own gifts and try to fit into a male-defined world. Rather, the whole structure of church and society needs to be transformed to make space for a new community of mutual partnership. The goal is a new justice” (Elizabeth Johnson, Abounding in Kindness, p. 141).
A bridge is a useful metaphor to describe the relationship between the Roman Catholic institutional Church and the women priests’ movement. During this time of major paradigm shift, many people within the Catholic Community are moving from a top-down hierarchy or leadership model of church to a more open, participatory, circular one.
On the one hand, by reason of our valid ordinations, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests is anchored deep within the mystical , contemplative and sacramental realities that thrive in the heritage of our Roman Catholic Church. As we ordain, using the Rites of the Roman Catholic Church, preside at sacramental liturgies, live the mystical, prophetic and social justice teachings of the church, we carry forward the best that still lives in the church we love. On the other hand, we are connected with those who are living as disciples and equals in inclusive grassroots communities that are rising from the teaching of Vatican 2, while redefining future church.
Our challenge is to cross the bridge that enables us to encounter the dissonance between differing church cultures. Then we will heal the effects of the sin of sexism, for women and for men. In order to become whole, we need women in every area of the church’s life and in all ministries, including women priests. During this creative and chaotic time, ARCWP is a bridge that provides the means for evolving a more equal and just church.
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.
Our inclusive Eucharistic communities are renewing the church today. We often have dialogue homilies to honor the Spirit of God speaking in the entire community, not only, in the homilist, who in most Catholic Churches is the priest or deacon. The whole Body of Christ, all the baptized, celebrate sacraments, not the ordained alone. In many of our inclusive communities, for example, the presiders at our Eucharistic Liturgies are two people, one ordained and one non-ordained. It was not until the thirteenth century that the church required an ordained priest to consecrate Eucharist (see Gary Macy, The Hidden History of Women's Ordination http://ncronline.org/news/faith-parish/theologian-ordination-ideas-have-changed-over-time).
Mary Anne from Troy, New York attended a recent ordination in Albany. In her letter to me she wrote: “The energy and enthusiasm of the ARCWP has given new hope and made me more passionate than ever in this fight for equality. I truly believe it is what Christ wants. I know in my heart that God is pleased and is rejoicing in you and in the men and women who have answered God’s call to service.”
Many people are excited that Pope Francis is coming to the World Meeting on the Families in Philadelphia this weekend. We are too!
Pope Frances the ARCWP welcomes you to our land. We rejoice in your prophetic advocacy for economic justice and for ecological healing of our earth.
Since women comprise half of the membership of the world and of the church, we firmly believe that gender equality be a top priority in Francis' justice agenda. The reality is that women receive 1/10 of the world's salary, and women with their dependent children make up 3/4 of the world's starving people. Therefore, it is important that Pope Francis make the connection betweem poverty, violence, abuse of women and the earth, and the second class status of women in the church. If the Earth is to be healed, for instance, then women must be able to control their fertility. This would also mean that Francis would have to acknowledge the reality -that women are free and responsible moral agents, and lift the ban on artificial birth control.
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.
For some, including the Catholic hierarchy, women priests are a revolution. The time has come for “a holy shakeup” to bring new life, creativity and justice to the church and beyond
We rejoice now as we ordain 3 new bishops: Olga Lucia, Mary, and Michele. They will ordain future deacons, priests and bishops to serve inclusive communities where all are equal and all are welcome. Let us celebrate the gifts of Women Spirit Rising to liberate, heal and transform our church!