"The Blessed Virgin Mary could have appeared on the White House Lawn during Pope Francis’ US visit and no one would have noticed. It was non-stop Francis across the media, social and traditional—not to mention huge disruptions of daily life in three major cities. While many are poped out, I highlight two major Catholic events that took place during the same week lest they pass, like the BVM might have, without our attention.
Gender Justice in CatholicismFive hundred people gathered from twenty countries in Philadelphia days before Francis’ visit to celebrate decades of struggle for feminist ministry and women’s equality in the Catholic Church. The 40th anniversary of the Women’s Ordination Conference provided a great occasion to lead the umbrella group, Women’s Ordination Worldwide, to assess progress and map strategies under the rubric of “Gender, Gospel, and Global Justice"...Full disclosure: I myself lectured on the achievements of the movement, especially our success in avoiding being coopted by a kyriarchal church. Ordination is a stated goal that some Catholic women have reached by taking the ordination process into their own hands, as with Roman Catholic Womenpriests and the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. The movement’s major achievements include creating many forms of feminist ministry and theology—as theologian Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza explained—replacing parishes with base communities, developing inclusive language and imagery, and building respectful egalitarian relationships among ourselves.
There is abundant reason to celebrate and so we did.
A highlight of the event was Mercy Sister Theresa Kane’s presentation and the awards given in her name. Theresa is widely revered for her 1979 graceful speech to Francis’ predecessor Pope John Paul II. She famously welcomed him to the U.S. by calling for women’s full participation in the ministry of the church (otherwise known as ordination). He was appalled, an emotion that set off a Vatican chain reaction of anti-women, (including anti-nun) activities that persist to the present. At this WOC/WOW event, Theresa reiterated and elaborated on her position in an open letter to Francis. Alas, thirty-six years later, while her words were cheered in Philadelphia, the letter fell on closed minds in Rome.
Another conference high point was a panel entitled “Equal in Faith” chaired deftly byInterfaith Voices host Maureen Fielder. Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Anglican, and Catholic women made clear that religious sexism is practiced in many settings. But it was equally clear that once progress is made (as with Reconstructionist Judaism, for example) the whole community gains. Several male former priests and one still active in ministry (who was relieved later of his pastoral duties) explained the price they have paid for their support for women’s ordination. Their solidarity was more than welcome. Their loss of privilege, while painful, pales in light of countless women’s exclusion from ever exercising ordained ministry. (Not surprisingly, the four men received far more secular press attention than the conference itself.)
Woven throughout the meeting were prayer services and liturgies, including a shared Eucharist, that demonstrated the advances Catholic women are making in creating new, inclusive forms of faith that make sense in postmodernity. There was no rote repetition of the rubrics of the Mass. Instead, the planners offered creative, imaginative, and uplifting experiences of worship that would benefit the whole church if only…There wasn’t a vestment in sight that weekend in Philadelphia. Deo gratias.We danced, sometimes the best thing for body and soul in the face of overwhelming odds. As the papal visit unfolded, it was clear that there was no competing with the power of the Vatican on the uneven turf we occupy. Nonetheless, five hundred people went home energized from Philadelphia confident that the struggle for Catholic women’s equality has just begun..."