We gathered this afternoon at the inspiring statue of St. Joan of Arc overlooking the Vatican on this her feast day, May 30th. For reflection I asked the women to briefly share what stood out in their minds about her life. Remarks included respect for her courage; how she dressed in men’s clothing, including armor, to protect herself from being molested on the battlefield; how she endured torture and possibly rape in prison; was marginalized by the church and state; how she despised war and the suffering it caused. We talked about she was a model of leadership and resilience. We recognize that it was a different situation in the 15th century than it is today. One could argue she had the best intentions ridding the country of British imperialism and she suffered the ultimate consequence. She was a peasant that took on the powers that be. I said I would hope that if there would be a Joan of Arc today she would choose a nonviolent solution: civil resistance against the British crown and nonviolent direct action. We made a circle around her statue and, hands locked together, prayed silently. We were aware of the women who are sexually abused during war and that as women who are feminists, we may have also been burned as a heretic or witch. Joan heard the voice of God and obeyed as do we. It took 500 years for her to be canonized.
WOW participants Alicja Baranowska of Poland, ARCWP Janice Sevre-Duszynska and
Christina Moiera of Spain, Pat Brown and Miriam Duginan of England, Kate McElwee
and Erin Hanna of Women's Ordination Conference and Writer Jamie Manson. Miriam
and Janice are holding pamphlets from St. Joan's International Alliance, a
100-plus-year-old Catholic feminist group and NGO led by Theologian Dorothy
Irvin. St. Joan's members have been active at the annual UN Commission On the
Status of Women in NYC.
Janice, Sevre-Duszynska, ARCWP
Bridget Mary's Response:
St. Joan of Arc , Champion of Conscience, was born in France on June 6, 1412. When she was thirteen, she had mystical encounters with Saints Michael, Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret, that led her to believe that God was calling her to help deliver France from English domination. She led the army in the capture of Orleans and the capture of several towns. In 1429 she excorted the Dauphin of Rheims and he was crowned as Charles VII King of France. Later Joan was captured by the Burgundians at Campiegne and sold to the English. Eventually, she was put on trial as heretic and witch. Her trial took place between 1450-1456. Although a retrial cleared her of heresy, the trial did not deal with her right to claim authority for or affirm the validity of her spiritual experiences. The verdict was unanimous: Joan of Arc was to be burned at the stake as a heretic. As W.S. Scott observed Joan shook the ecclesiastical leaders. Here was a young woman who "claimed the absolute validity of her own religious experience...above all else as a God inspired, God intoxicated individualist." Source: Bridget Mary Meehan, Praying with Visionary Women, pp. 65-67.
On the eve of St. Joan of Arc, on May 29, 2008, the Vatican declared that Roman Catholic Women Priests were excommunicated latae sententiae. This means that church officials were declaring that by our decision to follow God's called to be ordained, we were no longer members in good standing in our church and could not receive sacraments. However, we rejected excommunication and responded that we were following our consciences in disobeying an unjust man-made canon law that discriminates against women in our church.
My perspective is that we walking in the footsteps of champions of conscience, like Joan of Arc and Mother Theodore McKillop and Mother Theodore Guerin who were excommunicated by their bishops in one century and canonized as saints by Pope Benedict in the 21st century.
Thus, one can be condemned by the hierarchy in one century and declared a saint in another century! So, I why worry about excommunication? It lifts my heart to think that Pope Benedict has made excommunication a possible fast track to canonization! Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP, www.arcwp.org