I passed “Civil Disobedience 101”on Wednesday, September 23, 2015, in Washington D.C., when Pope Francis was visiting the U.S. Along with the birthdays of my three children, this day was one of the best days of my life. I was participating in an action for the birth of equality for women in the Roman Catholic Church and in the world. I was joining the modern day civil rights movement that says women are rising up to speak truth to power about the treatment of women in the church and world.
The experiences of my mother and grandmother along with women of their generations were with me asking Pope Francis to set them free from the debilitating, patriarchal abuse of authority that imprisoned them for too many generations. My spirit was soaring as we could tangibly feel Sophia-Spirit’s presence and guidance in our action while the Pope was talking to the U.S. Bishops, in The Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, in Washington D.C.
My personal life prepared me for this day because I brought with me a deep understanding of the pain women have experienced due to sexism and damaging misinterpretations of scripture. I do not have the words to describe how important it was for me to be dressed in my alb and stole holding a sign that said “primacy of conscience” as I participated in this phenomenal public action.
I know from the very core of my being that all people must follow their informed consciences and live the authentic life that God created them to live. Unfortunately, the culture of the Roman Catholic Church and the world has actually set up the conditions for women and men to feel compelled to make choices that go against their consciences. These choices have imprisoned them to an unauthentic, culture-made, form of existence. Their spirits have not been free to soar and live fully because they said “yes” to the culture and “no” to their consciences. As Pope Francis said himself, “Jesus wants us to be free, and this freedom-where is it found? It is to be found in the inner dialogue with God in conscience.”
Women suppressing a call to the priesthood, human trafficking, people suppressing sexual orientation to live culturally approved lives, are a few examples of the imprisonments people are facing worldwide. These are all connected to abuse of authority, misinterpretation of scriptures and domination-subordination structures that we are surrounded by today. We can be set free when primacy of conscience is upheld.
Women hear the call from God to become priests and must follow their conscience. God’s call cannot be suppressed just to stay in compliance with canon law 1024, a law made by men. Does Pope Francis see that there cannot be equality for women until the church recognizes us as equals? Peace and justice cannot be achieved until the unjust treatment of women is on the list to be seriously addressed. His strong support of those who are marginalized must include women who are treated as second-class citizens right inside the structure of the Roman Catholic Church.
As I laid on the ground with the sign on my chest, surrounded by the police I wanted women of the past present and future to be set free from sexism and to be encouraged by the Roman Catholic Church to follow their informed consciences to live authentic lives. People were watching us, taking pictures and movies of us, walking past us, giving us a “thumbs up” and a few “thumbs down.” The tall building beside us had glass windows and we could see people gathered at the windows looking at us. A helicopter went over us several times.
We were telling the world with this action that women must rise up in freedom from misogyny. Most of the people who saw our witness gave us heartwarming support. The police even seemed to be helping us because I think they understood what we were doing.
There I was on the corner of the street where The Cathedral of St. Matthew The Apostle is located, holding my sign, dressed in my priest attire as Pope Francis left the gathering with the U.S. Bishops. As his vehicle rounded the corner he was waving at the people and I made eye contact with him! His expression changed to one of surprise, as it seemed his mouth dropped a little bit.
I hope Pope Francis will know how important that brief exchange was. Will he put it all together and see our call to him? We want him to use his authority as the peace and justice Pope to make changes in the Roman Catholic Church to free women from the destruction of their souls that takes place when they are marginalized in the church. The world is watching what he is doing and is already being changed in a significant Christ-like way because of his messages. We ask Pope Francis the same question he asks the people: What about you Pope Francis? Will you end sexism in the Roman Catholic Church?