Saturday, January 8, 2022

Historical Overview of International Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement - Are Women Priests Saving the Church? by Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP

Ordination to the Priesthood of Mercedes Segura Rodriguez ARCWP  in Buenaventura, Colombia on December 12/2021


The question of women’s ordination in the Church in the early 20th century was linked to the question of women’s suffrage in several countries. The St. Joan’s Alliance campaigned in both England and the USA in 1911 for both women’s ordination and women’s suffrage. As the 20th century progressed, numerous Protestant denominations began to ordain women. By mid-century, most of the mainline denominations in the USA had some ordained women. A big breakthrough occurred when the Episcopal Church USA, a member of the Anglican communion of churches, ordained women as priests officially in 1976. This breakthrough followed a long struggle, with 11 women being ordained illicitly (but validly) in 1974, followed by another group of 5 in 1975. This phenomenon inspired hundreds of Roman Catholic women who felt called to ordination to gather together with men and women theologians in Detroit, Michigan to organize an effort to bring their campaign to the Vatican. The gathering took place in late 1975, and was known as The Women’s Ordination Conference. Shortly thereafter, in 1976, an organization was formed to carry this campaign forward, and it was named The Women’s Ordination Conference.

There were almost immediate reactions in Rome to these developments. The Pontifical Biblical Commission studied the issue in 1976, and announced that there was no biblical impediment to the priestly ordination of women.

However, Pope Paul VI hastily issued an encyclical known as Inter Insignores which denied that women could adequately represent the male Jesus as presider at the Eucharistic table. Women’s Ordination Conference was not deterred, but built a large constituency within the USA, and inspired women in many other countries to organize in similar ways in their countries.

Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement:

The movement within the Roman Catholic Church known as Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) began with the ordination to the priesthood of seven women on the Danube River in 2002. The ordination of priests requires bishops. In 2003, canonical male bishops recognized the need for women bishops to ordain women priests. They ordained two women priests as bishops: Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and Dr. Gisela Forster. As the movement spread, the need for English speaking bishops emerged. In 2005, Dr. Patricia Fresen from South Africa and Germany was ordained bishop. In 2006, Dr. Ida Raming, also from Germany, was ordained bishop.

The historic ordination of the first Roman Catholic Women priests and deacons in the United States took place in Pittsburgh on July 31, 2006. As more women presented themselves for ordination in the U.S., Sibyl Dana Reynolds traveled to Germany from the RCWP Western Region in 2008 and became the first Roman Catholic woman bishop in the U.S. In 2009, four women were ordained bishops to serve other US regions: Regina Nicolosi, Andrea Johnson, Bridget Mary Meehan and Joan Houk.

Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests

The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP), an international community within the International Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement that was formed in 2010,
 is committed to a renewed model of ordained ministry in an inclusive community of equals in the Roman Catholic Church.


ARCWP prepares, ordains, and supports qualified women and men from all states of life, who are committed to a model of Church grounded in Jesus’ vision of an open table, where all are welcome. By living and ministering within a community of equals, members are respectful of differences among people.In the tradition of the mystics and prophets, ARCWP challenges the dominance of patriarchal systems by promoting practices of equality that lead us to recognize and stand for justice on behalf of all people, locally and globally, and on behalf of the urgent needs of Eco-justice for our planet. (Constitution) 

Apostolic Succession:

The ordinations of Roman Catholic Women Priests are valid because of our apostolic succession within the Roman Catholic Church. The principal consecrating Roman Catholic male bishop, who ordained our first women bishops, is a bishop with apostolic succession within the Roman Catholic Church.  Therefore, our women bishops validly ordain deacons, priests and bishops. Consequently, all qualified candidates, including baptized ministers and priests from other Christian traditions, who are presented to our bishops for ordination, are ordained by the laying on of hands into apostolic succession in the Roman Catholic Church.

Leading- Not Leaving the Church:

Catholics have accepted women as their priests and they continue to support RCWP/ARCWP as an international movement that is leading the Roman Catholic Church toward living Gospel equality in the 21st century.

According to the Women's Ordination Conference, Catholics support the full equality of women priests in the Catholic Church.
  • 88% of U.S. Catholics would be “comfortable” with the ordination of women, according to a 2015 Shriver Report.
  • The majority of Catholics would like to see women have equal standing in ordained ministry: in France (83%), Spain (78%), Argentina (60%), and Italy (59%), and Brazil (54%), according to a 2014 Univision poll.
  • 63% of U.S. Catholics support ordaining women as priests and 81% support ordaining women as deacons. Gallup Organization survey, September 2005
  • 64% of U.S. Catholics support women’s ordination and 69% support married priests. The Associated Press-Ipsos Poll, April 2005
  • Only 29% of U.S. Catholics say a male, celibate clergy is “very important.” Gallup Organization survey, September 2005
  • There are 16 national organizations from 11 different countries that advocate women’s ordination and eight Women’s Ordination Confernce local groups that do so in the U.S.A.
  • More than 180 women have been ordained as priests, deacons or bishops by the group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) and the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priest.
  • In Rome and throughout the Mediterranean, archaeologists have found images on frescoes, mosaics, and tombs that depict women serving in roles specifically reserved for deacons, priests, and bishops. Found in catacombs and early Christian churches, they date from 100 to 820 A.D.

The international Roman Catholic Women Priests' Movement continues to grow. Since 2006, women have been ordained in the USA, Europe, Canada, South America, and South Africa.Women priests are ministering in over 34 states across the USA. From 2002 to 2022, we have grown from 7 to close to 300!

A holy shakeup has begun-moving an all male led hierarchy (kicking and screaming) to a people- empowered community- that is breaking through the rigid boundaries of patriarchal domination and sexism in the institutional Church.  Roman Catholic Women Priests have begun a healing process of  centuries-old misogyny that discriminates against women. 

Perhaps, women priests are actually saving the Church by offering a  path to renewal in which women take their rightful place as sacramental presiders and prophetic advocates of justice in a discipleship of equals serving God's people now. 

Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP

Important Resources about Highlights in the History of Roman Catholic Women Priests:

Treasure-trove of links to archives of history of the Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement- 2004-2014

A major resource of history, theology, lived experience and so much more:Roman Catholic Women Priests: The Case for Women Priests, Brief History, Videos, Books, Articles.” 


 Women Find a Way by Elsie McGrath, Bridget Mary Meehan and Ida Ramming ( The stories of the twenty women pioneers in early history of movement) 


 "Here I Am, I Am Ready" by Juanita Cordero and Suzanne Avison Thiel (A concise history of the International Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement can be found in the booklet)

Womanpriest: Tradition and Transgression in the Contemporary Roman Catholic Church by Jill Peterfeso, Fordham University Press, "Womanpriest reveals RCWP to be a discrete religious movement in a distinct religious moment, with a small group of tenacious women defying the Catholic patriarchy, taking on the priestly role and demanding reconsideration of Roman Catholic tradition."

Book Review by Bridget Mary Meehan for highly recommended reading of background that propelled the movement for Roman Catholic Women Priests: 55 Years of Struggle for Women’s Ordination in the Catholic Church by theologian Dr. Ida Raming RCWP


Women Priest Then and Now: Makes Case for women priests rooted in women leaders who served early Christian Communities 

ARCWP Women in Inclusive Church Leadership- An Overview of Inclusive sacramental ministries of women priests

Pink Smoke Over the Vatican by Jules Hart. Documentary describing the call for equality, justice and partnership by courageous women who are creating an inclusive priesthood that challenges the all-male priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church. 

Video testimonies by ARCWP members: 

Media Coverage:

“Faces of Faith: Inclusive Catholic community leader” to read about the beginnings of an Inclusive Catholic Community by a woman priest. 

An  interview by Rev. Mary Eileen Collingwood who gives an overview of the pathway to ordination: 

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