Friday, April 20, 2007

The Time Has Come for Ordaining Women
By Bridget Mary Meehan

It is time for the full equality of women in the church. Women and men are created in God's image and both may represent Christ as priests.

Women priests remind us that women are equal symbols of the holy and that the identity of priests should reflect the experiences and spiritual authority of women. Women priests help the church to recognize women's rightful place as equals in the governing structures of the church.

It is time to reclaim our Catholic heritage. Jesus treated women and men as equals and partners in ministry, so should the church. Mary of Magdala, the first to encounter the Risen Christ, was commissioned by Christ to be the apostle to the apostles. St Paul called Junia an “outstanding apostle”. In 1976, the Pontifical Biblical Commission concluded that there is no biblical reason to prohibit women’s ordination.

There is archaeological evidence of women deacons, priests and bishops on frescoes and tombstones in Rome, Southern Italy and Northern Africa. Popes and bishops such as Gelasius and Atto of Vercelli both acknowledge that the church did ordain women in the early centuries. Evidence in the Celtic Church indicates that women and men were equals in preaching the Gospel, presiding at Mass and at the other sacraments.

In the sixth century, three Roman bishops at Tours wrote a letter to two Breton priests Lovocat and Cathern, expressing their concern that women were allowed to preside at Eucharist. According to the Irish Life of Brigit, St. Brigit, a bishop, presided at a double monastery of women and men in Kildare. Reclaiming our ancient spiritual heritage, women priests are shaping a more inclusive, Christ-centered church of equals in the 21st century

It is time to transform the current hierarchical structures of the contemporary church. The clerical structure needs to be transformed from a dominator model with powers reserved to clergy into an open participatory model that honors the gifts of God in the people of God. The present gap between clergy and lay needs to be eliminated.

We advocate a move from an unaccountable top-down, hierarchy to a people-empowered discipleship of equals. The Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement offers a community
model of ministry based on union with the people we serve. It is time for holy disobedience. In obedience to the Gospel of Jesus we are disobeying an unjust law that discriminates against women.

The Catholic Church teaches that a law must be received by the faithful. Seventy percent of Catholics in the U.S. support women’s ordination. Therefore canon 1024 which states that only a baptized male may receive Holy Orders does not have the force of law because it has not been accepted by the community or sensus fidelum.

In fact, we have a moral obligation to disobey this unjust law. St. Augustine said that an “unjust law is no law at all.” As Cardinal Walter Kasper, the former bishop of Rottenberg-Stuttgart, Germany and current president of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity wrote: "Some situations oblige one to obey God and one's own conscience, rather than the leaders of the church. Indeed, one may even be obliged to accept excommunication, rather than act against one's conscience. It is time for an inclusive church, in which all are welcome at the table.

“You have given me a reason to return to the church,”. “a woman remarked in a reent e-mail in response to the news that eight women were being ordained as Roman Catholic priests in Pittsburgh on July 31, 2006 Many have been alienated by the institutional church, including the divorced and separated, gays and lesbians, and women who feel like second-class citizens in their own church seek a church where they will find acceptance and a spiritual home.

It is time to reclaim the feminine spirit in the church. The Catholic Church has a long history of condemning visionary prophetic women like Joan of Arc who was burned at the stake and declared a heretic, only to be later declared a saint.

In an August news conference, Pope Benedict stated that women, “with their spiritual potential, will know how to find their place. And we should try to listen to God that we do not obstruct him, but that we delight in the feminine in the church.”

Indeed, the Roman Catholic Womenpriests initiative is defining our spiritual place and offering the church an extraordinary gift of a renewed priestly ministry in a community of equals that is open, inclusive and welcoming to all.

It is our hope that the hierarchy will heed the pope’s exhortation to delight in the feminine in the church and in our movement for the full equality of women in the church.

It is our hope that one day we too will be proclaimed by the church we love as women who led the church to a new era of justice equality for all the People of God. The call for the full equality of women in the church is the voice of God in our time.

Dr. Bridget Mary Meehan, dean of the Doctor of Ministry program, at Global Ministries University and author of 15 books, was ordained a priest on July 31, 2006.