Thursday, September 24, 2009

Roman Catholic Womenpriests : "Reflections of a Quiet Revolutionary: Ida Raming" by Lorraine Nagy

Ida Raming holds pastoral staff after ordination of U.S. bishops on April 19,2009

Reflections of a quiet revolutionary : Ida Raming recalls the ‘first days’ on the occasion of the ordination of four American bishops: Santa Barbara, California April 20, 2009

Interview and recollections by Lorraine Lynch Nagy

In Santa Barbara, California an historic gathering of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests took place this year on April 19, in a quiet, rustic setting and a small chapel. Within this sacred space the first episcopal ordination within the United States, and the second in history was conducted amid joyous singing and prayer. With full liturgical splendor four women humbly accepted the signs of their calling: a Book of Gospels, ring and cross. Dana Reynolds, Womenpriests’ first American bishop, sent her blessing but was not able to preside. She and her sister bishops in the United States: Bridget Mary Meehan, Joan Houck, Andrea Johnson and Maria Regina Nicolosi have now entered a new stage in the movement, with regional representation and responsibilities for the growing cadre of candidates for the priesthood. I wonder what must have been going through the minds of the presiding bishops during this ceremony. They had come a very long way in a remarkably short time span. Christine Mayr Lumetzberger, Ida Raming and Patrician Fresen stood together at the entrance to the chapel, in readiness for what all realized to be something bigger than themselves or any of the faithful in the pews. These bishops (including Gisela Forster who remained in Germany) were the first to (in the words of the Civil Rights Spiritual) ‘wade in the waters’ of this deeply challenging issue and by doing so to ‘trouble’ the institutional church’s intransigence over who in the world may ‘image Christ’ in the sacrament of Holy Orders. From the ordination of the Danube Seven in 2002 to this ordination of four American womenpriests – now womenbishops-an epic battle has been waged, quietly and with the full weight of the magisterium pitted against the determination of revolutionaries who are equally set to remain with the Catholic Church even as they struggle by example to bring it in line with the inclusive spirit of church of Holy Scriptures. . As they lay prostate before their bishops on that warm spring afternoon in California, these four women, priests since 2005-2006 and veterans each one of them of the struggle to reform ‘from within’ one could feel the energy of a powerful transformation in the making. With this passing down of apostolic succession, a rallying cry for justice, and all of the books , meetings and lectures that prepared for this moment, were quietly transforming them, from prophets to disciples of this vision of a church in the world. . As each was called to give witness to her intention to be consecrated as bishop, the story of 2002-2003 played out in continuity for the movement and its prayerful, spirit filled protest against an unjust exclusion from the priesthood. How did this happen and why now? To answer this question one must follow the journey of those answering this call, and especially those called first. This ceremony was the culmination of thirty years of hard work, painful conflicts and profound personal sacrifices suffered in making this vision of an inclusive priesthood a reality for this generation.

What were these leaders thinking when they set off to take on the Roman Catholic Church on this issue? The many documents written in support of this reform, to include women in sacramental ministry, and the few published historical accounts beg more questions about the motivation of these leaders. In light of the impressive growth of the movement it is obvious that the Womenpriests have touched a deep chord in the religious sensibilities of the faithful. As I followed the intricate liturgy of this episcopal ordination ceremony, I was struck by what I didn’t know about ‘in the beginning’ A brief conversation with Ida Raming at the reception following the service inspired me to learn more. Ida tried to explain more details about the earliest days of their reform efforts, but we were interrupted and could not continue. Quakers use the term, “a leaning” to define moments when the Holy Spirit guides the person to say or act upon an inspiration from within the heart. I had such a ‘leaning’ the next day when I called the house where Ida was staying, and asked to speak with her. She graciously agreed to meet with me for one hour, to finish our conversation of the day before. Fortunately for me, I had the privilege of speaking at length that day with Dagmar Celeste whose experience as one of the ‘Danube Seven’ and comprehensive history of the movement steered me on the right path to getting the answers I sought. There were practical questions to raise in the privacy of guest quarters’ living room, such as how did it come about that Christine, Gisela and Ida (priests from the 2002 Danube ordination and the first to be excommunicated) were within one year approached by three male Roman Catholic bishops in full Apostolic Succession, to enter into ‘full ordination’ as bishops? Whose decision was it to take the their ordination to the next level?

Ida revealed a statement by the ordaining bishop in 2003 that may shed light on his motivation. He told her that these ordinations were part of a larger goal, not about them and their personal calling, but something more. Perhaps in the spirit of a ‘leaning’ for him, he told her, “You must have full ordination, to be able to ordain priests in apostolic succession”. By coming forward to assume this role, she was told, she would be accepting a very difficult mission, to ‘save the Church ‘which in practical terms meant returning to the practices and values of the founders. In ordaining Christine and Gisela, he passed on full power and authority (potestas) to ordain priests, establish communities of faith and nourish those living out this heart wrenching mission. In accordance with canon law, three bishops were needed to perpetuate the movement through the ordination of more womenpriests. It was simply too dangerous for him to continue to do so . Ida was approached to join the rank of bishop at this time but due to reasons of health was unable to do so. Later that same year, 2003, Patricia Fresen accepted ordination and left her Dominican order to work with Gisela in preparing the theological foundation of Womenpriests. & nbsp; Patricia was also told that this ordination was “not about you but for the Church” as she accepted the call to become the third bishop of Womenpriests. The movement then embarked on the next phase, a revolution for women by women and for the ‘good of all the church’.

For Ida, the personal connections worked hand in hand with her academic preparation to mold her image of a Roman Catholic priesthood without the barrier of gender. She understood that the roots of this idea are found in the seminal20documents of Vatican II. In addition to her dissertation, “The Priesthood of Women- God’s Gift to a Renewed Church” her concept was developed under the guidance of leading theologians ( Iris Muller among them) historians (including Dorothy Irwin) who helped her find her way from research to activism.=2 0 What, I asked, what moved you, Ida, to take the actions needed to finally ordain women as priests? Doing so would mean great losses, both personal and career, not to mention the separation from tradition, at the heart of Catholicism? The answer was surprising, as it is a story that is sometimes overlooked in the recounting of what happened between 1975 and the Danube ordination of 2002. In 1994 John Paul II decreed that women were to be permanently barred from the priesthood in that they “did not image Christ”. The irony of this statement struck Ida who knew well of the ordination of women ‘behind the wall’ in Czechoslovakia and in more modern times, the ordination of women within the Anglican Communion. She and others were convinced that women in fact and in history do ‘image Christ’ in sacrament and ministry. This inclusion of women in full sacramental priesthood was for her at the core of church tradition. Starting with the earliest disciples, many of them women, in house churches, living their faith in service to others. In the years leading up to the ordination on the Danube much was being done, to lay the foundation stones, in keeping with earliest church practices. But it was frustrating work, with many disappointments. As in the reformation of the 16 th century, the spark that ignited the fires of this revolution came from an academic exercise which put scholars in a direct path of opposition to a top-down clergy dominated ‘imperial’ church. For Ida, Christine and the priest candidates who would follow them, they had all had enough of “no” Once they had exhausted all channels of appeal she perceived that it was their duty to act.
As the story of her own election as bishop unfolded, Ida first reminded me of the importance to her of the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), starting with their first convocation in Detroit, Michigan, 1975. She recalled that WOC helped her understand that defiance of an unjust law was a divine calling. Some laws need to be broken to allow the Church to be true to its mission, given by Christ, to take people at the margins into full communion in the ‘kingdom of God’. This understating of Scripture and tradition would lead her group, known now as Roman Catholic Womenpriest s, to take the final step of ordaining women to the priesthood. The curriculum of formation, prepared by Christine, would be used to guide the first class, Ida among them. She was joined by students from the US, Canada and Europe. The Danube Seven were on their way….

Three years later, on Pentecost Monday, June 5 , 2006 Ida was ordained bishop in a private ceremony within her apartment in Stuttgart. As Christine, Gisela and Patricia followed the ancient rite that day, it was for the first time in written church history that women alone called forth a sister bishop, ‘in full apostolic succession. Ironically, what might seem to future historians as a “Hegelian moment” was not central to Ida’s thinking or her decision to accept episcopal ordination during this Pentecost weekend. She had to think through the question, “Did you realize that you were the first bishop ‘of woman born’? When I translated the American (Irish) turn of phrase, she responded that yes, this is historically correct. For her, the ordination to priesthood, this breakthrough was the defining moment, and her willingness to serve as bishop had most to do with the needs of the growing movement for a theologian. She was qualified to do so and now healthy enough to take on this role, so she agreed. Whit Sunday morning was also a practical choice, for these women who needed to travel at some distance, and to begin the work week the next day. This poignant reflection helps me realize how silently, and sometimes more practically than not, momentous changes take place. Looking back we are able to understand the meaning, but to those in the vortex of this change, the flow of events is often perceived quite differently. Someday, the faithful may barely recall that there were no women bishops before 2003 or that Ida was the first to be ordained by women, but the revolution that made this happen, she insists, was the result of careful planning. Following this ordination, she insisted, a new definition of ‘called to serve’ took shape. Ida reminded me that Womenpriests is not only about ordaining women priests and bishops, but about what her ordaining bishop exhorted her to remember, the reformation of the priesthood, and a model of service and full inclusion of the people of God in the work of transformative Christian principles.

In watching each bishop lay hands upon the American priests, joining with the congregation in asking the blessing of the Holy Spirit to guide their ministry, I understand Ida’s injunction, to think about this movement as a means to recapture the divine spark of the early church and its close knit communities of faith and service. The real revolution is a quiet one, as womenpriests and bishops leave the sacred space to create communities and to lead by example, a new church, and a church in desperate need of them.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Roman Catholic Womenpriests : "Nuns on the run: Why is the Pope targeting women?"

Nuns on the run: Why is the Pope targeting women?
by Susan Toepfer

"It is a story worthy of a Dan Brown thriller, replete with secret ceremonies, powerful adversaries and hidden motives. Yet this high-level plot is playing out in real time, right under our noses, and it all begins with a modern-day inquisition into the lives of nuns..."