Wednesday, March 30, 2011
"The Sins of the Church" by Katie Meehan- A Young Catholic Speaks Out
According to a recent study conducted by The Pew Forum on Religion in Public Life, almost one in four Americans (nearly 30%) belong to the Catholic faith. But Catholics are leaving the Church at an alarming rate. Nearly 10% of Americans are ex-Catholics and over 80% of those ex-Catholics are under the age of 24. The Catholic Church has refused to budge on certain issues and has not welcomed modern thought into its doctrine. As a result, the Church has alienated young Catholics all over the world and forced them to choose between religion and society. If the Vatican allowed women to be ordained as priests, I guarantee that young Catholics would feel included and important within their faith community. Roman Catholic Church Canon Law 1024 bans the ordination of women priests (Roman Catholic Womenpriests). The Vatican maintains that women are not inferior to their male counterparts, instead, that women are separate but equal (Pope John Paul II). In response to the Episcopal Church allowing women to become ministers, Pope Paul VI released the Inter Insigniores in 1976 and claimed that the sacramental symbol of the priest taking the form of Christ in the Eucharist would not translate if women were to become priests. In 1995, Pope John Paul II stated, “Christ entrusted only to men the task of being an icon of his countenance as shepherd and bridegroom of Church through exercise of ministerial priesthood” (Pope John Paul II). An organization has surfaced within the last ten years that disagrees with the Church’s stance on women’s ordination. Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) is a movement devoted to the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the propagation of information regarding a 21st Century model for the church (especially emphasizing inclusivity of women in Church hierarchy), and the ministry and community-building activities usually associated with the priesthood. Corresponding with the women’s movement in the US, the women of the Catholic Church decided to take back their heritage and support women’s rights in the Church. (Roman Catholic Womenpriests). The RCWP organization notes that scriptural and art evidence exists that there were women bishops until at least the ninth century while female deacons and women priests existed in the West during the fourth and fifth centuries. In 2002, the RCWP movement kicked off with the ordination of seven women on the Danube River in Germany. Then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger publicly denounced the women and cut them off from the Church by excommunicating them (Bonavoglia). The “Danube Seven” bravely faced these charges and continued to minister to their communities as Catholic priests. More and more women were ordained and in 2003, two women were ordained bishops (Roman Catholic Womenpriests). The movement came to the US when the first ordination in America was held in Pittsburgh in 2006. Now there are 5 bishops, 47 priests, and 10 deacons in the US who serve communities in all areas of the country (Roman Catholic Womenpriests). Worldwide, the RCWP has 10 bishops, 64 priests, and 82 deacons with more joining the movement every year (Roman Catholic Womenpriests). Currently, there are 120 worldwide. Members of the RCWP claim that Catholics who left the Church years ago are coming to them. Roman Catholic Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan has said of the supporters of the RCWP that “[they] are leading the Church, not leaving the Church.” Jesus chose a woman, Mary Magdalene, to be the first witness to the Resurrection. Catholicism is based on the Resurrection story and the RCWP’s mantra is “Jesus welcomed all, therefore, we welcome all.” The RCWP website claims that, “women and men are created equal by God and therefore equally represent Christ.” The women priests receive authority from the Roman Catholic bishops who stand in full Apostolic Succession and thus, consider themselves legitimate members of the Church. These women priests set about to reform the system and transform hierarchical structures. My aunt, Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, sums up the RCWP movement by stating, “We are reclaiming the example of Christ and the early Church tradition of women serving in ministerial/priestly positions” (Meehan). Bridget Mary Meehan was ordained a Roman Catholic priest at the first US ordinations in Pittsburgh in 2006. In 2008, she was both ordained a bishop and excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church. My aunt has remained steadfast in her faith and devoted to her Church. She simply refuses to accept an unjust punishment. Post-ordination and post-excommunication, my aunt has kept busy with her new vocation. She is in charge of press for the Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement. She has written eighteen books about feminism and the Catholic Church and edited at least three others. She has already written a great deal on the subject of Catholic women priests and recently published a book about her journey to the calling, Living Gospel Equality Now. Her response to the excommunication is, “I realize I am breaking the law to change the law.” My aunt is a woman of extreme courage and conviction. She has faced criticism, rejection, and prejudice but still stands up for what she believes in. The woman has gone against Church teaching and has been excommunicated by the Church she loves. She nonchalantly says, “By my choice, I am leading the Church, not leaving the Church.” It seems to me that a Church so in need of devoted followers should accept my aunt with open arms. In comparison to my aunt’s spotless record of selfless acts of service and love, this month welcomed yet another scandal in the long saga of pedophilic Catholic priests. Just last month, a grand jury statement was released that implicated 37 so-called “holy” men in sexual abuse of minors. As a result, over twenty priests were suspended from the archdiocese of Philadelphia on March 8th (O’Reilly). These alleged child molesters remain on paid leave and the Catholic Church is continuing its infuriating trend of not releasing their names to the public. These recent controversies have brought to light the corruption, hypocrisy, and malfeasance within the Church. The pedophilia and sex abuse cases against Catholic priests keep piling up and the American people have no problem criticizing the Church for its lack of action in such cases. Every single female priest, bishop, and deacon has been excommunicated from the Church by the Vatican. None of the clerics who have been found guilty of sex crimes have been excommunicated. There is a major problem with the Vatican if it does not see the injustice in that! I am a cradle Catholic and proud of it. But, I am not necessarily proud of what my Church preaches now. The declining numbers in the priesthood and the faithful devoted suggest that the hierarchy of the Church should promote a program that makes the priesthood more enticing. The Catholic Church is stuck in its past. Its policies and canon law are outdated and based on antiquated societal standards with women carrying little sway. There were women priests and deaconesses in early Church history but all of that has been passed over by male historians and Church hierarchy. I expect tolerance and equality in every aspect of my life and if my religion does not promote that, then I seriously need to rethink my faith. The Catholic Church needs to realize that it cannot survive in these times unless it becomes more flexible. In general, young Catholics are not receptive to the archaic traditions of the Church. Young Catholics want change and progress and will continue to leave the Church if they do not see improvements. The Vatican needs to show ex-Catholics that the Church cares about what they think. Allowing women to become priests would be a major step in the right direction for the Catholic Church.