Friday, October 16, 2015

Bridget Mary Meehan ARCWP , Presentation at Parliament of World Religions, "To Stay or Not to Stay"

Why do I stay? The Catholic Church is my family. For me, this means that the people are the church which includes the Pope and the hierarchy, but, the hierarchy alone is not the church!  Even though my church is patriarchal and dysfunctional, I am staying to build a bridge to move it from its present sexist oppressive structures to a new community of equals that honors women and men as spiritual equals in every area of life.  I believe in impossible dreams, and surprises by the Spirit that move mountains!
Why do I stay? I love the deep spirituality that reflects God as both immanent and transcendent. I see God as  infinite love,  always with us and before us, liberating, healing, rising up for justice in us and working through us and through all creation to care for and renew our earth community.
Why do I stay?I love the treasures in the mystical, sacramental and social justice heritage that is our birthright in Catholicism. Ultimately, we are one and Spirit is present in the beauty of our diversity.
Why do I stay? I am passionate about gender equality and delight in our international Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement which began in 2002 when 7 courageous women were ordained on the Danube. Shortly after this historic ordination, an anonymous male bishop in apostolic succession ordained our first women bishops.
Why do I stay/  I am passionate about primacy of conscience, which is fundamental Catholic teaching rooted in the Gospels, affirmed by Doctors of the Church including Thomas Aquinas and Vatican 11. Many Catholics are following their consciences when they dissent from official church teaching. We, in the women priests movement, are following our consciences in prophetic obedience to the Spirit by disobeying an unjust man made canon law 1024 in ordaining women. In order to change an unjust law, sometimes, one has to break it. We believe that the will of God is the full equality of women in church and society. This means that women must have full voice and vote in every area of church decision making and it means full equality at the altar. Women priests are visible reminders that women and all the baptized are spiritual equals, therefore, ordination should be open to anyone called by God to serve in priestly ministry.
Why do I stay? Excommunication does not cancel one’s baptism. Excommunication in our case is a badge of honor.  The Vatican position is that women priests incur automatic excommunication. We are not leaving the church, but leading it to become a more just and equal church. Although it has been my experience when they excommunicate and express opposition, our movement grows in size.  In Florida, the Bishop took out an ad in the paper stating that I was not a valid priest, and my house church tripled in size and we had to rent space in a local UCC Church.  So sometimes, I joke that the bishops and the Vatican are the gift that keeps on giving! Another one of my mottos is “excommunicated today, canonized tomorrow.” Pope Benedict canonized two formerly excommunicated nuns Mother Theodore Guerin and Mother Mary MacKillop, thereby make excommunication the new fast track to sainthood!
Why do stay? The Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement is a great blessing to the institutional church. We share the Gospel from our life experiences and this introduces a more balanced and holistic view of the scriptures. Our liturgies utilize inclusive language and include feminine imagery of God. In many communities, we  invite the community to share in dialogue  homilies. In my community in Florida, all gather around the table and pray the Eucharistic Prayer together. Often we have ordained and non-ordained co-presiders who plan the weekly liturgies.
The good news is that in the struggle for justice, the women priests movement is offering in grassroots communities a model of church that is inclusive, empowered and equal.  Women’s rights in the church and in society are human rights.  We make the connection between discrimination against women in the church and poverty, abuse and violence toward women in the world.  If women are viewed as subordinate to men according to our sacred texts, then this leads to their oppression and marginalization in every area of life.

There are  over 215 in our worldwide movement and over 75 faith communities. The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests’ vision is to renew the church, one inclusive community at a time as a discipleship of equals. In our grassroots communities, all are welcome, including the divorced and remarried without annulments, gays, lesbians, transgender, and women who have given up on the church.  Pope Francis has called for a more inclusive church but folks who disobey the rules are not welcome to receive sacraments, and women are not affirmed as free and responsible moral agents in decisions specifically that involve their fertility. While many believe that Pope Francis has changed the tone, the teachings that keep the church partriarchal and oppressive must be changed.   God is not a male ruler who wills male supremacy, but rather a divine mystery of love beyond all imagining who wills the genuine equality of women and men in empowered, inclusive, egalitarian, just communities. 

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