|Mary Sue Barnett ARCWP|
I was ordained a Catholic woman priest in December 2013 by a Catholic woman bishop in the sanctuary of Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The doors of the church were open to me and to more than two hundred kind supporters as I took vows to God to live my priestly charism faithfully. After two graduate degrees in theology, scripture, and pastoral care, and after twenty-eight years of ministry, retreats, spiritual direction, and discernment, at age fifty-one I laid open my heart to live out my vocation with love and passion. Anonymity was no longer an option. The freedom of God at the ground of my being guided me, with increasing intensity, to rise fully into my authentic self. For how could I do the difficult healing ministry I am called to if I do not fully embrace my own deep self?
The light of my ordination is bright. It shines love upon my ministries. But there is a shadow side. The severe treatment of the Roman Catholic institutional church toward ordained women is the ominous underbelly that I must also navigate. In 2008 the Vatican issued an explicit decree against the ordination of women priests, punishing them with automatic excommunication. In 2010 Pope Benedict avowed that women’s ordination as priests is a grave sin on par with pedophile priests. In 2014 Pope Francis stated that the ban on the ordination of women is forever. This gender based spiritual violence against women strikes at the core of female selfhood.
It is a very dangerous form of misogyny.
As the male hierarchy insists to ordained Catholic women, “I am. You are not. I resemble Christ. You do not. I am a priest. You are not. I am. You are not,” they negate female personhood while projecting a misogynist pall over her as if it were the skin she wears. I may as well walk through the world as a leper, placing my hand above my upper lip calling aloud, “Catholic Woman Priest,” to warn others of my arriving so that they do not have to look me in the eye, shake my hand, talk to me, be in the same room with me, speak on a panel with me, or give me communion. What is established against women in Rome is enacted interpersonally by many Catholics, clergy and laity alike, in the daily life of the church. The diseased underbelly of the Catholic Church is palpably real and pervasive.
Ludmila Javorova, a Catholic woman secretly ordained as a priest in 1970 in the underground church during communist rule in Czechoslovakia, eventually faced severe resistance to her vocation as the secret began to unravel. She speaks of an experience when a male Catholic priest pressed her with the question, “Are you a priest?” in the context of the sacrament of reconciliation where she trusted him. She said that it was unbearably cruel. Afterwards, in an agonized state, she walked through the deserted streets groaning out loud, the sounds coming from deep within with a piercing intensity. Masculine spiritual violence strikes a woman at the core of her being.
One might even suggest there is nothing more painful.
Though the story of the groans rising from Ludmila’s soul on that lonely night is her own intimate experience of spiritual suffering, there is a collective cry that can move through the universe when a woman suffers so deeply. On that same night, Ludmila’s own intimate groans may have risen to the heavens with the cries of girls and women around the world, in streets and in sanctuaries, who suffer gender based violations of all sorts, connecting them one to the other at a profound level. The Roman Catholic hierarchy that fiercely betrays the personhood of a woman priest also betrays the female personhood of every woman and girl.
The misogyny is not selective.
To navigate the filth that the Roman Catholic hierarchy projects onto Catholic woman priests and onto the universal feminine, I must abandon my heart to visions and dreams. I dream of children processing into a sanctuary led by a little girl who steps into the pulpit, and like a Fountain Rising, proclaims, “Holy Wisdom calls you to seek Her and to love Her.” While near at the Eucharistic table a woman known as Mountain lifts the bread saying, “This is My Body,” and another woman known as Whirlwind lifts the cup saying, “This is My Life Blood.” They process into a vast and verdant meadow where the Blackbird, the Phoebe, and the Bluebird give song to the joyous chant, “I am. May you be! I am. May you be. I am. May you be!” (Beatrice Bruteau) Child to Child and Adult to Adult the freedom blessing is sung, “I am. May you be!” as they eat their bread and drink their cup. The loaves multiply superabundantly and Christ Wisdom says, “Do this in memory of Me.
God is Love
Christ is Love
Holy Wisdom is Love
Roman Catholic misogyny is of none of these.