There is No Stopping the Spring;
Women Priests Are Here to Stay
by Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP
Pope Francis missed an opportunity to take a first step toward the inclusion of women in ordained ministry in the newly revised Canon 1379 of the Code of Canon Law released on June 1, 2021. This canonical penalty is a shocking example of the abuse of patriarchal power, because it equates the ordination of faith-filled women with the clergy sexual abuse of children. Both are labeled grave crimes that incur excommunication. It is contradictory that, on one hand, Pope Francis set up a commission to study the diaconate for women on April 8, 2020, and one year later promulgated Canon 1379 which continues the denigration of women called to Sacred Orders.
This newly revised law should have removed all punishments against Roman Catholic women priests who have been serving the people of God in ecclesial communities and justice ministries around the world for the past 19 years. We are leading the Church toward a path of partnership in ministry that challenges the clerical abuse of power, a major factor in the horrific rape of thousands of children worldwide.
Since our first ordinations in 2002, women priests have been punished for claiming our right to be ordained equally and in the same way as men. The Roman Catholic women priests’ movement ordains women – contra legem (against the law) – because there is no other option available to us. While we have sought dialogue with Pope Francis over the years, there has been no response.
As we reflect on toxic misogyny in the updated Canon 1379, and the edicts that preceded it, one can conclude that Vatican officials are making every effort to stop our movement. Perhaps they realize that change is already here. The Holy Spirit and legions of Roman Catholics are calling women to the priesthood and embracing inclusivity and equality now. There is no stopping the spring . Women priests are here to stay!
The 1983 Code of Canon Law stated that only a baptized man could be validly ordained (Canon 1024) and that penalties could be applied to those who attempt to administer sacraments while not being qualified to do so (see Canons 1378 and 1379).
These provisions predate the Roman Catholic women priests’ movement which began in 2002 with the ordination of seven women on the Danube River. Shortly after, the Vatican issued a formal excommunication of all involved. In 2006, 12 women were ordained in Pittsburgh. In 2007, the Vatican issued a decree stating the attempted ordination of women would result in automatic excommunication. Nonetheless, in 2009, four women bishops were ordained in Santa Barbara, California. In 2010 Pope Benedict XVI categorized the “attempted ordination of a woman” and the sexual abuse of children as grave crimes.
It is important to remember that the penalty of excommunication does not put one outside the Church, but forbids one to receive the sacraments. Since women priests celebrate sacraments, excommunication does not impact our lives, nor does it nullify our baptism, or Catholic identity. The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests rejects the penalty of excommunication. We do not accept the Vatican’s unjust laws that only men can be ordained, and only ordained men can make laws and declare doctrines that affect women’s lives and well-being. Neither excommunication nor unjust canon law will stop our Spirit-led movement from empowering women and liberating the people of God!
Like the mystics and prophets – Mary Magdalene, Hildegard of Bingen, Catherine of Siena and Joan of Arc – who were rejected by the hierarchy in their times, women priests are condemned for following the teachings and example of Jesus who welcomed everyone to the table including the rule-breakers and marginalized. Ordained Catholic women are offering a model of partnership in ministry that challenges patriarchal power and lives Gospel equality now.
The hierarchy excommunicated Sister Theodore Guerin and Mother Mary Mackillop in one century and then declared them saints in our times. Maybe this will happen to women priests too!!
Bridget Mary Meehan Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, https://arcwp.org