Saturday, March 11, 2023

Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community Third Sunday of Lent, March 11, 2023 Presiders: Joan Meehan and Elena Garcia ARCWP Lectors: Mary Montavon and Jack McKillip , Prayer Leaders: Maryal Gagnon and Jim Brandi , Music Minister: Linda Lee Miller I-Team: Cheryl Brandi

Zoom link:

Meeting ID: 815 3407 5389
Passcode: 803326

Theme: Be Transformed- Water From Another’s Well

(Joan): We warmly welcome you to the inclusive Catholic Community of Mary Mother of Jesus in Sarasota. All are welcome here. We invite you to pray the liturgy where it says “All.” And please sing your heart out! Everyone will be muted during the service. Presiders, readers and anyone wishing to participate in the shared homily, please remember to unmute and remute before and after reading or speaking in order to avoid confusion and overlap of voices. Please have bread and wine or juice with you as we pray our Eucharistic Prayer.

Whoever you are,

Wherever you are,

Just as you are,

You are welcome at this table. (Integral Christianity by Paul Smith)

(Elena) We begin our joy filled celebration together in the name of the Holy One, Source of all Being; Jesus, Eternal Word; and Holy Spirit Sophia, our Wisdom within. Amen.

Gathering Song: Water is Life

Opening Prayer

(Elena): Holy One, you revealed your presence to Moses as the One Who Causes All to Be. You sent him to the Israelites with the message that You are the God of the Ancestors: Sarah and Abraham, Rebecca and Isaac, Leah and Rachel and Jacob. Today you reveal your divinity in each of us as we are transformed into sparks of love bearing fruit that will last.

Transformation Rite (Joan): We pause now to remember the times we have not born fruit in our lives and our service to others. Take a moment to recall one missed opportunity, one broken or damaged relationship. Now imagine this person or situation in the light of healing love as we ask for forgiveness.

(Pause briefly. Then Extend arm over community)
All: Please forgive me, I am sorry, I love you, I thank you.

The Sign of Peace

(Elena) It is fitting that, having asked for Divine and mutual forgiveness, we now extend an expression of Peace to each other.

(Elena): Grant us Your peace, O Loving God, that following the example of Jesus and with the strength of the Spirit, we may be eager to spread that love and peace to everyone, everywhere, with no exceptions. All: Amen.

(Elena) Let us turn to each other and with praying hands offer one another a sign of peace. NAMASTE 3x

All: Eternal wellspring of peace-

May we be drenched with the longing for peace

That we may give ourselves over

As the earth to the rain, to the dew,

Until peace overflows our lives

As living waters overflow the seas. (Marcia Falk)

Liturgy Of The Word (Jack M) First Reading: Exodus: 17: 3-7 In those days the people were thirsty for water out in the wilderness. They complained to Moses “Why did you take us from Egypt and drag us out here with our children and animals to die of thirst?” Moses cried out in prayer to God. “What can I do with these people? Any minute now they’ll kill me!” God said to Moses, “Go on out ahead of the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel. Take the staff you used to strike the Nile. And go. I’m going to be present before you there on the rock at Horeb. You are to strike the rock. Water will gush out of it and the people will drink.” Moses did what he said with the elders of Israel right there watching. He named the place Massah(Testing-Place) and Meribah(Quarreling) because of the quarreling of the Israelites and because of their testing of God, when they said, “Is God here with us, or not?” These are the inspired words of Moses, leader and liberator of our ancestors, the Israelites, and we affirm them by saying, Amen.

(Jack M) Responsorial Psalm: 95 (Adapted from Nan Merrill)

Response: I will not leave you comfortless, I will not leave you alone. I am the air you breathe in. I’m the light in every star and every dawn.

~The Beloved is infinite, the Breathing Life of all. The depths of the earth belong to Love; the height of the mountains as well. The sea and all that is in it, the dry land and air above were created by Love. 

 Res: I will not…….. ~The Beloved is Supreme, and we are blessed to be invited to friendship as companions along the way. O that today we would harken to the Beloved’s voice! Harden not your hearts as in the days of old, that you be not separated from Love.

 Res: I will not………. ~For life is but a breath in the Eternal Dance, a gift to be reverenced with trust, an opportunity to grow in spirit and truth, that in passing into new Life, you enter into the new Jerusalem. 

 Res: I will not……..

Second Reading: A Reading from “Preaching the New Lectionary” (Mary M) 

 One would think that a God as magnificent and powerful as ours would not need intermediaries. Or if they were used, they would be of greater value than bushes in a mountainous wilderness or hired hands in orchards. Yet that is just the way God seems to work. God uses whatever or whoever is at hand. This is true whether it is an element of the natural world that is normally indifferent toward human beings or an uncomplicated person whose only concern is to do her or his job well, or an individual who has been thrust by circumstances into the limelight. In every life there are those who speak for or act in the place of God. Lent is a time given us to discern who these people or things are. Who communicates God to us? Who intercedes for us before the Holy One? On the other hands, in whose life do we act as emissary? How do we reveal to others the message of God we have received? How do we intercede on behalf of them? The challenge here is to listen to the messengers who bring us the name of God, even if it is not clearly defined.

These are the inspired words of Dianne Bergant, professor of biblical studies at Catholic Theological Union, and we affirm them by saying, Amen.

Gospel Acclamation: Spirit of the Living God:

Gospel: John 4:5-42 This gospel event will be read by (Mary M.) as Narrator; (Jim B.) as Jesus and (Maryal G.) as the Woman at the well.

~NARRATOR: On his way back to Galilee, Jesus had to pass through Samaria. He came into a Samaritan village that bordered the field Jacob had given his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was still there. Jesus, worn out by the trip, sat down. It was noon. A woman, a Samaritan came to draw water. Jesus said, ~JESUS “Would you give me a drink of water?” ~NARRATOR: (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch) The Samaritan woman, taken aback asked, ~WOMAN: “How come you a Jew are asking me a Samaritan woman for a drink.?” ~NARRATOR: (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans) Jesus answered, ~JESUS “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh living water.” ~ ~WOMAN: “ Sir, you don’t even have a bucket to draw with, and this well is deep. So how are you going to get this ‘living water’? Are you a better man than our ancestor Jacob, who dug this well and drank from it, he and his sons and livestock, and passed it down to us? ~JESUS: “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again and again. Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst ---not ever. The water I give will be an artisan spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.” ~WOMAN: “ Sir, give me this water so I won’t ever get thirsty, won’t ever have to come back to this well again!” ~JESUS: “Go call your husband and then come back.” ~ WOMAN “I have no husband,” ~ JESUS: That’s nicely put: ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve had five husbands and the man you’re living with now isn’t even your husband. You spoke the truth there, sure enough.” ~WOMAN: Oh, so you’re a prophet ! Well tell me this: Our ancestors worshiped God on this mountain, but you Jews insists that Jerusalem is the only place for worship, right?” ~ JESUS: Believe me, woman, the time is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither here at this mountain nor there in Jerusalem. You worship, guessing in the dark; we Jews worship in the clear light of day. God’s way of salvation is made available through the Jews. But the time is coming-it has, in fact, come-when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people our God is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship God must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration. ~WOMAN: “I don’t know about that. I do know that the Messiah is coming. When he arrives, we’ll get the whole story.” ~JESUS: “I am he,” “You don’t have to wait any longer or look any further.” ~NARRATOR: Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of woman. No one said what they were all thinking but their faces showed it. The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, ~WOMAN: “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” ~ NARRATOR: And they went out to see for themselves. Many of the Samaritans from that village committed themselves to him because of that woman’s witness: “He knew all about the things I did. He knows me inside and out!” They asked him to stay on, so Jesus stayed two days. A lot more people entrusted their lives to him when they heard what he had to say. They said to the woman, “We’re no longer taking this on your say-so. We’ve heard it for ourselves and know it for sure. He’s the Savior of the world!”

These are the inspired words of John and we affirm them by saying: Amen

Spirit of the Living God:

Homily: Elena Garcia ARCWP

Statement of Faith (Taken from “The Friends in Faith” and shared by Joan Meehan) (Mary M and All): Gathered together as people of faith, we profess our belief in a God who is larger than we can name, unable to be contained, yet present in each one of us. We have come to know this God in the living of our lives, and in the holiness of the earth we share. We believe in a God revealed in all peoples—all genders, religions, and orientations. We embrace a compassionate God, who champions justice and mercy, and is always faithful when we call. Our God gives and forgives, patiently loving without conditions. We gratefully believe in a God who feels our deepest struggles, and celebrates our greatest joys. A God who both dances with us in celebration, and holds us when we cry. This God is not “other” to us, but shares our breath in every moment, and promises we are never alone. We believe in a God who believes in us- believes that we are precious and incredible gifts, worthy to claim image and likeness to the divine. We hold fast to our God who journeys with us, who continually calls us to choose the shape of our days through the choices we make. This God accepts us as we are, and shares each hope we have for our becoming. This is the God in whom we believe, our Creator, our Mother and Father who became human in Jesus, our brother. Our God is the Spirit of Life, the voice that continues to speak love, and asks us to answer. In this God we choose to believe. AMEN

Prayers of The Community (Jim B): As we prepare for the sacred meal, we bring to this table our blessings, cares and concerns.
Our response is: Holy One, You hear us. ~Jesus, prayer and fasting, You teach us to rid our lives of all that blinds us to your Holy Spirit. Holy One, You hear us . ~By your faithfulness to the word of God, help us to keep your gospel alive and meaningful in our culture. Holy One, You hear us. ~You revealed yourself to the woman at the well and she became your disciple announcing your truth to others. Let the voices of women be heard in your church, that your message to them may be given to the world. Holy One, You hear us. ~Moses was called to lead his people to water in the desert, lead those who thirst for truth to the words of the gospel. Holy One, You hear us. We pray for the devastated families suffering from all the natural disasters in our world. Holy One, You hear us. We pray for the people of Ukraine and Russia that they may live in peace without fear and that justice will prevail for all. Holy One, You hear us. We pray that world leaders will put the flourishing of all people before power and greed. Holy One, You hear us. Who or What else shall we lift up in prayer? R: Holy One, You hear us. We pray for our MMOJ intentions on our community prayer list. (Joan shares) R: Holy One, You hear us. (Jim B): We pray for these and all unspoken concerns we hold in the silence of our hearts. Amen.

Offertory Procession This River of Life by Annie Garretson

(lift up the bread and wine) (Joan): Blessed are you, God of all life, through your goodness we have bread, wine, all creation, and our own lives to offer. Through this sacred meal may we become your new creation as we respond to your call to use our gifts in loving service to our sisters and brothers. All: Blessed be God forever.

Liturgy Of The Eucharist (Joan): God is within you, blessing the world through you. All: And also within you. (Joan): Lift up your hearts. All: We lift them up in the Holy One.

(Joan): O Holy One, the first passion of Jesus was his passion for you and his passion for justice, namely, to incarnate your justice by demanding for all, a fair share of a world belonging to and ruled by your covenant with Israel. In solidarity with the unnamed woman who anointed Jesus, the first to recognize the cost of his fidelity to you, and with all believers who have gone before us, we lift up our hearts and sing:

Holy Holy Holy

(by Karen Drucker)

Epiclesis (Invocation of the Holy Spirit ; Lay hands over the bread and wine) (Elena and All) We are indeed a holy people. We recognize the Spirit of Light, ever present, ever in our midst, ever part of our very selves. We call forth blessings on this bread and wine as we remember who Jesus was and all that he did to challenge the powers of oppression in his time. On the night before he died, Jesus gathered for the Seder supper with the people closest to him. Like the least of household servants, he washed their feet, so that they would re-member him.

(Joan and All) When he returned to his place at the table, he lifted the Passover bread, spoke the blessing, broke the bread and offered it to them saying:
“Take and eat of the Bread of Life given to strengthen you. Whenever you remember me like this I am among you.” (pause) Jesus then raised a cup of blessing and spoke the grace saying: “Take and drink of the covenant made new again through my life in you. Whenever you remember me like this, I am among you.” (pause)

(Elena): In sharing this bread and cup, let us embrace the Gospel of justice and peace as we proclaim this mystery of our faith: In every person and creature that has ever breathed, All: Christ has lived. In every living being that has passed on before us, All: Christ has died. In the sharing of the Bread we are transformed, All: Christ is still with us.

(Jim B): Holy One, we celebrate the life of your son and our brother, Jesus. He lived his life and walked forward to his death knowing that you were leading him. We walk forward in his pathway and follow his teaching. We pray for compassion for all human beings, to feel empathy and love for everyone, especially the poor, oppressed, and mournful. We remember all those who suffer and die each year from war, poverty and unjust disease. We mourn for them, and for all creatures we destroy, and for the earth itself. We pray to be gentle, nonviolent, courageous and humble, like your saints. We pray to grow in awareness of our unity with all of creation and co-create with You, our earth as a sanctuary of peace.

(Maryal G) We pray for a pure heart, inner peace and holiness so that everything that comes from within us might be loving and holy. Opening ourselves up to your Spirit, may we see You everywhere, and may our hearts be receptive to drinking water from another’s well in the spirit of the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. We are called to do everything Jesus did, to be the living presence of a love that does justice, of a compassion that heals and liberates, of a joy that generates laughter, of a light that illumines right choices and confronts the darkness of every injustice and inequity. O Holy One, we pray to be filled with your Spirit, the Spirit that filled Jesus. It is through his life and teaching, his loving and healing that all honor and glory is yours forever and ever.

Great Amen: Linda Lee Miller

(Jim B): Let us pray together as Jesus taught us: Our Father and Mother who are in heaven, whose presence is with us always, and whose spirit dwells within. Hallowed be your name. May your kingdom come, and may your will be done, in our lives, and on earth, just as it is in heaven. Thank you for giving us this day, all that we need for sustenance, nourishment and growth. Forgive us, forgive us when we turn away from your love, when we trespass against you and those you put in our lives. Help us to forgive those who turn away from love and who trespass against us. Keep us from yielding to temptation. Direct us away from anything or anyone that would distract us from your will, your highest good for our lives. Deliver us and protect us from all that is evil. For all glory and power is yours Almighty God just as it was in the beginning, it is now and always shall be, world without end. Amen

Please join in praying the Litany for the Breaking of the Bread:

(Mary M. and All)

O God of Courage, You call us to live the Gospel of peace and justice. We will live justly.
O God of Compassion, You call us to be Your presence in the world. We will love tenderly.

O God of Truth, You call us to speak truth to power. We will walk with integrity in your presence.

(Joan): This is the bread of life and the cup of blessing. Through it we are nourished and we nourish each other. All are welcome to the Feast.

(Elena): Holy One, prepare us to be your sanctuary, pure and Holy, tried and true. With thanksgiving, we’ll be a living, sanctuary, for you. What we have heard with our ears, we will live with our lives. As we share communion, we will become communion, both Love’s nourishment and Love’s challenge.

(Elena) Please receive/share Eucharist now, saying: “You are the bread of life.” And “You are the cup of compassion.”

I am the One Within You
(Karen Drucker)

Prayers of Gratitude, Introductions and Announcements

(Joan and All): Let us raise our hands and together bless each other. May vision and truth companion you. May beauty be in your eyes. May peace fill your being. May Love hold you close. May the Earth give you guidance. May the Stars give you hope. May the Blessings of life fill you!

(Elena): Commissioning ~Let us go with Hope ready to share our belief that we have the ability to heal our broken earth.

~Let us go in Peace, believing that the divisions and brokenness of our world will be healed by our hands. ~Let us go, with Hearts open to on-going transformation, willing to share waters from the Spirit living within us and willing to drink from another’s water. And Let us go into this week, held together by love, clothed with the nature of Jesus our Companion and strengthened by Sacred Spirit Divine.

The River of Life



Please send donations to:

Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community
5342 Clark Road #3079
Sarasota, FL 34233

Please send intention for our community prayer book to Joan Meehan.

Friday, March 10, 2023

Pope Francis Says Equal Opportunities for Women Are Better for World

 I agree with Pope Francis that equal opportunities for women are key to a better world. Equal opportunities for women -including priestly ministry - are also key to a better - more just Church!

Roman Catholic Women Priests are leading the Church toward equal rights by celebrating equal rites in inclusive communities of Catholics around the world.

Pope Francis on Wednesday decried violence and prejudice against women and said granting equal pay and opportunities could help create a more peaceful world, as a new survey of Catholic women showed that many felt the Church discriminated against them.

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Interntional Women's Day Prayer Program: Recognizing and Celebrating Women

Recognizing and Celebrating Women

Opening Song: Courageous Women by Jan Novotka, Video by MT Streck 

Opening Prayer: An International Women’s Day Prayer

Today we honour the women of all times and places,
Women of courage,
Women of hope,
Women of suffering,
Women of mourning,
Women living fully,
Women experiencing joy,
Women delighting in life,
Women knowing the interconnectedness of the human family,
Women promoting human flourishing,
Women boldly leading the transformation of unjust global structures,
Women seeking and sharing wisdom and love,
Holy Onw, we celebrate your faithfulness and love,
On this day we celebrate the promotion of the full humanity of all women everywhere,
We know that whatever denies or distorts the full humanity is not of God,
Help us to be faithful to your call to love all of humanity equally,
In your holy name we pray, Amen .

(Source: Tané Theron, Christian Ethos and Chapel Prefect, Ravenswood School for Girls)

The Elephant in the Church by Mary T. Malone, Theologian adapted by Dennis McDonald

Throughout Christian history it has always been recognized that the home is the place where Christianity is passed on, and that women, mothers and grandmothers, have been the prime evangelists. Now in the twenty-first century, homes may no longer function as centers of evangelization. The old headship of the male husband and father is no longer a reality, and the male leaders of the churches are diminishing in numbers.

 And yet the women are still there, and this is the problem. And what of the women down through the centuries? How were they ‘there’. As we have seen, they were there among the first and most faithful disciples, as house-church leaders, apostles, teachers, prophets, and presiders at the agape meal, the initial form of Eucharist. They were there, to men’s great surprise as martyrs and virgins, not having been deemed capable of either role in male theology. They were there as abbesses and founders, writers and preachers, mystics and scholars, reformers and missionaries, not only at home on the continent of Europe, but in far distant lands, again demonstrating virtues of courage and ingenuity that they were not supposed to have. And in our own time women have been there as theological scholars and biblical exegetes, parish leaders and pastoral guides, chaplains in a huge variety of settings, and ministers of the gospel at bedsides and graves, birthing rooms and schools, publishing houses and universities. And all of this has been done entirely on their own initiative, without any official calling from the Church because the Catholic Church does not consider itself capable of calling women. And what have these women believed? How have they lived as Christians? What has been the focus of their spiritual lives? These women, both today and down through the centuries, right from the beginning, have built their lives around the following of Jesus, the living out of the imago dei, the public exercise of compassion and the unique sense of themselves as Godward and God-bearing people. They know that in the depths of their humanity, like Jesus, they discover the signs of divinity. They have learned, as Marguerite Porete, and Teresa of Avila have pointed out, that there is no telling where God ends and we begin, where we end and God begins. They know, as Julian of Norwich did, that there is ‘no wrath in God’, that God is ‘closer to us than our hands and feet’, and that God is as truly Mother as God is Father.

If there is to be a future church...... a necessary first step must surely be to attend to the voices of women throughout history and today. 

Women of the Church  - Song by Carey Landry  - Video by MT Streck

A Litany of Women for the Church by Joan Chittister, OSB

Holy Mystery, creator of women in your own image,
born of a woman in the midst of a world half women,
carried by women to mission fields around the globe,
made known by women to all the children of the earth,
give to the women of our time
the strength to persevere,
the courage to speak out,
the faith to believe in you beyond
all systems and institutions
so that your face on earth may be seen in all its beauty,
so that men and women become whole,
so that the church may be converted to your will
in everything and in all ways.

We call on the holy women
who went before us,
channels of Your Word
in testaments old and new,
to intercede for us
so that we might be given the grace
to become what they have been
for the honor and glory of God.

Saint Esther, who pleaded against power
for the liberation of the people, –Pray for us.
Saint Judith, who routed the plans of men
and saved the community,
Saint Deborah, laywoman and judge, who led
the people of God,
Saint Elizabeth of Judea, who recognized the value
of another woman,
Saint Mary Magdalene, minister of Jesus,
the first evangelist of the Christ,
Saint Scholastica, who taught her brother Benedict
to honor the spirit above the system,
Saint Hildegard, who suffered interdict
for the doing of right,
Saint Joan of Arc, who put no law above the law of God,
Saint Clare of Assisi, who confronted the pope
with the image of woman as equal,
Saint Julian of Norwich, who proclaimed for all of us
the motherhood of God,
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who knew the call
to priesthood in herself,
Saint Catherine of Siena, to whom the pope listened,
Saint Teresa of Avila, who brought women’s gifts
to the reform of the church,
Saint Edith Stein, who brought fearlessness to faith,
Saint Elizabeth Seton, who broke down boundaries
between lay women and religious
by wedding motherhood and religious life,
Saint Dorothy Day, who led the church
in a new sense of justice,

Mary, mother of Jesus,
who heard the call of God and answered,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who drew strength from the woman Elizabeth,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who underwent hardship bearing Christ,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
who ministered at Cana,
Mary, mother of Jesus,
inspirited at Pentecost,
Mary mother of Jesus,
who turned the Spirit of God
into the body and blood of Christ, pray for us. Amen. — Joan Chittister, OSB

Closing Prayer: Whenever Women Gather by Jay Murnane

Whenever women of thought gather

Thoughtful women

Horizons are stretched wider.

Whenever women of heart gather

Compassionate women

Tender-strong eyes open to injustices,

Making connections.

Whenever women of soul gather

Generous women

There is solidarity, and a wide embrace,

A fulcrum of possibility

Which can fell walls,

Set voices free,

Illuminate alternatives

And heal shattered hopes.

Whenever women of wisdom gather

Free women, 

daring women, 

ingenious women

there is a drumming

in cadence with the song

at the center of all:

a co-creativity

a rumbling

a crumbling

of business-as-usual

and powers that be.

Whenever women of spirit gather

Feisty women

Laboring women

There is a birthing.

There is life,


Closing Song: Woman Spirit by Karen Drucker, video by Mary Theresa Streck and Juanita Cordero 

Women’s Priestly Ordination in the Catholic Tradition With the Focus on the Subversive Praxis of the Roman Catholic Women Priests by Jakub Urbaniak & Dianne Willman

Beautiful Prayer Service to celebrate International Women’s Day

See BBC Documentary and read article by Dianne Willman on Women Priests- Prophets and Visionaries in a Movement that is a Holy Shakeup in the Roman Catholic Church. Happy International Women's Day!

To cite this article: Jakub Urbaniak & Dianne Willman (2023): Women’s priestly ordination in the Catholic Tradition with the focus on the subversive praxis of the Roman Catholic Women Priests, International Journal for the Study of the Christian Church, DOI: 10.1080/1474225X.2022.2158572

To link to this article:


Against the background of the recent history of the controversy regarding the Roman Catholic Church’s (RCC) position on women’s priestly ordination, this study focuses on an alternative ecclesiological model embodied by the Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP), a movement born in 2002. The article explores this unique form of dissent that strives for difference without seeking to effectuate the actual rupture from the RCC. The movement’s subversive praxis is manifest chiefly in its organisational structure, in ordained women’s ‘pragmatic, pastoral, priesthood ministry’ and in their utterly inclusive approach to sacraments. This approach – the article argues – provides a resource to overcome the doctrinal impasse on the issue of women’s ordination that the RCC appears to have reached in 1983. This holds true even if the movement itself may be occupying merely a transitionary space within the larger landscape of the new forms of priesthood emerging across Christian churches.

How the Roman Catholic Church Uses Gender Ideology to Threaten Human Rights by Dianne Willman

(Address  by Dianne Willman at United Nations: CSW WOW -Side-event​​​​​ on 6 March 2023)

How the Roman Catholic Church uses gender ideology to threaten human rights

By Dianne Willman



There are various issues in the RCC that relate to and detrimentally impact women. Today, only speak to the ban on women’s ordination to the priesthood in the RCC. I also use a broad understanding of gender ideology as a backdrop, namely the assignment of certain roles, responsibilities and rights to men and women, supportedby beliefs that maintain a status quo of inequality.

With this in mind, I approach today’s topic in two ways:

First, the ban on women receiving the sacrament of holy orders or ordination to the priesthood as a human rights issue from a South African perspective, which is one that arises from the experience of apartheid, and
Second, the existence of gender apartheid in the RCCagain based on the South African experience

In the time available, I am only able to speak to these two issues at a high level. It is hoped however that some contribution is made to the current discourse on women’s ordination in the RCC from a uniquely South African position.

I begin first with some context for this exploration, namely an overview of apartheid

Note: I am not speaking in an official capacity neither on behalf of my professional organisation nor that of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement. I do however draw on available material and lived experience.

Dianne Willman RCWP- South Africa 


Apartheid context

South Africa is a country that endured the horrors of apartheid, which is a recognised crime against humanity. It was a system of oppression carefully crafted along both racial and gender lines, which employed, amongst others, particular political philosophy concerning race using religious justification and natural characteristics of differences between people to justify oppression.

It was a system of state control. The more attempts were made to raise consciousness and counter the oppression, the harsher the reaction of the stateAmongst others, information was censored, and fear and violence was used.

Justice Ngcobo in a case in the South African Constitutional Court aptly describes the apartheid system[it was] a legal order that did not respect human dignity, equality and freedom for all people. Discrimination fuelled by prejudice was the norm. Black people were denied respect and dignity. They were regarded as inferior to other races.

In brief, one small group of people dominated anotherlarger group of people in an oppressive manner premised on severe prejudice arising from a particular ideology. Anti-Apartheid activist Stephen Biko is noted to have saidthe greatest weapon in the hands of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressedThus captured, the engine of oppression could continue to operate. 

The political notion of “separate but equal” was and is a liethat protected those in power.

We entertain no doubt that apartheid was evil.

Human rights were transgressed as a matter of course, some key ones being the rightto equalityhuman dignityand freedom.

It is out of this context that a bill of rights was crafted and South Africa transitioned into a new dispensation.

A brief look now at the country’s Constitution and the interpretation of human rights provides useful considerations that address the first issue mentioned at the outset: could the ban on women’s ordination constitute a human rights issue in South Africa?


South Africa’s constitutional order and its impact on the ban on female priestly ordination

The Constitution recognises core values which include dignity, equality and freedom. Academic writers on the issue point out that the ban on women from the priesthood undermines these values in various ways, and key humanrights are triggered: for example the rights of equality and dignity, and occupation.

Researchers have observed that the Church in its various legal instruments has focused on women’s functions in relation to motherhood, domesticity and nurturing. In the apartheid context, this translated to women being deemed weak, unable to reason and inadequate to engage in public and political activities. Women, as it has been argued, are in an inferior position to men as a resultSince priestly ordination includes leadership and decision-making functions, from which women are excluded, women remain in an inferior position to men in the Church contextIn addition, women are not able to participate meaningfully in the beliefs and practices of their faith tradition, and their evolution. All these speak to human rights issues.

It is a given that human rights are not absolute in nature. Freedom of religion for example is not absolute especially when its female members are subordinated, discriminated against and marginalised by those in power. Anything that reinforces stereotyping of women and patriarchy is rejectedin our constitutional dispensation.

The Constitution provides for a limitation clause in which human rights may be limited if, amongst others, it is reasonable and justifiable to do so. A case can be made out for example that freedom of expression and religion can be reasonably and justifiably limited in respect of the ban on women from priestly ordination:

there is a shortage of male priests and thus a need exists for female priests;
RCWP priests minister to those who are marginalised by the RCC’s beliefs and practises and therefore give effect to the spirit of the Constitution;
the lived reality is that women feel called to be priests, congregants desire such change as appears from synod reports from this region, and some male clergysupport such changeeach party desiring to practise their Catholic faith, that is, to maintain their association in the institution;
a further reality is that of clerical abuse that arises from, amongst others, a belief system concerning male priests only being able to represent Christ

Our courts have made human rights findings that impact particular religious traditions. They have stepped into the private sphere if constitutional values are undermined. It has been held that a small group’s beliefs and values cannot trump constitutional values. Our Constitutional Court and dispensation is not afraid of being at odds with the RCC – for example, the court’s recognition of same sex marriage stands in direct contrast to teachings of the Catholic Church. The Constitutional Court has held that religious discourse is not a means to interpret the constitution. Religion in South Africa is not a monolithic structure that cannot be penetrated.

Significantlyas one writer has indicated, constitutional validity is assessed in the context of the diversity of the South African society – simply put, diversity is valued and informs human rights interpretation. The Constitution tolerates and celebrates diversity. The latter adds a novel dimension – the Constitution is a living document that supports a living organism, namely South Africa.

South Africa’s human rights regime aims at being transformative in nature: recalling the past and creating a new dispensation at the same timeThis new order includes transformation of power relations between women, men, institutions and laws. It is about addressing patriarchy and gender oppression.

Transformation includes considerations of caring for another and implementing steps that are meaningful – transformation is not simply a matter of inserting different bodies into previously excluded spaces.

To this end, South Africa is influenced by an African concept called ubuntu: this is the recognition that our relationships with one another are critical to our growth as individuals and communityto put it simply, I am because you are. South Africa is relational and communitarian in nature. Respect and affirmation are important qualities.The Catholic Church’s practice of excluding women from ordination may raise questions from the perspective of ubuntu.

South African constitutional interpretation is, as writers have indicated, informed by the “never again” principleNelson Mandela declared in his inauguration speech in 1994never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another ….. This is a powerful influencing factor in determinations that are made. The exclusion of a certain group of persons by anothernamely the clerical caste, would need to pass through this lens.

In conclusion, there is a strain of thought that the ban on women from ordained ministry amounts to unfair discrimination based on genderThe Constitutional Court as some authors have argued would have jurisdiction to entertain such litigation. Even if this position is wrong, the necessary attention will be drawn to the issue and serve to raise awareness. It is a win-win situation.


Gender apartheid in the RCC

Against the backdrop of apartheid, could we speak of a gender apartheid that exists in the RCC based on the ban on women being ordained?

This idea of gender apartheid is not new. Retired Catholic Woman Bishop Patricia FresenSouth African theologian who was ordained through the Roman Catholic Womenpriest movement spoke of it in an address in 2005:

“Today, in this post apartheid time, what we have is a transformed South Africa, a rainbow nation,  . . . Now we in the Church are on another ‘long walk to freedom’, this time freedom from sexism, from unjust discrimination against women in the church, freedom from oppression by the privileged clerical caste in the church.”

Academic writers such as Ann Mayer have also introduced the notion of gender apartheid in other religious contexts albeit in the context of state entities. There is still value in adopting this concept in non-state contexts. It provides a language and a lens to assess the nature of and extent of injustice. A few reflective thoughts are shared in this regard.  

First, the law of the RCC is clear on the discriminationonly baptised males may receive the sacrament of holy orders. See Canon 1024As in the case of apartheid, it is a ban that rests on natural human differences, being gender in this case

Second, the discrimination is arguably supported by a systemic order / infrastructure. I name a few:

church law as described above 
a particular institutional arrangement that re-inforcesthe discrimination: it is re-iterated through the performance of sacred actions like the sacraments using selected sacred texts and a particular exclusive language (information about female religious leadership is controlled through the selective use of readings in the lectionary)
a clerical caste is established holding higher rank and authority than members.
paradigm exists through the theological fiction of “in persona Christi” which associates priests as speaking for God and representing Christ.
A penal system exists in respect of non-compliancewith church law, namely that of excommunication in the case of attempted ordination by women

Third, the discrimination is an infringement of human rights as described earlier.

Finally, the exclusion of women from the priesthood is based on the same lie as apartheid: separate but not equal. 

For these reasons, it is not difficult to conclude that the exclusivist practices of the RCC in the context of women’s ordination are tantamount to gender based apartheid.


Concluding remarks: there is hope

Apartheid was dismantled and is still being dismantled. Concerted efforts aimed at transformation deconstructed the oppressive system and reconstructed a new reality.South Africans have a strong sense of the evolutionary nature of change, or the “long walk to freedom” as Mandela described. We can therefore hope for change in the RCCthat is effected in a liberating, healing and non-violent way.

There are many ways in which the desired transformation in respect of women’s ordination has already commenced: consciousness has been raised through feminist theologians and advocacy groups, as well as thembodiment of the change through RCWP, its priests and communities.

A leader also exists in the form of Jesus who empowered women, and envisioned and established a new way of being community which involved a different expression of power relations. A founding document if you like exists in the form of the Gospels that provide the values that the church itself attempts to espouse. We also have the primacy of conscience that the RCC sanctions. Finally, there is the Holy Spirit, the advocate, who is always at work, blowing where she wills.

Thank you.