Rise and Revolt - Catholic Women take on the Vatican
In recent years, we've grown used to seeing women in leadership positions in various protestant churches. Except in the most misogynist and old fashioned of religions, women are welcome as equals whether it's as a leader or as a member, and in this day and age, it is easy to take that fact for granted. While the Catholic religion is well known for prohibiting birth control and abortion for any reason, many non-Catholics may not realize that it also prohibits women who are called to serve God from being anything more than a servant to a male priest or bishop. Never can a woman, herself, hold a leadership position in the church.
This wasn't always the case, though. It wasn't until the 1200's that women were banned from being church leaders, and until then there were many women priests and bishops, including Theodora and Bridget of Kildare. The church's growing lust for land was where things went wrong not only for women, but for male priests who were married. Forced celibacy became the rule, allowing the church to suck up land rights as childless male priests either gave away their holdings or died.
Today, there is a growing number of women all over the world who intend to reclaim their once revered place in the church. Since 2002, they have been ordained deacons, priests, and bishops. They've been excommunicated and then re-ordained. Male bishops have helped, both openly and in secret, ensuring that these women are ordained in apostolic succession, as required by the Vatican. In response to this movement, the Vatican issued a revision of its laws, this past July, that puts the ordination of Women in the same category as child molestation and sexual contact with any individual who is mentally deficient.
I spoke to Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan about this affront not only to women but to society and the church. She and her sisters and supporters are only strengthened by the Vatican's archaic and offensive behavior. This is nothing less than a revolution, and in the spirit of women like Hildegard, Joan of Arc, and Saint Theodora - all excommunicated by the church only to later be named saints - the Roman Catholic WomenPriests are calling for a complete upheaval of the Catholic doctrine. They look not only to welcome women as leaders, but also to change the system from a closed and secretive hierarchy to an open, community based church. These women, although devoted to Catholicism itself, are modern and want their callings of service to be relevant to today's world - not only by supporting female leadership and married priests, but by supporting reproductive rights and gay rights, as well.
What these women are finding, in their disobedience to unjust laws, is that they are gaining support from Catholics every day. After the Sarasota Diocese warned their members that anyone in attendance of this ordination ceremony would be excommunicated, many showed up stating that they didn't care. It was almost a dare from the backwards, medieval and increasingly irrelevant entity, and one that many were thrilled to take.
"Jesus was a major rule breaker," Bridget Mary points out to her critics. To those who state that women cannot be leaders because the twelve apostles were all men, she cries foul. It isn't true that there were only twelve apostles - the number was symbolic of the twelve tribes of Isreal and nothing more. In fact, the most revered apostle was Mary Magdalene, and she was not the only woman in the circle of Christ. When some try to point to Bible passages to back their misogynistic beliefs, Bridget Mary points to Romans 16, where Junia was named as an apostle.
When I asked her what she thought of the church's unwavering stance on ordained women, she could only point to pure misogyny. "The Vatican's own scholars, in 1976 looked at scripture and concluded that nothing in scripture prohibits women ordination." The centuries of hatred for women and the feminine have saturated the inbred Vatican leadership, preventing them from even acknowledging their own findings, if it means that tradition is threatened in the process.
With declining church memberships and increasing number of closed parishes and with a growing disgust with a group of withered old men who have protected child molesters for decades and who have excommunicated church members simply for supporting women's rights, one would think that there might be some acknowledgment in the higher ranks that something needs to change. Just as they've proven throughout history though, the Catholic leadership is immovable. Even as the Vatican likes to preach about world peace, they seem to thrive more on strife within their own organization. Even as they continue their claim to fight for the rights of children by opposing abortion, they excommunicated the doctors and family of an impregnated nine year old rape victim for providing her with an abortion, even though the pregnancy was a threat to the girl's health and well-being. Although the Vatican likes to decry dictatorial governments, they refuse to budge in the black-and-white demands they put on their own followers. The hypocrisy is leaving a sour taste in the mouths of more and more parishioners, who are chosing to find spiritual guidance elsewhere, and in greater numbers.
How long will it take the Vatican leadership to find a leader who will move the church in a modern direction, once Benedict is out of the picture? How many sheep are they willing to lose all in the name of being right? How many women and girls have to risk their lives in pregnancy before the church decides that the already born lives are worth fighting for?
These are questions that many Catholics are asking, and that WomenPriests hope to be able to answer with their own voices, soon. The Catholic Church, as one of the most powerful entities on earth, has an obligation to represent, protect and support all members, regardless of sex. For the sake of its own future, it has the obligation to modernize and recognize that medieval rule can't possibly work for the church today, just as it can't possibly work for a successful nation.
This immovability, intolerance, and misogyny are finally being attacked by powerful Catholic women, and it's shaking the Vatican to its core. By placing ordained women in the same category as child molesters, the Vatican may have placed one of the last nails in its own coffin. Few Catholics outside of Vatican leadership believe that a woman can't be an effective spiritual leader. Few are willing to accept that their own mothers, wives and daughters could not represent peace, love, and redemption, and few are willing any longer to believe that celibacy is a true sign of spiritual superiority. Male Catholics may have a calling to the priesthood and to marriage and fatherhood, as well, and the WomenPriests intend to fight for the rights of all within the church. They don't see a need for yet another Protestant church, when the real problem can be solved by modernizing their own, encouraging it's continued existence, and hopefully saving its legacy by adding misogyny to the list of grave sins.
This article was originally posted on YoLadies.com