"Despite the complexity of the issue, the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood continues to be for me — and hopefully for the rest of us in Dignity as well — an issue of justice and equality. The kindom of God is not fulfilled until all who are called find their rightful place."
— Lourdes Rodríguez-Nogués
DignityUSA Vice President
On the weekend of July 18-20, 2008, I, together with Marianne Duddy-Burke, our Executive Director, and other Dignity members from Arizona, Boston, Buffalo, NY, Columbus, OH, Indianapolis, IN and Philadelphia, PA attended the Inclusive Ministries Conference in Boston. Sponsored by CORPUS (married priests), WOC (Women’s Ordination Conference), Roman Catholic Women Priests, and the Federation of Chris- tian Ministries. The event title: “Inclusive Ministry and Renewal in a Complex Age.”
First of all, I want to share with you how much of a treat it was to be there. It is in gatherings like this — much like the CTA (Call to Action) conferences and our DignityUSA conventions — that I feel the presence of the Spirit and the force of the renewal movement in the Catholic Church. This wave of change is gaining force and there is no turning back. There is nothing that the hierarchy can do about it. This is the living church, setting a table big enough for all to bring their gifts, claiming for justice and embodying the Good News.
The three keynote speakers were Matthew Fox and two Catholic women priests — Jane Via of San Diego, CA and Jean Marchant of Massachusetts. Their life experiences of being prophets of the “new” church remind us that the tradition that we all come from is one of inclusion. As Matthew Fox put it: “The renewal of our church comes out of our moral outrage for the injustices that the hierarchical church perpetuates, even daring to do it in the name of God.” It was hopeful to see a room of almost 300 Cath- olics (even if gray was the predominant hair color) living out the call to ministry, prophecy, and witness — being the true body of Christ.
Facilitated by Marianne Duddy-Burke, DignityUSA presented a workshop called: “All are Welcome, Really?” Three members of the Boston chapter — Jane Powers, Marcia Garber, and Lourdes Rodriguez-Nogues (pinch hitting for Victor Postemski who was ill) — presented their ideas of what an inclusive church really looks like from our perspective. It was a very lively, interactive and thought-provoking workshop. We received very good feedback from the audience. It is amazing to hear other communities around the nation struggling with some of the things that Dignity chapters are already doing well — inclusive language; the leadership of women in liturgy; the role of lay men; the role of the laity in general, and ministries of service, to name a few.
Dignity is already creating change in our small communities. We should be proud of the issues that we have already taken on. There is a silver lining in being already in the margins! At the same time, some of the challenges that we continue to have — such as how to attract more young people and be more inclusive of women and racial minorities — are common struggles for a lot of these small inclusive communities.
There is a lot to learn from the alliances forged among all of us in the progressive Catholic movement. I was very glad with DignityUSA’s active presence and being counted in this movement. Let me tell you, everybody there knew of Dignity and our work, and everyone knows Marianne Duddy-Burke!
The highlight of the weekend for me was attending the ordination of three women priests and one woman deacon which took place Sunday afternoon, July 20, 2008.
It was a very hot day and the Church of the Covenant — which hosts a UCC (United Church of Christ) congregation — is not air-conditioned. However, the space was filled to capacity and buzzing with energy, joy and expectation. The history of the church was being changed in front of our very eyes. I was so fortunate to be a witness to that moment. No, the hierarchical church is not catching up to the concept of wom- en priests; and yes, we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of perpetuating the top down model of clerical power so misused by the official church.
Despite the complexity of the issue, the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood continues to be for me — and hopefully for the rest of us in Dignity as well — an issue of justice and equality. The kindom of God is not fulfilled until all who are called find their rightful place. This ordination was for me a step closer to the Promised Land.
Throughout all the events of the weekend, I kept thinking of how blessed Dignity has been to be a community in exile. This situation has enabled us to create our own vision of inclusive community — ever growing and changing — and to present our faith-full lives as examples of the struggle to give flesh to the church that Jesus envisioned. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!”
Let’s not be complacent. Let us move forward into this complex age with a renewed commitment to our vision and our mission, open to the grace of God, and filled with just and moral outrage to claim our rightful place at the table. Jesus expects it and the church needs it.
I don’t know Gabriella Velardi Ward, Gloria Carpeneto, Judith Lee and Mary Ann McCarthy Schoettly personally. But I will personally pray for them, because those four women who were ordained in Boston July 20, 2008, are giving us one thing we need in the Catholic Church today—more priests.
As a Catholic who is also black and transgender, I understand that sometimes — in the name of justice — a person has to disobey laws that are not just. I still remember from my childhood that there were movie theaters and eateries I could not go into to enjoy a movie or a meal simply because I was black. So I understand up close and personal these women’s stance against the unjust laws in our church, a church that speaks out of both sides of its mouth when it insists that women have a key role in the life of the church but cannot be priests.
This is a sad waste of human potential. Let me give you an analogy. Suppose you hired me as your stockbroker and, instead of investing your money, I squandered it in Las Vegas or some such place. After you found out about it, you would be very un- happy and I wouldn’t be your broker for very long. You might decide that a criminal investigation is in order. Now we get to the point. This tremendous waste of human talent and potential perpetuated by the church is just that — criminal, especially in light of the fact that the number of priests we have is going down and the median age is going up. Priests are getting older and fewer.
According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops website, there are approxi- mately 61.9 million Catholics in the United States today served by about 29,000 diocesan priests whose median age is over 50. According to an article in theLos Angeles Times, there were only 475 ordinations to the Catholic priesthood in 2007 — nationwide. In 1965, there were more than 900 ordinations nationwide. The number of priests is going down and has been since the 1960s.
Despite the declining numbers, I believe all hope is not lost. There are people all across the nation who are ready, willing and able to serve God and God’s people. But the church has not been prepared to accept such an awesome gift.
I honestly believe we can reverse this trend of decline by rethinking our concept of priesthood. First of all, we as church must remember we are all made after the divine image. Because we are, and because Christ is part and parcel of the divine image, every Christian — male and female — has the responsibility to image Christ, see Christ and serve Christ in our communities — especially, our faith communities.
While rethinking our concept of priesthood, we also need to reconsider the rule of MANDATORY celibacy. If a person wishes to remain celibate, he or she should be allowed to do so. The celibate state can be that person’s gift to the community of believers. But as long as we insist on MANDATORY celibacy, it ceases to be a gift freely given and becomes more a status of servitude.
Think about a gift, for a moment. Take a simple birthday present. You don’t give a birthday present to somebody because you HAVE to. No, you do so because you WANT to. In other words, you cannot mandate a gift. A gift is a gift only if freely given by the giver.
In addition, we must also rethink the concept of the deposit of faith and what it is. I read somewhere that Pope John Paul II said that the Church had no authority to ordain women because ordaining men was part of the deposit of faith. Jesus had no women among the “chosen twelve.” I would suggest that any blond-haired, blue-eyed person already ordained needs to become non-ordained. You see, I don’t think Jesus had any blond-haired, blue-eyed folks among the “chosen twelve” either. I know, I know: None of the “chosen twelve” had video-cams to document their looks and features!
But this we know for sure. The Catholic Church needs priests. Like right now.
Putting foreign priests into the American vineyard is putting a band-aid on a hemorrhage. Such priests, though zealous for the work of God, do not understand American culture and are often not understood by people in the pews even if we are thankful that such priests have come to minister to us.
Working retired and elderly priests to death is another band-aid solution. Yes, sometimes a bishop may not have anybody to send if a pastor has to be out because he needs R and R, or is in the hospital, or a family member is getting married or buried. So sometimes calling on a retired priest to cover a Catholic Mass is a necessary option — as I learned in my own home parish when my gallant but sometimes tired, hassled, and harassed pastor has to get some respite out of town. He’s only one person, for God’s sake, and not a teenager anymore! To quote Walter Cronkite, “And that’s the way it is…”
But it shouldn’t HAVE to be the way it is! We have the potential. We have men and women right now who are ready, willing, and able to serve God and God’s people! Instead of casting about for impediments, we need to stand back and let the Spirit work. Open the gates! Let the power of God show forth in our brothers and sisters who have presented themselves for service! I say open the gates! It shouldn’t matter whether they are male or female, married or single, gay, straight, or even transgender. Open the gates! Are we afraid to let the power of God blossom in our midst? Have we forgotten that St. Paul said that there is no difference between Jew or Gentile, slave or free person, male or female, but all are one in Jesus? Have we as church forgotten? Fervently I pray not! We are all made in the divine image and that divine image can, and does gift us — empowers us with the grace to sally forth and minister to the People of God.
Therefore, ladies, I may not know you personally, and Rome may not welcome you yet, but you have my personal prayers, along with those of the thousands who will gladly welcome you. On the eve of your ordination, I pray that the Holy Spirit will descend upon you with gifts of strength, courage, wisdom, and yes, compassion.
Go with God! May your ministries blossom!
Early in July 2008, Operations Manager Peggy Burns opened an email from the Director of Religious Education at a California parish. The woman was seeking assis- tance for a mother and son, members of her parish, who were going on retreat together. The son had recently come out as transgender.
The writer said she had identified some appropriate Scripture passages, and had found the Beatitudes of Dignity on our website, but was seeking other resources for them—and of course, she was on a tight timeline. Peggy did some research and within a day found the website http://www.transfaithonline.org. The inquiring director felt this was a great resource, and expressed gratitude for the assistance Peggy had provided.