New book charts women priests movement for human rights in religion  
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Lys Anzia

New book charts women priests movement for human rights in religion

(WNN) U.S.: “Abundant evidence exists that many women were ordained and served as deacons and priests in the early church,” says practicing Roman Catholic Gretchen Kloten Minney, who is also a humanitarian and North American author of the new book Called – Women Hear the Voice of the Divine.

As the revolutions of the Arab Spring change the political landscape of the Middle East, another important transformative revolution is building inside one of our major world religions.

So what’s at stake?  The issue covers women’s treatment in religion, modern day Roman Catholicism and its identity with priesthood.

Publicly interpreted with an attitude of bias against gender, the Office of the Sancta Sedes (The Holy See) and  the Vatican City State located in Rome are now causing numerous women who want to move up inside the Church to face limitation, discrimination and religious exclusion. Women who become priests in the ‘break-away’ religious movement have faced excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church but this hasn’t stopped them.

“Roman Catholic Womenpriests reject the penalty of excommunication issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on May 29, 2008 stating that the women priests and the bishops who ordain them would be excommunicated latae sententiae,” says a formal statement by Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

Not all supporters of this movement are women. One Roman Catholic priest who has been speaking out for human rights and women’s rights in religion, and who is now also facing excommunication from the Church, is 2010 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Fr. Roy Bourgeois. “I cannot possibly speak out about injustice in society and at the same time be silent about this injustice in my church,” says Fr. Bourgeois.

It might be surprising that the Hartford Institute for Religion Research has documented through 2010, that Roman Catholic membership is actually up, but showing less than 1 percent (.57 percent), reaching 68,503,456 global members. But other statistics from Georgetown University data center, CARA (Center for Applies Research in the Apostolate), show a marked decline in the number of Roman Catholic priests and nuns inside the United States. Priests dropped from 42,839 in 2005 to 39,466 in 2011. Catholic nuns also showed declining numbers from 68,634 in 2005 to 55,944 in 2011.

The key in understanding this movement comes through the answer to this question: Why is the Vatican blocking women from becoming priests?

The reasons span a liturgy of political and cultural bias. In July 2010, the Vatican doctrinal office, an office of only 50 people officially called the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that is also in charge of tribunals that go back in time as far as the inquisition, placed the “attempted ordination of a woman” as one of the most “grave (serious) crimes.”

Near it on the crimes list was the sexual abuse of children by priests, a trouble that has been tormenting the Vatican for years now. Soon after the statement on women’s ordination was released, the Vatican attempted to soften the blow of the policy list by conveying the crimes did not all “belong in one basket.”

“I believe there is no difference between male spiritual calling and female spiritual calling,” continued Minney. “As early as the 1st Century in the continent of Asia Minor women have been leaders (deacons) of church communities. Abundant evidence exists that many women were ordained and served as deacons and priests in the early church,” Minney added.

“All of the faithful have the right, sometimes even the duty, to make their opinions known on matters concerning the good of the Church…,” said Pope John Paul II in an instructional letter released by the offices of the Congregation for the Clergy, 4 August 2002.

“The changes in Western society that have allowed women to occupy spaces previously reserved only to men — changes that are influencing other cultures in the world — have provoked a revolution in the configuration of gender roles, also placing before the Catholic church the question of enlarging the role of women. It brings up a problem of equality on which the Christian tradition has been quite clear since its origins, sparking an authentic revolution in the clashes over ways of conceiving sexual differences,” said Italian journalist and religious historian Lucetta Scaraffia for the Papal newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on International Women’s Day March 2010.

Mapping a wide and diverse group of women that include academicians, former Roman Catholic sisters (nuns), theologians, women’s rights activists and religious scholars, the women who ‘answer the calling’ to become a priest have one thing in common — a stubbornness to relate to spirituality in an expression that is equal to men.

“Few men serving as parish priests in the Catholic Church will ever have the kind of experience to aid and guide them in their ministry that Kae Madden has,” says Minney in her book Called – Women Hear the Voice of the Divine.

Born in the State of Nebraska to farm parents, Madden went to college, served with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps and later helped launch SHARE, a Church based food distribution program. Suffering from a serious and debilitating car accident she continued despite her process in healing to help others. Madden reached a pivotal point in her spiritual journey when she was ordained as an “Ecumenical” Catholic Womanpriest in July 2006.

“Yes, Kae Madden brought to priesthood a powerful desire to be a priest,” says Minney in her new book. “Yes, she had a solid Catholic education behind her. But she also brought with her a wealth of hands-on experience in treating family alcohol addiction, unplanned pregnancy, marital struggles, child raising, and elder care.”

It seems obvious that such experiences should enable a woman to join a global church that is suffering from a critical shortage of priests; a shortage that is now preventing numerous priests from being able to properly attend to those dying in U.S. hospitals and homes.

“We are challenged to find young men looking for (religious) vocations,” said New Orleans, Louisiana Roman Catholic Archbishop Gregory Aymond in a January 2010 interview with the Associated Press. “We are getting fewer, and the process of preparing for the priesthood can take six to eight years. It makes it difficult to have people who can step in for retiring priests.”

“Still the Vatican deems her (Kae Madden) ineligible for the priesthood because she happens to be a woman. Now the Vatican is taking it so seriously that discussion of the possibility of women’s ordination has been banned,” says Minney.

Currently the Office of the Pontiff is refusing to discuss any issues of women ordination and priesthood as part of the accepted policy of the Roman Catholic Church. But others, as far back as 1997, have not agreed with the reasoning of the Church for rejecting the idea of women priests.

“So on the face of it, there is nothing in Scripture which reasonably justifies the conclusion that the ban on women’s ordination is divinely revealed dogma,” said Canadian Roman Catholic priest Fr. Edgar Peter Burns, S. J. in 1997.

“But if, in centuries past, the church showed itself more open than the secular world in confronting the issue of woman, today the situation is turned on its head, and the external and internal pressure is strong and urgent for the Catholic world to tackle it,” outlined Scaraffia.

Many of the names have been lost to antiquity, but the history of women as spiritual leaders in the earliest accounts of Christianity shows women did participate intrinsically in the growth of the religion. Some of their ancient names are Mary of Magdala (Mary Magdalene), Phoebe of Cenchreae, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Philoumene of Rome and Prisca wife of Aquila.

“Do you feel that you’re stirring the pot?” asked WNN – Women News Network in a one-on-one interview with Minney. “Oh yeah!” she answered. “What I wanted to do is let everyone know about this. I’m going to show the ultimate respect for what they (the women) believe.”

The work to campaign for the human rights in gender and religion by opening the doorway to women to become priests is not a new one. In 1974, Mary B. Lynch, compelled by her awareness of the yearning of Roman Catholic women to become priests asked, “Should Catholic women be priests?” Thirty-one women and one man responded with a resounding “Yes!” Almost immediately a taskforce was formed and they began planning what they thought would be a small national meeting for like-minded people, a Women’s Ordination Conference, in Detroit, Michigan. The response was overwhelming. While planners had only expected a small group of people, an overflow crowd of nearly 2,000 gathered on Thanksgiving weekend of 1975, and the Women’s Ordination Conference was born. This 3:52 min September 2010 video is a production of WOC – Women’s Ordination Conference. 

For more information on this topic:  

- “Women in Christianity,” (Google Books excerpt pages), Hans Küng, 2001
- “The Roles for Women,” Frontline PBS series ‘The First Christians – From Jesus to Christ,’  website
- Roman Catholic Womenpriests  website
- Women’s Ordination Conference website
- “Called – Women Hear the Voice of the Divine,” Gretchen Kloten Minney, 2011

Lys Anzia

Lys Anzia, human rights journalist and founder/editor-at-large for WNN  – Women News Network

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