The Association of Catholic Priests has said it find it “impossible to understand” why words of Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles had been edited out of a promotional video for the World Meeting of Families 2018.
It has called on Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin, who is hosting the event which will take place at the end of August, to issue a statement clarifying the matter.
Words of welcome from the Cork-born Bishop David O’Connell for gay people raising children and people in second marriages were removed from the video.
“Pope Francis, he gets it. Today there are all sorts of configurations of families – mum and dad; mum or dad on their own; gay couple raising children; people in second marriages,” he said. These have been cut.
A spokeswoman for the World Meeting of Families 2018 has insisted however that everyone will be welcome to the event which is being hosted by Archbishop of Dublin Diarmuid Martin at the end of August next.
She noted how, in Amoris laetitia, “Pope Francis specifically stresses that ‘every person, regardless of sexual orientation, ought to be respected in his or her dignity and treated with consideration’ . . . as is repeated throughout the parish programme.
“The meeting has always been understood as a meeting open to all. This remains the position of the World Meeting of Families in Dublin.”
In a statement on Tuesday, the association, which represents between a third and a half of Catholic priests in Ireland, said it was concerned that “following the earlier removal of photographs from a leaflet, the organisers of the World Meeting of Families have now also removed the words of Bishop O’Connell” from their promotional video.
“His words were such that we find it impossible to understand how anyone who supports the message of PopeFrancis could object to them.”
It was the case that “no clear statement has been made as to why these actions were taken, and on whose direction. Both leave themselves open to interpretations which are very damaging to the WMOF.”
It asked: “Who is making the decisions? Where is the funding coming from? Has the source of the funding anything to do with the decisions being made?
“Without clear explanations, questions like these, and many others, will continue to be asked.”
The ACP concluded: “We believe that it is important that Archbishop Diarmuid Martin makes a statement clarifying why these two alterations were made, who decided on them, and why. Otherwise any further effect to present the WMOF as a welcoming place for everyone will be seen for what it is, empty rhetoric.”
Sister Marie told of nuns who worked long hours to cook and clean for cardinals and bishops, without being asked to break bread at the same table.
Sister Paule pointed out that many nuns did not have registered contracts with the bishops, schools, parishes or congregations they worked for, “so they are paid little or not at all.”
Sister Cécile said that “nuns are seen as volunteers to have available at one’s calling, which gives rise to abuse of power.”
These stories — told by sisters using pseudonyms — were revealed Thursday in an exposé about how nuns are exploited by the leaders and institutions of the Roman Catholic Church. The article, by the French journalist Marie-Lucile Kubacki, was published in the March edition of Women Church World, the monthly magazine on women distributed alongside the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.
he stories amount to a distress signal about the unfair economic and social conditions many nuns experience, as well as the psychological and spiritual challenges that many face.
“In the eyes of Jesus we are all children of God,” said the nun identified as Sister Marie, “but in their concrete life some nuns do not live this, and they experience great confusion and discomfort.”
The article was part of an issue dedicated to “Women and Work,” which touched on subjects already familiar to readers of the women’s magazine, like maternity and women in the church, but also the gender pay gap and unpaid domestic work.
It came about after discussions with nuns and observations about how they were treated in the Vatican, where they often provide “subordinate services,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, a feminist intellectual and the editor of Women Church World, which was introduced under Pope Benedict XVI.
Though convents also depend on the money generated by the sisters living there, many nuns, unlike priests, are not paid, or are poorly paid, when they attend conferences or when they preach, she said.
But the article, “The (Nearly) Free Work of Sisters,” noted that it was not just a question of money. A bigger problem, the article pointed out, is that many sisters say that while male vocations are valued, the work of women is not.
“Behind all this is still the unfortunate idea that women are worth less than men, and above all that the priest is everything while sisters are nothing in the church,” Sister Paule said in the article.
Still, some efforts are underway to address the problem. The annual Voices of Faith conference, which aims to showcase the “underutilized potential of women to exercise leadership at all levels of the Catholic Church” will take place at the Vatican on March 8.
And a “Manifesto of Women for the Church,” also published in the March issue of Women Church World, calls for giving women “roles that are coherent with our competences and capacities.” The document has circulated on social media and is being shared by women who are active in church institutions and parishes throughout Italy.
Pope Francis, who is said to read the magazine, has raised the matter of women’s roles in the church before, but his concerns have yet to be translated into concrete changes.
At an audience in May 2016, Francis was asked by one of the 900 leaders of female religious orders and congregations who form part of the International Union of Superiors General why the organization was not given a bigger say in the operation of the church.
Francis said at the time that “very often I find consecrated women who perform a labor of servitude and not of service,” and he urged the sisters to “have the courage to say no” when their superiors “asked for something that is more servitude than service.”
Sisters should be in the streets, in schools and with the sick and poor rather than carrying out errands for a parish priest, he said.
The pope has said that his concerns apply to women in the church in general. In its Friday edition, which came out Thursday, L’Osservatore Romano published a preface written by the pope for a Spanish-language book on Francis and women.
The pope wrote that he was concerned about a chauvinist mentality that persists in societies that leads to acts of violence. “And I am concerned that in the church itself, the role of service to which every Christian is called, often, in the case of women, slides into roles of servitude rather than service,” he wrote.
Paola Lazzarini Orrù, a sociologist and one of the authors of the manifesto in the magazine said some parishes had begun to invite women to speak during Mass. “Priest have begun to understand this is an issue that can no longer be ignored,” she said.
In the article, Sister Cécile said it was time for nuns to speak out. “Now when I am invited to hold a conference, I no longer hesitate to say I want to be paid, and how much I expect,” she said.
“It’s a question of survival for our communities,” she added, because she and her sisters live off this income.
But “change is difficult,” Ms. Scaraffia said. “Many prelates don’t want to hear these things, because it is easier to have nuns” who play subservient roles.
When the cardinal’s residence was built in the 1920s atop a hill in the leafy, most western outpost of Boston, it was modeled after an Italian palazzo. The grand mansion, replete with ornate mahogany and marble appointments, has stood as a testament to the Boston Archdioceses’ stature in the very Catholic city of Boston. Political candidates — local and national — would come calling, and even the Pope came to visit.
When Cardinal Bernard Law took up residence in the Renaissance Revival mansion, Boston’s Roman Catholic movers and shakers would flock to the backyard for his garden party fundraisers.
Today, it’s a steady stream of students hauling backpacks, and members of the public traipsing across that same property. The mansion, now owned by Boston College, has been gutted and converted to an art museum and meeting rooms — a remarkable fall from grace that parallels that of the Boston Archdiocese itself.
A total of 65 acres of prime church property – possibly its most valuable in Massachusetts — was sold in a fire sale, after the clergy sexual abuse crisis, when the church was struggling to pay some $85 million dollars in settlements to victims. In the years since, the cost of settling claims surpassed $200 million, and the church’s declining fortunes have been more than just financial.
Cardinal Law’s death this week reawakened a flood of emotion and anger over the decades of sexual abuse that finally came to light in 2002, and at the archbishop’s role in allowing predator priests to move to new parishes, where they would prey on more unsuspecting victims. The revelations that began in Boston eventually engulfed the church worldwide, and the reverberations continue to be felt, nowhere more so than in the once all-powerful Boston Archdiocese.
“The church’s influence took a big hit in 2002, that’s undeniable,” says Domenico Bettinelli, who used to be director of new media for the Archdiocese, and now works as an anti-abortion rights activist. “There’s no doubt that since the great scandal broke … our public voice has been muted in many ways because our moral authority has rightly been questioned.”
It’s a far cry from the old days, when the church was almighty, and the cardinal was closer to king, according to Thomas P. O’Neill III, former Massachusetts state legislator and lieutenant governor. He’s also son of the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill.
“When my dad served in the state legislature and Cardinal [Richard James] Cushing said [to do] something, I can assure you, a Catholic majority in the state legislature paid attention to it, and did it,” says O’Neill.
Cardinal Law long hoped he could also command that kind of obedience, after he arrived in Boston in 1984. With his booming baritone, and penchant for the regal trappings of the office, he did engender a deference and reverence that was in no small part derived from his influence with the Vatican. As one of the most senior American prelates, he was as well-connected as he was well-regarded outside Boston. He had the ear of Pope John Paul II, and was talked about as the man who might become the first American Pope. He was in regular conversation with President George H. W. Bush, and was a player on the world stage, instrumental in arranging the Pope’s first visit to Cuba; He was described in a 1990 newspaper article as “the first Archbishop of Boston to have a foreign policy.”
“He had mulled over Third World debt with Mexican bankers in Washington, D.C., brainstormed anti-abortion strategy with U.S. bishops in New York City, and jolted a visiting Northern Ireland official with a pointed question about conditions in Catholic schools there. The following Sunday he would leave for Cuba and his second tete-a-tete with Fidel Castro.”
But at home, the Catholic Church’s influence was on a slow decline that had begun under Law’s immediate predecessor, Cardinal Humberto Sousa Medeiros, who largely refrained from politics. By the time Law came to town, shifting demographics and changing social mores had significantly changed the landscape, further diminishing the church’s authority. And much as he wanted to reclaim the clout wielded by Cardinal Cushing, Cardinal Law never quite could.
“Law wanted to play that role and recreate that world, in a sense, but that world was already gone,” says James O’Toole, a history professor at Boston College, and former archivist for the Archdiocese of Boston. “There was a kind of polish to him as someone who knew what position he was in, and he was going to run with that, but he wasn’t able to do it.”
“By the time I got [into politics], you weighed everything that was being said by the church hierarchy, and you did it respectfully,” says O’Neill. “But did you follow blindly? No. Those days were all gone by the time I got there. [Lawmakers] paid attention to [Cardinal Law] … but they did not always comply.”
The election of 1986, O’Toole says, already revealed how the cardinal’s rigid Roman orthodoxy, and rightward leaning wasn’t flying with his Massachusetts flock. Cardinal Law lobbied for two referendum questions: one to ban state funding for abortion, and the other to permit some state support of parochial schools.
“Cardinal Law campaigned very strongly on both of those issues and he lost both of them decisively,” O’Toole says.
By the time another decade passed, the gap had so swollen between Boston’s Catholic Church and Boston Catholics on social issues, leaving Cardinal Law venting that both Massachusetts senators and the governor were wrong on the abortion issue.
“Only I am right,” he said.
A few years later, the church would also falter in its efforts to block gay marriage, as lawmakers were paying more heed to the voice of their constituents, than the cardinal’s’s.
“There used to be an assumption that [the archdiocese] was speaking for the majority of people in the church,” says State Rep. Byron Rushing. “But the average Roman Catholic state representative or state senator knew that there were many Roman Catholics in their district that are in favor of it. They weren’t all on the same page … [like] in the old days.”
Still, the institutional power of the Catholic Church in heavily Catholic Boston, would continue to earn Law a ranking by Boston Magazine as one of the three most powerful figures in Boston, even through the late 90s.
Protecting its own
Indeed, former Attorney General Martha Coakley says that sway was what enabled the Archdiocese to keep the lid on the clergy abuse and on what higher-ups were doing that allowed the abuse to continue.
“The church as an institution was incredibly powerful in Boston, in protecting its records and using its authority to cover up what was in retrospect, an awful conspiracy to hide [the abuse] and protect the church’s reputation,” she says.
But when the 2002 sexual abuse crisis threw the church into turmoil, and prompted a furious backlash, it was all over. With the church under siege, the balance of power shifted abruptly.
Law became the “poster boy” for the church’s cover up. The cardinal’s mansion was surrounded every day by swarms of protesters calling for his resignation. From his mightiest perch, he was reduced to being grilled by victims’ lawyers, under oath, about what he knew and when he knew it. One attorney recalls that when pressed during a deposition, Law turned to his attorney, protesting and asking if he really had to answer. The answer came back that yes, he did.
“The church lost all its influence,” Rushing says. On Beacon Hill, the church’s longtime lobbyist, who’d been a fixture at the statehouse, didn’t even dare show up.
“I would joke with him,” Rushing recalls. “You know like, ‘You can always come into my office, because I know you don’t want to go anywhere else in the building.'”
The cardinal, never shy to testify himself on legislation or use his bully pulpit, was rendered effectively mute. He was side-lined on issues he would have been spearheading, like a Boston Hotel workers strike that involved poor and immigrant workers.
Legislation moved through the State House, including requiring health insurance to cover contraception, and hospitals to offer the morning-after pill. On the other hand, Rushing says the church’s retreat was a big blow to other progressive/liberal efforts he would have liked the church’s help on, like increased assistance to the poor people and immigrants.
“We lost that lobby,” Rushing says. “They just stopped doing it.”
Shortly after the crisis, some Catholic priests in Massachusetts were even flouting the church by speaking out against a ban on gay marriages in Massachusetts, prompting a stern rebuke from above.
At the same time, the church’s financial clout took a nosedive as well. Angry, disillusioned parishioners were leaving in droves, and donations — from collection plates and large institutions— were drying up. After the crisis, the annual Boston Catholic Appeal plummeted to half of what it was.
“Everything went right over the cliff,” said one church official, not authorized to speak on the record. “We were basically in a freefall.”
O’Neill says the Catholic faithful began to distinguish between the mission of the church, and the institution of the church, and found ways to support the former but not the latter. He says that’s still happening, as he saw recently, when fundraising for a local Catholic school.
“In the old days the Catholic Church would support it almost in its entirety,” he says. “Today, you have private folks making contributions directly to [foundations that support that mission] as opposed to through the apparatus of the archdiocese.”
Climbing out out of crisis mode
By all accounts, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, has worked small miracles to restore confidence in the church. Soft-spoken, and low key (he’s way more comfortable in the traditional plain brown habit of his Franciscan order, than the regal garb that Cardinal law favored), O’Malley, has showed genuine compassion for the victims, and a deep commitment to their healing and to church reform. Church officials say attendance has finally stabilized, and donations have climbed back up to pre-crisis levels.
“If you told me before Sean O’Malley had become the cardinal of Boston, that anyone could have come and done the repair that Sean O’Malley has done, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have believed you,” says O’Neill. I think everybody — even Catholics not practicing today — have a very deep seated respect for Cardinal O’Malley.”
Politically, the Archdiocese is slowly recovering some of its voice, but seems to be strategically picking and choosing its fights, to stay more in sync with Boston Catholics. For example, O’Malley has been championing the cause of undocumented immigrants and speaking out on opioid addiction, violence prevention, and education.
“We’re out of crisis mode now, and Cardinal O’Malley is much more engaged politically,” the church official says.
The church recently managed to pull off a legislative win, helping to defeating a measure that would have allowed physician assisted suicide. But Bettinelli cautions even that vote doesn’t necessarily mean an upswing in the church’s influence.
“Lawmakers are voting “based on their faith,” he says. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are being influenced by [O’Malley].”
Catholic participation remains low; just about 20 percent attend weekly mass, compared to 70 percent in the 1970’s, according to the church. Money remains tight, and despite the softer tone coming from both Pope Francis and Cardinal O’Malley, doctrine is not budging on issues like abortion, contraception, or gay marriage, and so the chasm between the church and many of its parishioners on social issues is only widening.
“The rigid school of catholic doctrine … doesn’t sell in the 21st century,” says says Lawrence DiCara who was Boston City Council president in the 1970s.
Close to 70 parishes have been eliminated since 2004, a trend almost surely accelerated by the scandal, but reflective of the broader shift of Catholic America from the old heartland of Boston, N.Y., Chicago and Philly, to the South and Southwest.
Today, as Cardinal O’Malley tries to reboot and boost the Catholic Church, in keeping with his more down-to-earth style, he lives in a modest rectory in the heart of Boston, far from the once majestic mansion that was home to his predecessors.
O’Neill was one of the “movers and shakers” who once reveled at the big parties at Cardinal Law’s residence. “Those were the happy days,” he sighs.
He was also there for the small, private meeting, when a handful of Law’s closest confidantes told His Eminence it was time to quit.
“That was the end of it,” O’Neill says.
Now, he says, “this church is a church in repair, and we have a long way to go.” Then, ever faithful, he adds, “But I think the [new] leadership is destined to do the right thing, and get us to that point.”
As O’Toole puts it, “it’s dangerous for a historian to talk about the future but … the revival will come at some point. You know maybe 100, or 200 years from now … But I don’t think [this decline] will be permanent.”
When Ailbhe Smyth was 37, voters in Ireland approved a constitutional amendment that banned abortion in nearly all cases and committed the nation to the principle that a pregnant woman and her fetus have an “equal right to life.”
Next year, when Ms. Smyth, a former professor and chairwoman of the Coalition to Repeal the Eighth Amendment, will be 72, Irish voters are expected to remove or alter that amendment in a new referendum that could give Ireland’s Parliament the freedom to legislate on the issue and write more flexible abortion laws.
What are the driving forces behind this significant shift in voter attitudes toward abortion and other social issues?
Ireland was long a bastion of Catholic conservatism, a place where pedestrians might tip their hats and hop off the footpath when a priest walked past. But economic and technological changes helped propel a shift in attitudes that accelerated with the unfolding of far-reaching abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1990s.
Over a generation, Ireland transformed from a country where 67 percent of voters approved the constitutional abortion ban to one where, in 2015, 62 percent voted to legalize same-sex marriage.
‘A Disastrous Effect’
Priests once enjoyed great social and political power in Ireland, but the abuse scandal led to “the demise of the church,” the center-right prime minister, Leo Varadkar, who is 38, biracial and gay, said in an interview in September.
That would have been a politically unspeakable phrase for an Irish leader in the not-too-distant past.
“In the ’40s and ’50s, people replaced the colonialism of the Brits with a kind of colonialism of the church,” said Aodhan O Riordain, a senator from the Labor Party. That fostered an intermingling of Catholicism and Irish identity that was “a toxic mix,” he added.
For decades, legislation opposed by the church was doomed to fail. Eamon de Valera, an ardent Catholic who served as president or prime minister several times between 1921 and 1973, enjoyed a close relationship with the archbishop of Dublin, John Charles McQuaid, who helped steer Ireland’s religious life for three decades and made assertive policy suggestions.
“The Catholic Church’s hold on the state, the ways in which it sought to influence the state, remained strong for a very long time,” said Ms. Smyth. “For much longer than you might have thought possible.”
Even in its diminished state, the church continues to play a role. It controls almost all state-funded primary schools — nearly 97 percent — and the law allows them to consider religion as a factor in admissions. Many hospitals, too, are either owned by the church or located on church property.
But Diarmuid Martin, the current archbishop of Dublin, said the church “certainly” enjoyed less influence now than in the past. He blamed the one-two punch of broad social trends and the abuse scandal for the church’s declining fortunes.
“The scandals emerged at a moment which was either just the wrong time or the right time, depending on which side you are, for them to emerge,” the archbishop said. “The two things, the change in the attitude to the church and the abuse, came together and had a disastrous effect.”
‘My God, I Can’t Get an Abortion Here’
Those changing attitudes were driven by epochal economic and technological shifts felt in all countries, like the expansion of free trade and the birth of the internet. But in Ireland, the old order had largely managed to adapt.
“If you were a cardinal in Ireland in 1989, you would have felt pretty good,” said Fintan O’Toole, a columnist. “You would have said: ‘You know what? We weathered a lot of social and economic change and we’re still the power in the land.’ ”
Cracks had begun to emerge, though.
Economic liberalization, which began in 1960s, drew women into the work force, shrinking the size of Ireland’s traditionally large families and creating pressure for the legalization of contraception, which was anathema to the church.
It also began to stem the century-long tide of emigration. Some emigrants returned to Ireland, and newcomers from Eastern Europe and elsewhere arrived, making Polish the country’s second most widely spoken language.
“Young people go away, work, then come back a few years later and say, ‘My god, I can’t get an abortion here,’ ” said Rory O’Neill, who became a national figure as the drag queen and activist Panti Bliss.
“My parents’ generation, they went to London and never came back.”
In recent years, the internet has provided a platform for organizing that linked Irish people to liberal movements around the world.
“I suppose we are a little, quiet backwater, but young people are very well educated,” Ms. Smyth said. “It’s a very connected place, Ireland.”
‘Washing the Dirty Laundry’
Ireland’s break from the past has been so sharp that Garry O’Sullivan, a newspaper and book publisher whose company will soon release a book by a priest titled “Why the Irish Church Deserves to Die,” described it as akin to “intolerance toward views that represent anything of the old guard or traditional Ireland.”
That old guard was discredited by the yearslong drumbeat of child abuse allegations that began to emerge in the early 1990s as well as a cover-up by church officials who spent years denying the problem and moving abusive priests from parish to parish.
For decades, Irish priests zealously protected their communities from what they saw as the moral dangers posed by sexual promiscuity, unwed mothers and impoverished children, sometimes orphaned or neglected.
They used an unwritten, extralegal power — often at the urging of scandalized family or neighbors — to send such women and children to Dickensian facilities like industrial schools, Magdalene Laundries (workhouses run by Catholic orders) and homes for the pregnant and unwed.
While much of the abuse happened at the hands of parish priests, a great deal of it happened in these institutions. A 2009 report said tens of thousands of children were abused in industrial schools alone, a shocking figure in a country of 4.5 million.
A mix of shame, destitution and state complicity turned these facilities into prisons, and residents were put to work for the church. In the laundries, some of which did not close until the 1990s, so-called fallen women washed the dirty linens of clients that included the Irish military.
“The symbolism would be too crude if you put it into a novel, washing the dirty laundry,” Mr. O’Toole said.
‘The Last Hurrah’
Archbishop Martin, whose handling of the abuse crisis has won praise, said popular distrust of the church ran deep.
“It was a crisis of trust in the church, a crisis of betrayal by the church — and you can’t regain trust just by saying to them, ‘I’m sorry,’ ” he said.
The 2011 census identified 78 percent of the Irish population as Catholic, but the archbishop said he believed the figure for true believers was closer to 20 percent.
“I could spend all my time being concerned about the people who come to church, but they’re — you know I don’t want to be nasty — but they’re a dying breed,” he said. “The situation is changing, but Irish Catholicism hasn’t changed with it.”
Archbishop Martin praised the Eighth Amendment for protecting the rights of the unborn. He said that the coming abortion debate might provide an opportunity for the church to reconnect with people, even if the amendment were repealed.
“The one way the church could lose on the abortion debate is to compromise its position,” he said.
But not everyone is so sure.
“I think this referendum on abortion is the last stand for church versus state in Ireland,” Mr. O’Sullivan, the publisher, said. “The last hurrah for having influence.”
November 1 was All Saints Day, a day on the church calendar when we pay homage to exceptional followers of Christ. The day before — October 31 — marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s declaration of opposition to what he considered a corrupt papacy that tolerated the selling of indulgences.
When he got wind of what Luther was doing, the Pope excommunicated him. But what a difference a few centuries makes. I can remember a time not so long ago when we Catholics called the Protestant Reformation the Protestant Revolt.
But now, the Vatican has issued a commemorative stamp depicting Luther kneeling at the foot of the cross. The stamp is part of an effort encouraging rapprochement between Catholics and Lutherans.
Perhaps this is a good day to remember that the church does rethink issues, even if it often takes a very long time to do so.
I’m not sure it will come in my lifetime, but at some point, the Vatican might even issue a stamp marking the ordination of the first woman priest.
That would certainly be a departure from the way the institutional church currently treats women priests. If a woman dares to be ordained to the Catholic priesthood, the church declares her to be excommunicated.
Excommunication is the worst thing that the church can do to its members. It bans the individual from receiving all sacraments and from the Catholic community.
So you would think that the ordination of women priests was either so morally sinful or so damaging to the church, that this type of punishment was warranted.
But it is difficult to view Catholic women who pursue a vocation to the priesthood as reprobates out to damage the church.
Indeed, they’re not even outliers among Catholic faithful. Overall, about six in ten U.S. Catholics support women’s ordination. Even among Catholics who attend Mass at least weekly, 45 percent believe that women should have access to the priesthood.
In 1994, Pope John Paul II claimed that women should be excluded because Christ only called twelve men to be His apostles, and the church has always done it this way. That seems like an awfully lame excuse for centuries of misogyny. After all, the apostles all were Jews, too. And it would have been difficult for Jesus, living in that culture and at that point in Jewish history, to have elevated women to leadership positions, although He certainly paid far more attention to women than was customary at the time.
At a time when women have made great strides in the workplace, proving themselves just as capable to head businesses, excel in the arts and sciences, and lead countries, when Anglican and Episcopal churches have ordained women to serve both as priests and bishops, it appears that the Catholic hierarchy is fighting a battle that becomes less and less intellectually defensible.
The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests claims that since a validly ordained Catholic bishop ordained the first women bishops, the ordinations that follow are all valid and within the Catholic apostolic line of succession. They also make clear that they see themselves as reformers within their “beloved church,” not antagonists. Both Women Priests and the Women’s Ordination Conference offer a reasoned and respectful rebuttal to the church’s arguments.
But even if we assume that the institutional church is absolutely right about its embrace of an all-male priesthood, why does it feel so threatened by those few brave women who follow their consciences and choose to be women priests?
They know they will not get the chance to serve in any Catholic parishes or hospitals. They accept lives with little economic or professional security, and none of the perks male priests receive. But surely, they do not threaten the viability of the church.
And tell me this: Isn’t pedophilia a real threat to the institutional church? After all, we are talking about millions of Catholics losing faith in their pastors and bishops, and dioceses saddled with multi-million-dollar lawsuits. Parishes have been closed due to the financial burden of this abuse.
Yet there is no similar papal decree that states that any priest found guilty of sexually molesting minors should be automatically excommunicated.
Indeed it appears that many priest molesters get off easy. In 2014, the Vatican reported that over ten years, it had defrocked 848 priests, and given lighter punishments to 2572 others. The Vatican did not report how many priests it reported to law enforcement, or what happened to them. (In defending how it treated errant priests, the Vatican official had the temerity to state that “the Holy See condemns torture, that includes torture inflicted on the unborn.”)
Interestingly, the decree excommunicating women priests came out in 2007, the same year that the Los Angeles archdiocese paid $660 million in damages to resolve lawsuits filed by abuse victims.
It was just three years after a study commissioned by U.S. bishops revealed that more than 4,000 priests and deacons had been the targets of more than 10,000 complaints of abuse.
Or course, the greater irony is that women who seek ordination do so not to do evil, but to do good. They are not predators. They want to give more to the church, inspired by their faith to live out the gospels as fully as possible. They have not cost the U.S. church the $2.5 billion in damages caused by abusive priests.
I’m not aware of women priests storming parish churches, demanding to say Mass. They are not breaking into rectories, asking for room and board. They are attending schools of theology, but they have not attempted to secure for themselves the benefits that their male colleagues – seminarians – take for granted.
Aspiring priest Lisa Cathelyn must pay $50,000 in tuition to earn her graduate degree in theology from the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara in Berkeley, CA. She is on Medicaid because she can’t afford to buy the school’s health insurance. She’s living in a group home to save on rent. She faces an uncertain future, but one in which service to others is her lodestar.
It is the Jesuits who take a vow of poverty who live in relative comfort, while Polovick and other women who study for the priesthood do not need the vow: They are living the real thing.