Women are still barred from taking the priesthood in the Catholic Church, but Pope Francis has made some other small tweaks to the rules he thinks the ladies are gonna be pretty excited about. Thanks to the Cool Pope’s new amendments, per the Washington Post, women will now have the right to act as readers and altar servers during mass, and even to administer Communion.
If you, like me, are confused by this news because you’re pretty sure you can recall receiving a dry wafer from a woman at church before, you’re probably not wrong. Many women have already been performing these roles during Catholic mass for years, at the discretion of local bishops or priests, the Washington Post explained. What Pope Francis’s decision does, however, is formalize these roles as a right for women within the Church, one they cannot be denied on the basis of their sex. Previously, while women in many parts of the world were permitted to serve in these positions, individual Church authorities still retained, and sometimes executed, the right to enforce male-only altar services. Thanks to the Pope’s most recent decision, that will no longer be an option.
“Francis, on one side, is merely acknowledging reality on the ground, as it is right now,” said Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology and religious studies at Villanova University. “But this is important because the [conservative] bishops have been contradicted, openly, by Pope Francis.”
Essentially, this all makes for a relatively insignificant shift in policy that falls far short of the large-scale changes needed within the Catholic Church to render its culture anything approaching progressive. While the Pope has characterized the decision as a step toward recognizing the “precious contribution” women are still capable of making to the Church despite not being men, any hope of claiming the priesthood remains distant for women of the Catholic faith.
“We’re still 100 steps behind the historic moment that we live,” said Cristina Simonelli, president of an Italian association of female theologians, who added that while Francis’s move marks a “minimal” step forward, it’s still “better than standing still.”
Anyway, congrats to the Catholic women who now have the Pope-sanctioned right to continue doing the same things they’ve been doing all along, and nothing more.
Fr Tony Flannery has said he believes he should no longer be called a dissident because he is now ‘mainstream’.
The co-founder of the Association of Catholic Priests has also questioned why senior members of the Catholic Church are not being sanctioned, as he was, for airing their views in favour of women being ordained.
His public expression of support for women’s ordination and same-sex marriage, as well as more liberal views on homosexuality, led him to be suspended from public ministry by the Vatican in 2012.
He has been told he can return to ministry if he vows in writing to obey the Church’s teaching on women and LGBT+ people.
However, he has now noted that two senior members of the Catholic Church – one of them the Archbishop-elect of Dublin – have made statements similar to his own about the position of women in the Church, and specifically about women’s ordination.
Fr Flannery said: ‘Given that the opinions I have expressed on these matters are now being held and expressed by many people of all levels right across the Church, without any apparent sanction, I am curious to know how any Church authority, ecclesiastical or religious, can justify and condone the sentences that have been imposed upon me.’
He said the Archbishop-elect of Dublin, Dermot Farrell, in an interview with The Irish Times, had said he would like to see women becoming deacons in the Church.
Fr Flannery said: ‘He is reported to say that “the biggest barrier to having female priests in the Catholic Church is probably tradition, not the Scriptures”.
‘In saying this, he appears to undercut the main argument used by the Church against the ordination of women.’
Fr Flannery said that Bishop Batzing, the president of the German Bishops Conference, had been reported as saying he was in favour of women being ordained deacons.
Bishop Batzing went on to say, in relation to the arguments against the ordination of women: ‘I must honestly say that I am also aware that these arguments are becoming less and less convincing and that there are well-developed arguments in theology in favour of opening up the sacramental ministry to women as well.’
Fr Flannery said: ‘So now the German bishop who supports women’s ordination has been joined by the new man in Dublin, who supports women deacons, and undercuts the main argument about ordination – that Scripture forbids it. No longer dissident, I am now mainstream!’
He added: ‘Will these two senior clerics be asked by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to sign a document which states “a baptised male alone receives ordination validly”?
‘It is not my wish that they be requested to do so, but it is worth pointing out that this is what I have been ordered to sign as a precondition of being “gradually” restored to ministry.’
Fr Flannery also noted that Bishop Batzing had said he believed it was necessary to change Church teaching on homosexuality, while Pope Francis disliked the Church’s description of homosexuality as an ‘intrinsic moral evil’.
He queried if either of them would be asked, like him, to sign a statement declaring homosexual practices to be ‘contrary to the natural law’.
The pop of pepper ball pellets echoed in the night as police converged on demonstrators who gathered in front of a church to protest the death of Daniel Prude.
“Sanctuary!” an activist filming the protest shouted to his peers. “Go inside!”
Protesters streamed into Spiritus Christi Church, a congregation led by the Rev. Myra Brown, one of Rochester’s most vocal advocates for racial justice. That night, she stepped into a new, unofficial role, trying to bridge the divide between a growing group of Rochester residents fed up with city leadership and the officials still struggling to handle a city in crisis
Video of Prude’s March encounter with Rochester police shows him naked, handcuffed and hooded; he died a week later. The images, which were not released until September, sparked days of protest. Prude’s name — along with George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks and other Black Americans killed by police this year — is now invoked in the nationwide racial justice movement.
It also galvanized Rochester, an industrial city on Lake Ontario where residents have, for decades, pushed for police reform and fought against racism
A respected community leader whose golden singing voice fills the church, Brown has the ear of both the city’s leadership and its grass-roots advocates. A former nurse whose ministry is as tied to racial justice as it is to God, she emerged as a key channel of reason and understanding as tensions between police and protesters escalated, helping change the trajectory of the protests.
She was at home when she got the call that the church, home to a breakaway Catholic congregation, was being hit by pepper balls and the injured were taking refuge inside.
“I need you to get your officers to stand down,” Brown told then-Police Chief La’Ron Singletary. After some haggling with the top police official — who has since been fired amid revelations that he may have tried to minimize the department’s role in Prude’s death — a line of officers surrounding the building receded and those taking refuge inside began to leave.
The following day, Brown brokered a deal with Mayor Lovely Warren: the police would pull back and activists could march freely. Brown and 100 “elders” from the community and area churches served as a buffer between protesters and police that night.
The protests stayed peaceful. Brown was later thanked by city officials and painted as a partner in their efforts — a role she said she did not play.
She said she felt “used” by the city. Brown believed she was “negotiating a better path and a better response for the community” in her talks with Warren and Singletary, a goal she was easily behind.
The message, she said, should not have been, “Reverend Myra partnering to save the system.”
‘We like to deny’
Brown believes Rochester has not recognized how that system, along with historical wrongs and discriminatory policies that include putting Black children in substandard schools, have contributed to systemic racism in a city that is 40 percent Black.
“We like to shift the narrative here,” Brown said. “We like to deny.”
Raised in Rochester by parents who were farmworkers in the South, Brown, 55, saw the difference up close when she and other members of a racial justice convoy spent a week in 2017 touring six cities that have significance to their mission. Stops included Selma and Montgomery, Ala. They went to Cleveland, where a police officer in 2014 shot and killed Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old playing with a toy gun.
On the trip, the complicated nature of American racism revealed itself through a candid conversation with a parole officer in Ohio who admitted to feeling like “every Black youth is equally dangerous,” Brown recalled
The officer, who was Black, was worn down by the system and was repeatedly troubled by “the boys he was working with,” Brown said.
Brown, in an essay about the trip, said the group learned that they “must work tirelessly to end racism where we live.”
“To become our best selves,” she wrote, “we must humbly hold ourselves accountable and be open to being held to account when we yield to our worst selves.”
For years, Brown has been working to change Rochester from the pulpit of Spiritus Christi. She spent years worshiping and serving in various positions with the Rev. James Callan, a Catholic priest who violated strict Vatican guidelines by blessing same-sex couples and allowing women to perform the functions of priests. The Vatican forced Callan, who made civil rights the centerpiece of his ministry, from his church.
Callan’s ousting and final Mass was front-page news in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: “Huge goodbye to Callan,” the headline read. The mayor at the time told Callan, “Wherever they send you, Jim, give ‘em hell
In 1999, Callan helped found Spiritus Christi, where he is now the associate pastor. Brown was ordained a priest in 2017 and started leading the congregation two years ago. Women are not allowed to be Catholic priests, but Spiritus Christi is not recognized by the Vatican
Brown delivers sermons, wearing a stole with “Black Lives Matter” etched in gold, that highlight a moral obligation to address racial injustices. At a Sunday this fall, a White congregant with a long gray beard showed up to church in a “Black Lives Matter” T-shirt. Equality is Spiritus Christi’s mission.
The church is working on building an outdoor museum in Rochester’s Baden Park — a site of unrest in the 1960s — to raise awareness for the area’s history of housing and employment inequality, and what Brown said was Black community’s mistreatment by police.
Brown tells congregants and community members that the political system was established generations ago by the White, male, elite and was built to serve its creators. She says that modern-day policing is derived from Southern slave patrols. The diversity we see now in government and the private sector is “because people pushed their way in,” Brown said.
Brown, who greets both strangers and friends with her inviting smile, believes Rochester is no exception. Yet she has faith she can help enlighten hearts and minds through education, kindness and respect. It will be no easy task.
“We haven’t done anything to change the structure, we’ve simply moved the pieces around,” she said. “That is why you have what happened to Daniel Prude.”
Brown finds herself working within the confines of what she believes is a broken system, and hoping for the best. She spent four hours facilitating a discussion on race in September with 18 guests, mostly candidates for local office.
The group covered, with her guidance, how the legacy of slavery and broader systems of racism in this country applies to issues they face in their lives and work
New York State Assemblyman Harry Bronson (D) said Brown is able to convey the history that informs structural racism because she is willing to listen to others and treats all with respect.
“Even if they don’t agree with her, they’re open to having those conversations,” he said
Bronson, who is White, said he left with a deeper understanding of White guilt and White fragility, as well as how to recognize racism. Candidates also discussed structural, cultural and institutional racism in society.
“Those kind of thoughts and ideas are going to be beneficial as I continue to develop policy,” Bronson said.
Demond Meeks, a Rochester organizer recently elected to the state assembly, said Brown earns trust by showing respect while facilitating judgment-free conversations about difficult issues.
“She’s someone that can speak to both sides and try to get people to come to a consensus of sorts,” Meeks said
Meeks said community relations with the police have been fractured for years. Many protesters are still haunted by the 2002 fatal police shooting of 14-year-Craig Heard. The eighth-grader was allegedly driving a stolen car. According to the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, police alleged the boy was trying to run an officer over.
“People are quick to speak about George Floyd and other situations that have happened throughout the country,” Meeks said. “But we have a history of these things happening right here in Rochester.”
Warren said it is “no secret” that Rochester — along with every other city in the country — has issues with systemic racism and police brutality.
“The problems of the past cannot be changed or erased, but we can learn from them,” she said in a statement.
A ‘pathway forward,’ despite a broken system
Days after the video of Prude being detained by police was made public, Brown was among the throngs of protesters gathered in front of Rochester’s Public Safety building — a facility that, to many, represented systemic injustice. The group had been blocked from getting close to the building on previous nights, fueling discontent.
Earlier in the day, Brown brokered a deal with Warren to get the police to pull back its roving detail and allow the activists to march freely. She also pushed for the ability to intervene on site, giving her time to try to diffuse a problem before police responded with force.
On the ground, she and about 100 other elders from the community and area churches were serving as a buffer between the police and protesters. It was tense at times, but the tactic worked: That night was the first of many relatively peaceful ones to come.
Throughout the night, Brown fielded calls from Singletary, who believed some in the crowd were getting out of hand. She convinced Singletary and Warren to give her “at least five minutes” to diffuse situations before officers “start to get trigger-happy and nervous,” she said. The officials agreed to work with Brown.
Brown said her goal was to create a “pathway forward to make sure the community was safe to grieve,” that they “were not attacked by police and not re-traumatized.”
Elders, she reasoned, could provide the life experience and patience that some of the young people needed. They should also be willing to listen.
That night, a young Black man she encountered was visibly hurting, his voice shrill and intense. As others fell silent, he continued to chant by himself in a way that was “coming out sideways,” she said.
Hi sweetie, how you doing?” Brown asked the young man. She saw an opportunity to show him love and see that his hurt did not get the best of him, leading to conflict. She said she asked him in her “softest and gentlest voice” to please lower his volume so she could hear the speaker on the megaphone.
The young man said he was sorry.
“You don’t need to apologize,” Brown said. “I hear the pain in your voice, and I know its real for you, and I’m sorry about whatever you have gone through.”
Ashley Gantt, one of the main organizers of the Black Lives Matter movement in Rochester, said Brown has a reputation for doing good in the area.
“She’s like a mentor, slash activist, slash spiritual counselor,” she said. “And she can sing.”
Activists in Rochester have paused protest activity as coronavirus infection rates rise. They have turned their attention to advocating for a law that would remove police officers from mental health crisis calls like Prude’s, mirroring similar efforts around the country, Gantt said.
Brown’s negotiation with Singletary and Warren resulted in a news conference where she was thanked for her role. In public statements after the meeting, she was painted as a “partner” of those in power, a role she did not agree with. There was also confusion over Brown’s role in bringing elders to the protest; Gantt said others deserve credit for organizing their presence.
“Myra just let the mayor know what was happening, and then the mayor co-opted it,” Gantt said.
Brown was also unhappy with the city’s portrayal of her role as one that denoted a community partnership, which was not her intention.
“I felt used in that,” Brown said. “I never want to be framed as somebody working with the system that’s oppressive for people
In a statement, Warren said those considered to be elders are the most trusted and respected voices in the community and have been “instrumental in bringing together opposing sides.
“The presence of our city’s elders during recent protests and periods of unrest has been vital to the well-being of the Rochester community,” Warren said.
Brown told a Rochester television station that she was ultimately happy to have helped secure “a pathway forward” for the city, and acknowledged it would not have happened without Warren pushing Singletary to stand down.
“I can establish relationships with people without being tied to the oppression,” Brown said.
As an ordained minister and clinical social worker for over three decades, Bergenfield’s Pamela Pater-Ennis has grown all-too familiar with what she calls “religious trauma.”
Many of her clients have been abused by clergy, ostracized by religiously judgmental families, or rejected from their churches when they came out as gay, she recalled in a recent interview.
Faith is supposed to offer a sanctuary from suffering. But it can turn ugly, said Pater-Ennis, 62, who runs an interfaith counseling service with offices in Teaneck and Hoboken. Her mission, she said, is to help people “make sense of it when religion turns bad.”
Pater-Ennis, who was ordained in 1984 in the Reformed Church in America, a mainline Protestant denomination, said she’s both saddened and fascinated by the ways in which religion can cause pain. She recently launched Sanctuary Healing, an online spiritual coaching and therapy program to help clients address such trauma.
That followed the publication last year of “Out In the Pulpit,” her book chronicling the journeys of 13 lesbian clergy who have struggled to reconcile identities as Christians and lesbians. The book grew out of her angst as a straight ally, she said.
The women she profiled were heavily involved in their churches growing up but were shunned when they came out as gay, said Pater-Ennis. They grieved the loss and yearned to return to religious life, but first, they needed to reexamine their own spiritual identities, explore their pain, and find their way to a community where they could be accepted.
Eventually, all of them were ordained.
One of the women featured in the book is Ann Kansfield, now a minister in Brooklyn. During her teenage years, she struggled with suicidal thoughts as she came to the realization that she was gay. An internalized homophobia forced her to keep quiet about her sexual identity, Kansfield told Pater-Ennis.
In particular, she feared revealing her secret to members of the downtown Rochester, New York,church where her family worshipped. It was there that she had found refuge from bullying classmates who tormented her for acting and dressing differently from the other girls.
But at age 18, when Kansfield came out, she was pleasantly surprised by the warm reaction of members at her First Reformed Church. “The congregation loved me the way I was,” she recalled. Inspired by their faith and unconditional love, she decided to become a minister.
Yet after Kansfield studied in seminary for several years, the church declined to grant her ordination, she said.
Expelled from seminary
Other women in the book recounted similar roadblocks. Some were kicked out of churches and seminary programs; others still fear they will be stripped of their religious station. Many struggled for years with guilt over their sexual orientation.
“The issue of homosexuality in mainline Protestant churches is currently considered the most divisive and debated issue,” Pater-Ennis writes. “There appear to be existing attitudes within congregations that prevent the hiring of lesbian clergy. Many of the clergy who sexually identity as lesbians still found that they need to remain closeted to maintain their employment and their ordination status.”
Pater-Ennis has never served in a church but performs her ministry through her counseling service, she said. She’s also involved in Reformed Church leadership in Bergen and Hudson counties and at the Clinton Avenue Reformed Church in Bergenfield, where her husband, the Rev. Mark Ennis, is pastor.
Homosexuality has sparked fierce debates among denominations around the world. Passages in the Bible condemn the practice, which has historically been considered taboo by many houses of worship. The Catholic Church, for example, teaches that gay people must be treated with dignity and respect but that homosexual acts are “intrinsically disordered” since they “close the sexual act to the gift of life.”
But views have been shifting. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey of religious beliefs in the U.S. found that 54% of U.S. Christians say homosexuality should be accepted. An increasing number of churches across the country now conduct same-sex marriages and permit the ordination of gay and lesbian individuals.
Several Protestant denominations have been at the forefront. When the United Church of Christ ordained an openly gay man in 1972, it was called a first in the history of Christianity. The Evangelical Lutheran Church elected its first gay bishop in 2013, and the Presbyterian Church welcomed the first openly lesbian pastor in 2012.
But that doesn’t mean the path has been easy for all.
After studying at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary in New Jersey, Kansfield was informed that the Christian Reformed Church in North America wouldn’t grant her ordination because she was an open lesbian. She subsequently was ordained by the United Church of Christ in 2011.
Leaders of the Reformed Church also suspended her father, Norman Kansfield, an ordained pastor who was president of the New Brunswick seminary, for performing his daughter’s marriage to Jennifer Aull in 2004. He was defrocked the following year, but reinstated in 2011.
Outcry over a wedding
“There was an outcry about our wedding which was definitely uncomfortable,” Ann Kansfield recalled. “My dad got fired for performing our wedding…. It was a great sadness for many in our denomination.”
Today, Kansfield is co-pastor with Aull at Greenpoint Church in Brooklyn, where they aim to reach out to the economically disadvantaged and create an inclusive space for all worshipers, she said. Kansfield, who started there in 2003, said she is working on social justice issues as well as running food ministries for the underprivileged.
The congregation “chose me to be their pastor knowing who they were getting” and gave her a home, “where I could be myself in spite of systemic homophobia that is present throughout society,” she said.
By 2015, Kansfield was sworn in as the first female and first openly lesbian chaplain in the history of the New York City Fire Department. She said she tries not to focus on prejudice that might be sparked by her identity.
“I’m sure there is a lot of sexism and homophobia out there but I tend to not look for it,” she said. “If you look for it, it’s very easy to find, and once you find it it can be disruptive and painful.”
Many who’ve experienced prejudice from within their religion subsequently shut the church out of their lives, said Pater-Ennis.
But the author urges survivors to seek counseling from a religious professional to work through those issues and then to return to some type of spiritual realm where “they can find their own inner peace.
“As humans, we crave community,” she said. “It’s in our DNA.”
A CATHOLIC priest has admitted that the Church has traditionally treated woman very badly, and effectively still does.
Fr Kevin McNamara of Moyvane, Co. Kerry made the admission during a documentary about the decline of Catholic traditions within the Church today.
“As a church we have been very, very, very hurtful to women and still are,” said Fr McNamara in The Confessors, which aired on RTE One on Monday night.
“The Church is all male, all the time. We really need to look at that,” he added.
“We should put our hands up sooner rather than later.”
He went on to admit the devastation he felt at the flood of revelations of child sexual abuse perpetrated by the clergy.
“I actually cried my way through a Mass at the height of the child sexual abuse [scandal]. How people in authority could have blatantly told so many lies, or opted not to tell the truth,” he said, before adding that staying quiet about such atrocities was “the devil’s work”.
With the tagline “a study of sin and redemption as told by Irish priests through the prism of the Confession box”, The Confessors features accounts from 15 priests – of all ages and from all corners of the country.
It also features a priest who says he won’t wear a dog collar for fear of being attacked outside work, and priests who admit that confessional boxes go more-or-less unused for most of the year.