06/4/17

Rev. Fuller is not your average Roman Catholic priest

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by NANCY FORNASIERO

Rev. Fuller, pastor of a newly formed faith community in Pickering, has been revising, refining and rehearsing the homily for this weekend’s inaugural mass at St. Mary of Magdalene the First Apostle Catholic Faith Community.

Inspiration came from Scripture (Acts 2:17-18): “God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. … Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

The passage connects the theme of Pentecost – a feast day celebrated in all Christian churches this weekend – to gender equality and inclusivity, issues close to Rev. Fuller’s heart.

But Rev. Fuller is no ordinary Catholic priest prepping to preach to his flock; rather this is Rev. Roberta Fuller, an ordained Roman Catholic Woman Priest (RCWP). The petite septuagenarian and retired high-school teacher is regarded by some as a courageous spiritual leader and by others as a disrespectful dissident.

Ordained in 2011, Rev. Fuller maintains she has as legitimate a claim to the priesthood as any male Catholic priest. The Vatican disagrees and warns that sacraments performed by women priests are just “simulations.” Women priests are forbidden to serve in any official capacity and in 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under Pope Benedict XVI, decreed automatic excommunication against anyone “who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order.”

Neil MacCarthy, spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Toronto, says that the parish’s home, Dunbarton-Fairport United Church, reflects the illegitimacy of Rev. Fuller’s congregation.

“The very fact that their services take place in a United Church should be a clear indication that what is happening is not, in any way, sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church.”

There are 12 women Catholic priests in Canada (and some 300 worldwide); many hold their masses in sympathetic United churches. Rev. Fuller launched a similar progressive community, Church of the Beatitudes, in the Toronto neighbourhood of Roncesvalles in 2014. The parish attracted a devoted, if modestly sized, flock varying in size from week to week, with 40 at most in attendance. Sometimes there were as few as half a dozen in the pews. She is hoping for more robust attendance in this new community. The Pickering services will be held the first and third Saturday of the month.

Rev. Fuller rejects the notion that her ordination and calling are illegitimate. “That’s simply not true,” she says. “Despite what some bishops lead the faithful to believe, we follow and honour Roman Catholic tradition and the liturgy of the church.

“We are ordained in apostolic succession just like any priest.”

The RCWP movement was born in 2002 when a Catholic bishop (known as Bishop X to protect his identity) broke with tradition and ordained seven women. Guided by his own conscience, he conducted the ceremony on a boat on the Danube River to avoid diocesan jurisdiction and interference. These original women priests are often referred to as “the Danube Seven.” Apostolic succession comes into play because Bishop X, who had been ordained by another bishop in good standing, is linked to a line of bishops that goes back to the time of the Apostles. Supporters argue this lineage now extends to the rebellious women on the Danube and all their successors.

Rev. Fuller, who isn’t too concerned about canon law and Vatican pronouncements, remains focused on her mission: “to foster loving, supportive communities where all are welcomed at the table.” On the invitation to the inaugural mass, she describes St. Mary Magdalene as a “radically reform, inclusive parish that celebrates all sacraments and serves the community while working for gender equity and social justice for every woman, man and child.”

Rev. Fuller believes that too many people – the LGBTQ community, and divorced and remarried Catholics – have been made to feel like second-class Catholics for too long.

Jeff Doucette, pastor at Dunbarton-Fairport United Church, says his own ministry is totally aligned to Rev. Fuller’s vision of inclusiveness. “When I heard Roberta needed a place, I immediately wanted to support her. I felt confident that our board would agree, and I was right. They voted unanimously to allow her to celebrate mass here.”

Rev. Doucette is a former Roman Catholic priest who left, in part, because of the chasm between his own beliefs around justice and those of the church. He met Rev. Fuller after he read about her original parish in Toronto and, impressed by what she was doing, decided to go meet her.

“It floors me that the Catholic Church is still so rigid about this,” he says. “We have amazing women leading our United Church congregations. And there are incredible Catholic women, with authentic callings, who can bring a whole side to the gospel that we as men can never bring. Leaving them out of the equation is like asking the church to breathe with one lung.”

It frustrates Rev. Fuller immensely that women are willing to serve and yet the church instead recruits male clergy from all over the world – many with limited English-language skills and a cultural disconnect with their parishioners. “When I was studying theology at St. Michael’s College [in the University of Toronto], I met so many capable qualified young women who could fill the priest shortage. But the door is shut to them.”

People often ask Rev. Fuller, a life-long feminist and human-rights activist, why she keeps struggling with an institution as patriarchal as the Roman Catholic Church, particularly when she could easily step into a leadership position in almost any other Christian denomination.

“I stay because I’m a Roman Catholic. I have the right to remain a Roman Catholic. I believe we all have the right to equality both in and outside of the church.”

Complete Article HERE!

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05/1/17

Rebel Catholic group defies church, ordains woman priest in NC

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Abigail Eltzroth was ordained Sunday in Asheville by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

An international group defiantly opposed to the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women priests Sunday ordained its first woman Catholic priest in the 46 counties that make up the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.

The ordination ceremony for Abigail Eltzroth happened in Asheville at Jubilee! – a nondenominational faith community – with Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan presiding.

Eltzroth, 64, said she is the second woman in North Carolina ordained by the rebel group, called the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

“It’s time for a change and we’re in the forefront, leading the charge,” Eltzroth told the Observer on Sunday. “We expect that eventually everybody is going to follow us.”

Eltzroth said, she now plans to to start a Catholic worship community in the Asheville area.

But reached for comment Sunday, David Hains, spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte, said: “I hope that Catholics in the diocese will understand that it would be sinful to receive a fake sacrament from a woman priest and that includes attending a fake Mass.”

According to a news release about the Sunday ordination from the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, 250 women in 10 countries have been ordained as Catholic priests. In the United States, it said, women priests serve in 65 “inclusive churches.” That includes women priests affiliated with the association and with a second allied group – Roman Catholic Women Priests – that has the same mission.

Several major Protestant denominations have women clergy, including the Episcopalians, Lutherans, United Methodists and Presbyterians. And most American Catholics say they’d like their church to ordain women, too. A Pew Research Poll in 2015 found that about six in 10 American Catholics said they favored allowing women to be Catholic priests.

But the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy has stood by its longtime prohibition against women becoming priests.

Not only that. In 2007, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, with the blessing of then-Pope Benedict XVI, decreed automatic excommunication against anyone “who attempts to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the woman who attempts to receive a sacred order.”

Excommunication means the person cannot receive the sacraments or participate in the liturgy unless he or she repents.

Citing Jesus

Pope Francis, who has proven to be more liberal than Pope Benedict on some issues, briefly raised hopes among Catholic reformers when he established a commission to study whether women could be ordained as deacons. Catholic deacons cannot celebrate Mass or hear confessions, but they do perform some priestly functions, including marrying couples, baptizing babies and others and giving homilies, or sermons, during Mass.

But, when asked last year about the prospect of female priests in the next few decades, Pope Francis said the church’s teaching banning women priests was likely to last forever.

He said Pope John Paul II had the “last word” on the issue – a reference to a 1994 apostolic letter that said ordaining women was not possible because Jesus chose only men to be his 12 apostles.

But Bridget Mary Meehan, a Florida-based bishop with the Association of Roman Catholic Priests, pointed to Mary Magdalene, also a major disciple of Jesus in the Gospels.

“The risen Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene, not to (apostle) Peter, and called on her to announce the good news of Christianity – the resurrection being the central message of Christianity,” Meehan said. “Mary Magdalene was the apostle to the apostles.”

The association also claims that their ordained women priests are true priests because a male Roman Catholic bishop, acting as a spiritual descendent of those first apostles, ordained their first women bishops.

On its web site, the group says that “we stand in the prophetic tradition of holy obedience to the Spirit who calls all people to discipleship. The movement began with the ordination of seven women on the Danube River in 2002. Today there are (250) women priests and 10 bishops worldwide.”

Catholic convert

Eltzroth, the woman who was ordained Sunday, grew up Presbyterian but became a Catholic in her 50s. “It’s the most ancient tradition,” she said of Catholicism. “It’s the tradition that we all look to. Everybody looks to what the pope and the Catholic leaders are doing.”

Her resume includes several pastoral jobs: jail chaplain in Saginaw, Mich.; pastoral associate on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in Montana; and pastor to two churches in the sand hills of Nebraska.

Eltzroth, who is divorced, is the mother of two grown children.

She said she sent an invitation to her ordination to Bishop Peter Jugis, who heads the Catholic Diocese of Charlotte. She received no response.

Asked about Pope Francis, Eltzroth said, “He’s a great leader. I’m very pleased with his stands on social justice. I hope the same social justice will be brought not only to the civil world but to the the religious (Catholic) world, too.”

As for the threat of excommunication, Eltzroth said: “I’m sure that I will be (excommunicated) if I haven’t been already. But there are plenty of saints who have been excommunicated. So that’s not going to stop us.”

Complete Article HERE!

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04/14/17

With too few priests, Portuguese women step up

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The practice of Sunday services being led by laypeople in a priest’s absence take place in a number of countries, including Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the US

By Thomas CABRAL

Facing a shortage of Roman Catholic priests, women churchgoers have stepped in to lead Sunday services in villages in southeastern Portugal, a sign the ageing communities are open to change.

In the tiny church of Carrapatelo, a village overlooking the vineyards of the Reguengos de Monsaraz region, Claudia Rocha stands before a dozen mostly elderly female churchgoers wearing a black dress and sneakers.

Her leather jacket and smartphone sit on the front-row bench as the 31-year-old leads what the church terms “Sunday Celebrations in the Absence of a Priest” with ease.

After prayers and church hymns, she makes comments on the day’s biblical reading, a form of preaching.

At the end, Rocha hands out communion wafers representing the body of Christ that were blessed by the priest beforehand, but wine is not part of the ceremony.

“This church would be closed if I wasn’t here. Who cares if I am a woman, a deacon or a priest? What matters is having someone from the community who maintains our connection with the priest, even when he isn’t here,” she tells AFP.

– No misgivings –

A divorced social worker without children, she is one of 16 laypeople — eight men and eight women — chosen by Father Manuel Jose Marques to help ensure regular attendance at the seven parishes he presides over.

“It might seem strange and new, but we haven’t invented anything here. It’s a tool that has long been set out in the Church’s guidelines, for cases when it’s absolutely necessary,” says the 57-year-old priest.

The practice of Sunday services being led by laypeople in a priest’s absence take place in a number of countries, including Canada, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland and the US.

It began in the 1980s, when services were prepared with a priest or ordained clergy member, resembling mass but without the rite of consecrating bread for communion or the Eucharistic prayer.

The Vatican and many clergy members have refused to encourage the practice, fearing a trivialisation of the tradition of Mass.

Father Manuel had no such misgivings.

To him, the need to set up Sunday services without a priest became apparent as soon as he took on his seven parishes around 16 years ago.

Before, there had been three priests for the seven parishes in Reguengos de Monsaraz, a town in the region of Alentejo between Evora and the Spanish border.

He assembled a group of 16 volunteers aged between 24 and 65 from varied backgrounds.

“These are people who have experience with faith and welcoming Christ, and who know how to talk about it,” he says, noting he makes no distinction between men and women.

Lay women step in, too, in other rural parts of Portugal, whose population of 10 million is overwhelmingly Catholic but only counts around 3,500 priests for 4,400 congregations.

– ‘Very sensitive subject’ –

Last August, Pope Francis set up a group to study the role of women deacons in the early days of Christianity.

While he ruled out the possibility of ordaining female priests, the move was considered a potentially historic opening towards a place for women in the Church.

“It is a very sensitive subject, but what we have done is very simple. In this tiny village, we are quite a bit ahead of the Vatican,” says Rocha.

The progressive Father Manuel says he believes “women would be very good priests and deacons” but is quick to add: “It’s not the opinion of one priest, or even 10 that makes theology.”

“We are living in the heart of an open community, the difference between men and women is no longer as strong as it was in the past,” says Dora Cruz, who teaches catechism in Campinho, a village of 700 people.

“But women’s equality doesn’t necessarily come from priesthood,” adds the 31-year-old mother and kindergarten teacher.

Members of the congregation approve of having a woman behind the altar.

“People found it strange at first — a woman leading Mass? But now we’re used to it,” says Angelica Vital, a 78-year-old pensioner.

“If we’re short of priests, I think they should be allowed to marry — they are men, like any other!” she adds, with a devilish grin.

Complete Article HERE!

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08/2/16

Pope Francis sets up commission to study question of women deacons

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The Pope gave his blessing to the idea of setting up a study into female deacons in May

The Pope gave his blessing to the idea of setting up a study into female deacons in May

Pope Francis has set up a special commission to study whether women will be allowed to become deacons in the Catholic Church.

The issue has historically troubled the Church, with many opposing the appointment of females.

The commission of seven men and six women will study the issue, and look into the historical role of women in the early years of the Church.

Deacons are a clergy rank one below priest.

They are ordained ministers who can preach or preside over weddings and funerals, but cannot celebrate Mass.

Supporters say women are poorly represented within the Church and that appointing female deacons would give women greater sway in decision-making.

The Pope first remarked in May that he was willing to set up a commission to study the issue.

He had told senior members of women’s religious orders he was open to the issue of considering female deacons: “It would be useful for the Church to clarify this question. I agree.'”

The Vatican also clarified that the Pope was not considering the possibility of ordaining women priests.

Currently all Catholic priests and deacons are male. Priests must be celibate, but deacons can be married men.

Complete Article HERE!

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06/19/16

Yes, There Are Women Priests, and The Vatican Wishes There Weren’t

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By Barbie Latza Nadeau

Pope John Paul II slammed the door, and Catholic conservatives say females can never be priests, but it may already be too late.

Father Roy Bougeois from Georgia poses with a group of Roman Catholic activist in front of the Vatican

VATICAN CITY — In early June, a small group of devout Catholic women marched near St. Peter’s Square with a big pink cardboard telephone booth marked “Door to Dialogue,” trying to draw attention to the taboo topic of female priests. The group, part of the 40-year-old U.S.-based Women’s Ordination Conference and the 20-year-old Women’s Ordination Worldwide group, donned purple priest stoles and held signs with slogans like “22 Years On Mute” and “Calls Waiting.”

They also hung 100 giant posters of women priests in various poses with the hashtag #ordainwomen. The photographs were taken by Italian artist Nausicaa Giulia Bianchi, who has documented 70 self-ordained female priests in an attempt to highlight what many see as blatant misogyny within the Catholic hierarchy.

“All have been excommunicated for breaking the Vatican law,” Bianchi writes on her website. “Disobeying a patriarchal law to follow the call of God, they ask for the spiritual equality of men and women to be recognized.”

Among the group supporting prohibited priestesses was Father Tony Flannery, a male Irish priest who was suspended from active ministry and censured and barred from speaking out and writing about the church in 2012 because he was an outspoken advocate of women’s ordination and married priests. While in Rome, he compared the current stance of the church on women’s issues to its mindset in the Middle Ages.

“I am becoming increasingly convinced that the inequality of women is becoming a major issue and a major challenge facing the Catholic Church,” he told the National Catholic Reporter. Unless addressed, he said, the church “will continue becoming more sidelined and little more than a sect.”

The group of demonstrators marched here during the Vatican’s Jubilee for Priests and Seminarians, which was a special event under the umbrella of the Holy Jubilee Year of Mercy dedicated to the all male clergy.

Members of the group, who called their march the Jubilee for Women, didn’t get to bend the ear of Pope Francis directly, but they did make their point. “The Jubilee, intentionally coinciding with the Vatican’s ‘Jubilee for Priests’ offered a celebration of a renewed image of the priesthood,” Kate McElwee, co-executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, told The Daily Beast. “One that is inclusive and welcoming of all people.”

The group was able to secure a permit to demonstrate in Rome, which was nothing short of a miracle in a city that normally sides with the Holy See. It was the first time in the 40-year history of the Women’s Ordination Conference that women priests had been allowed anywhere near the Vatican, where the idea of ordaining women has been met with everything from blatant sexism to outright misogyny. In fact, any women who consider themselves ordained priests are automatically excommunicated from the Catholic Church. And the march stopped at the gates to St. Peter’s Square.

Still, there is hope.

Last month, when Pope Francis told a group of 900 nuns he would create a commission to study the concept of ordaining women deacons, Catholic conservatives warned that it must never evolve to ordaining women as priests because priests can only represent Christ, who is a male figure, and therefore a woman could never fulfill that role. Even some supporters of women’s ordination scoffed at the deacon idea as a way to placate those who support women clergy.

But McElwee, who is the first advocate of the Women’s Ordination Conference to be permanently based in Rome, believes it is a move in the right direction.

“Opening a commission to study the diaconate for women would be a great step for the Vatican in recognizing its own history,” she says, referring to decades of research and biblical and historical evidence that point to several women deacons working alongside men in the early church. “Discussion on ordained ministries for women is new for the Vatican, and something we celebrate.”

If Francis does create the commission and it does lead to the ordination of deacons, two steps that are yet to happen, it would amount to a complete about face. In 1994, Pope John Paul II issued the Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, a document that banned even the discussion about the ordination of women. “I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful,” he wrote, effectively slamming the door.

Some of the women already consider themselves ordained Catholic priests under an organization called the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. Cristina Moreira, who is from Spain, told The Daily Beast that they prepare and ordain women to carry out all the same duties as male Catholic priests, even though the Church automatically excommunicates them.

Moreira told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, “This is the year of Jubilee and Mercy, of forgiveness. We’ve come to ask Pope Francis to lift the excommunication,” adding, “What evil have we done? To give communion is nothing bad, and to help those in need isn’t either.”

The women priests say their ordination was performed legitimately within the framework of church structures. “The principal consecrating Roman Catholic male bishop who ordained our first women bishops is a bishop with apostolic succession within the Roman Catholic Church in communion with the pope,” according to the group’s mission statement. “Therefore, our bishops validly ordain deacons, priests and bishops.”

Argentine Rómulo Antonio Braschi, a former Catholic bishop who rejected his own excommunication in 2002 for ordaining his wife, has openly ordained several female priests in addition to her, and the group says other male bishops have done so anonymously since the first ordinations took place.

Moreira and Janice Sevré-Duszynska, an American female priest who marched on Rome, say they delivered a petition in support of women’s ordination to an unnamed “senior Vatican official” who is said to have delivered it to the pope. The very fact that they were given that opportunity spells a massive change of heart, or at least a very savvy public relations effort, on the part of the Vatican, which surely doesn’t want to shut out 50 percent of the faithful by slamming the door again.

“At this time, the Catholic Church legitimizes sexism by prohibiting women from ordained ministries and decision-making roles within the church,” McElwee says, standing firm in her belief that they will one day be heard.  “Until women are fully included in church structures as equals, [we] will continue to expose this injustice through art, activism, public witness, and dialogue.”

Complete Article HERE!

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