04/14/17

With too few priests, Portuguese women step up

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!

08/2/16

Pope Francis sets up commission to study question of women deacons

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!

06/19/16

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

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!

05/12/16

Francis agrees to possibility of setting up commission to study women deacons in early Church

In an audience with female religious superiors, the Pope has agreed to back the establishment of a commission to study women deacons in the early Church. Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini proposed such a move back in the 90’s. The Italian diocese of Padua, began experimenting some time ago

The female diaconate: a possibility for today?

The female diaconate: a possibility for today?

By ANDREA TORNIELLI

Pope Francis has said he wants the study of the female diaconate in the early Church to resume. He talked about this during his audience with the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), whom he received in the Vatican. This is not a new question and was in fact mentioned again recently. After the clear message John Paul II sent out when he reacted to the Anglicans’ open approach by issuing the “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” letter (1994), categorically rejecting the possibility of ordination for women in the Catholic Church, Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini spoke of the possibility of studying the institution of the female diaconate, which is not mentioned in the papal document. The Archbishop of Milan at the time said: “There have been female deacons in the Church in the past, we could consider this possibility.” Some early Church historians pointed out that women were admitted to a specific diaconal service of charity which differs from today’s concept of the diaconate as the first step towards priesthood.

During the question and answer session that took place during the meeting, the Pope was asked, amongst other things, why the Church excludes women from the diaconate. Women religious told the Pope that women served as deacons in the early Church and asked: “Why not construct an official commission that might study the question?” The Pope responded that he had spoken about the matter once some years ago with a “good, wise professor” who had studied the use of female deacons in the early centuries of the Church. Francis said it remained unclear to him what role such deacons had. “It was a bit obscure,” said Francis. “What was the role of the deaconess in that time?” “Constituting an official commission that might study the question?” the pontiff asked aloud. “I believe yes. It would do good for the church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this.”

“I accept,” the pope said later. “It seems useful to me to have a commission that would clarify this well.”

According to an ancient tradition, deacons were in fact ordained “not to the priesthood but to the ministry”. There is some historical evidence of the presence of female deacons both in the western and eastern Church. This evidence relates also to liturgical ordination rites as well. What needs to be looked into further, is what type of ministerial figures they were, what their roles within the community were. The magisterium considers the diaconate as the first step in the ordained ministry and reserves this function as well as that of the presbyterate and the episcopate to men.

By announcing his approval of the setting up of a study commission on the female diaconate in the early Church, Francis intends to verify whether and how this form of service can be brought up to date, believing that the role of the permanent female deacon could be reinstituted in the modern day. In the early days of Christianity females deacons did exist (St. Paul mentions them) and there is documentary evidence showing that in 3rd century Syria, there were female deacons who assisted the priest with female baptisms. This role is also mentioned in apostolic constitutions dating back to the 4th century, which contain references to a specific ordination rite that differed from the ordination rite reserved for male deacons.

Some forms of female diaconal service have been institutionalised for some time now, as is the case with the diocese of Padua, where said forms of service were introduced by the former bishop Antonio Mattiazzo. Although these women do not wear a religious habit, they have taken vows of obedience, poverty and chastity, meaning they have been consecrated as “diocesan apostolic collaborators”. The northern Italian diocese defined the role and tasks of this new form of service as such: “This form of female diaconal service is inspired by the Gospel. For female apostolic collaborators entering the apostolic diaconate is a life choice that is approved and oriented by the bishops”. One of the tasks of female deacons is to proclaim the Gospel message, educate people about the faith, do charity work for the poor, distribute Holy Communion, enliven the liturgy and manage structures such as schools and institutes.

Pope Francis has spoken on many occasions about the need for the Catholic Church to value the role of women. But he has always avoided presenting this as a form of female “clericalisation”. “I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued not ‘clericalised’. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism,” Francis said in an interview with Italian newspaper La Stampa in December 2013, in response to a question about whether the Church would have women cardinals in the future.

In September 2001, the former Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger, along with his “colleagues”, cardinals Medina Estevez (Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship) and Castrillón Hoyos (Congregation for the Clergy), signed a brief letter, approved by John Paul II, which stated that “it is not licit to put in place initiatives which in some way aim to prepare female candidates for diaconal ordination”. The text referred to the diaconate as a sacrament and first step towards priesthood.

New studies on the female diaconate in the early Church, on the duties and responsibilities of female deacons compared to those of their male counterparts and on the types of ordination rite, could open up new possibilities and new forms of consecrated service besides the already existing women’s religious orders.

“The Church needs women to become a part of the decision-making process and for them to head up an office in the Vatican,” Pope Francis said, responding to six questions put to him at a meeting with 900 nuns from across the world. Speaking in the Nervi hall, he explained that “the Church should involve lay and consecrated women in consultations but also in decision-making because it needs to hear their point of view. This growing role women are playing within the Church is not feminism but co-responsibility which is a right of all Christians, men and women alike.” Francis also underlined that “too many consecrated females are mediocre women rather than people who engaged in the ministry of service. Consecrated life,” he added, “is a path of poverty, not suicide”.

Complete Article HERE!

11/6/15

Catholic priests call for talks on equality for women

Twelve clerics seek open discussion of issue and say sanctions have silenced those in favour

Fr Tony Flannery is one of 12 priests who could “no longer remain silent because to do so colludes with the systemic oppression of women within the Catholic Church”. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Fr Tony Flannery is one of 12 priests who could “no longer remain silent because to do so colludes with the systemic oppression of women within the Catholic Church”.

By Patsy McGarry

Twelve Catholic priests have issued a joint statement calling for open discussion on the need for equality for women in the church, including where priesthood is concerned.

“Discriminating against women encourages and reinforces abuse and violence against women in many cultures and societies,” they say.

The priests, many of whom have been prominent in the Association of Catholic Priests (ACP), are Frs Tony Flannery, Eamonn McCarthy, Kevin Hegarty, Roy Donovan, Pádraig Standún, Adrian Egan, Benny Bohan, Seán McDonagh, John D Kirwin, Ned Quinn, Donagh O’Meara, and Tony Conry.

“We believe that we can no longer remain silent because to do so colludes with the systemic oppression of women within the Catholic Church. So, in the spirit of Pope Francis constant encouragement of dialogue, we are calling for free and open discussion concerning the full equality of women in all facets of church life, including all forms of ministry,” they say.

Their statement begins with a quotation from St Paul’s letter to the Galatians, that “there is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. ”

Pope John Paul II

It notes how “in the Catholic Church women, despite being equal to men by virtue of their Baptism, are excluded from all positions of decision making, and from ordained ministry” and how “in 1994 Pope John Paul II declared that the exclusion of women from priesthood could not even be discussed in the church.”

This, they say, was reaffrimed and even strengthened by Pope Benedict who insisted “that it was definitive and that all Catholics were required to give assent to this view”.

Pope Francis “has said that Pope John Paul II had reflected at length on this matter, had declared that women could never be priests and that, therefore, no further discussion on the ordination of women to ministry is possible”.

The 12 priests say “we, the undersigned, believe that this situation is very damaging, that it alienates both women and men from the church because they are scandalised by the unwillingness of church leaders to open the debate on the role of women in our church. This alienation will continue and accelerate.”

They were “aware that there are many women who are deeply hurt and saddened by this teaching. We also believe that the example given by the church in discriminating against women encourages and reinforces abuse and violence against women in many cultures and societies.

“It is also necessary to remember that women form the bulk of the congregation at Sunday Mass and have been more active in the life of the local churches than many men.”

The “strict prohibition on discussing the question has failed to silence the majority of the Catholic faithful,” they say.

“Survey after survey indicates that a great many people are in favour of full equality for women in the church. But it has managed to silence priests and bishops, because the sanctions being imposed on those who dare to raise the question are swift and severe.”

Full statement at www.associationofcatholicpriests.com or www.tonyflannery.com

Complete Article HERE!