The US-based group is holding a conference today in Dublin.
by Hayley Halpin
THE ASSOCIATION OF Roman Catholic Women Priests is hoping to have a conversation with Irish women to see if their message “touches their soul and fires their spirit”.
The US-based group, which promotes equal rights and justice for women in the Catholic Church, is holding a conference today in Dublin.
The association has held events in the Republic of Ireland and the North in 2017.
They believe in defying the Vatican’s ban on women becoming members of the clergy.
The group claims that the Vatican states the ordained women are excommunicated. However, they do not accept this and are of the stance that they are “loyal members of the church”.
Bridget Mary Meehan, based in Florida in the US, is speaking at the event.
Explaining the purpose of the association, Meehen said: “It is a renewed model and we believe it’s really more in line with the model that Jesus had because his table was always open to everyone.
We’re trying to really put in play here, and everywhere in the Catholic Church, a new model that welcomes everyone, that’s hospitable to everyone, that everyone finds their home there.
The Association believes that everyone should be welcome in the Church, such as the LGBT community and those who have been divorced.
“What we feel is very missing in the Roman Catholic Church is the rights of women, the equality of women, the leadership of women as spiritual equals,” Meehan said.
The movement began with the ordination of seven women on the Danube River in 2002. The first women bishops were ordained by a male Roman Catholic bishop.
Meehan explained that they call this man ‘Bishop X’.
“He is a bishop who ordained these two women in secret because he wanted it to be a women-led movement, so he just did the first ordinations of these women bishops,” Meehan explained.
From there, the movement began to spread across North America, Latin America and elsewhere in Europe.
Meehan, born in Co Laois, emigrated to the US in 1956. She was ordained in 2006.
The Vatican does not recognise the women. Meehan said she had been ex-communicated from the Catholic Church.
Nonetheless, after she was ordained, Meehan set up a congregation in her home in Florida.
“There were Catholics who were ready. They were sick and tired of the exclusivity of the institution,” she said.
“They were tired of their friends who were divorced and remarried not finding a spiritual home in a church that they loved. They were tired of gays being treated as second class citizens and women.”
Through the years, her congregation grew in numbers and in 2008 she began renting a premises. Now, her congregation has up to 50 members at times.
The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests currently has congregations in 13 countries and 34 states in the US.
Today, the association is holding a conference at the Maldron Hotel beside Dublin Airport this afternoon between 2pm and 4pm.
Meehan will be speaking alongside Mary Theresa Streck, another member of the association, and theologian Angela Hanly.
Meehan is hoping the event will “gather women who really want to have a serious conversation” about their movement.
“We’re looking for women who are leading inclusive communities now, who are ready to do it now, or who are already doing it now,” she said.
She added that they are aware of a group of women in Dublin who are already involved in an “inclusive community”.
Speaking of those who may turn up to the event, Meehan said: “We want to have a conversation with them to see if it’s something that really touches their soul and fires their spirit as a new way of bringing about justice in the church.”
Ally Kateusz is a research associate at the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research. Earlier this year, she published a thought provoking book entitled ‘Mary and Early Christian Women – Hidden Leadership’. It punctures a hole in the Vatican argument against female ordination on the basis of tradition.
In the book, Kateusz shows how early-Christian documents revealing women in leadership positions were later censored to exclude them. She concludes that (i) there was a significant gender role modelled by Mary, the mother of Jesus, in the first phase of the Christian church; (ii) that women who were called apostles evangelised, preached, baptised and performed exorcisms and (iii) that women who presided at the altar table were called president, bishop, priest, presbyter, deacon and minister.
She also outlines the lives of four extraordinary women in the early church – Marianne, Irene, Nino and Thekla.
Nino, for example, baptised 40 women on her missionary journey to Iberia, where she preached and baptised several tribes, including their queen. Thekla was instructed by St Paul to preach and baptise. A later document censored the baptismal part of the instruction.
On July 2, at a conference of the International Society of Biblical Literature, which was held in the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, Dr Kateusz outlined her research to the participants. She drew on iconography from ancient Christian art to buttress her argument that, in the early church, women served as deacons, priests and bishops.
One of the artefacts is an ivory reliquary box, kept in the old St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, dating from the fifth century. It shows a man and women standing on either side of the altar, each raising a chalice. Two other artefacts – a stone sarcophagus front in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and an ivory hyx in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, dating respectively from the fifth and sixth centuries – demonstrate similar female prominence.
Dr Kateusz believes that these images are significant because they show women and men in parallel roles, their bodies and gestures mirroring one another. She argues that this parallelism indicates their equality in liturgical roles, saying that the images ‘illustrate that early Christian women routinely preformed as clergy in Orthodox churches’. “The art speaks for itself because women are seen at the Church altar in three of the most important churches in Christendom,” she says.
No specific texts about male or female ordination exist for the first seven centuries of Christianity. Female ordination had been prohibited. The artefacts survived because they were buried and dug up in the 20th century. They provide ‘precious windows through which we can see the early Christian Liturgy as it was once performed’.
One of the participants at the conference, Miriam Duignan, was impressed by the research. She commented: “The Vatican will undoubtedly be reluctant to engage with these findings because they have led a campaign to exclude women via the current argument of tradition. But for most Catholics, the research will confirm what they suspected all along – that the ban on female clergy has always been about the silencing and suppression of women and never about the tradition.”
Ireland’s Catholic bishops have been too slow to address the problems of a clericalised Church and a laity that often feels disconnected or is absent altogether.
by Sean O’Conaill
“WE have a lot of priests in Ireland who are in their seventies, who are working right now. Some are in their eighties… We’re at the edge of an actuarial cliff here, and we’re going to start into a free fall.”
So said the Pope’s representative in Ireland, Archbishop Charles Brown, in March 2017. Back then it was still possible to believe that Irish bishops could reappraise a clericalised Church system that has scandalised most Irish people – and left many unanswered questions for those who still go to Church.
By the summer of 2019, however, it seems that not even a majority of Irish bishops has absorbed the most important lessons of the scandals that began in Ireland in 1992.
It tells us that young people cannot do without the ordained celibate priest to “reassure them that life does make sense, that there is a God who loves them, and that in the end, all will be well”.
Given that this is basic Christian wisdom – and that ordained priests can also suffer from depression, addiction and loss of faith – what does this assert about the Christian competence, gifts and potential of Irish Catholic lay people, parents especially?
In all but one instance the word “priest” is used in this document to denote solely the ordained priest.
Only once are we reminded that by baptism all Christians – including all teenagers – already also have a priestly calling; but here again, according to the pastoral letter, only the seminary-trained priest can explain this to us.
Otherwise we would never know how to exercise “faithfully and fully the common priesthood… received in baptism”.
Nowhere in this document is the role of this “common priesthood” – the priesthood of all of the faithful – explained.
This does not surprise me. In over seven decades of Massgoing I have never heard an Irish diocesan priest express the slightest interest in it.
The word ‘priest’ derives from the Latin ‘pontus’ – a bridge – so a ‘priest’ in the religious sense is one whose calling is to bridge for others the distance between themselves and God.
The priesthood of Jesus was unique in the ancient world. He not only initiated the sacred Christian sacrificial ritual – the Eucharist – but he was also himself the sacrificial gift, in his surrender to judgement and crucifixion.
According to the Gospels, Jesus had provoked his own crucifixion by challenging an abusive religious system that privileged the well-to-do and therefore distanced the poorest from God.
It follows that all of us Catholics are called not only to attend Mass but to offer ourselves in that same cause – the closing of the distance between the poorest and God, a distance obviously growing in Ireland.
Members of the St Vincent de Paul and of other Catholic charities are therefore faithfully exercising their priestly calling, as are all who answer the call to social justice and to service of the needy.
And so were those Catholic parents who blew the whistle on the most devastating spiritual abuse ever perpetrated against Irish Catholic children – sexual abuse by professedly celibate Catholic ordained clergy.
In exercising the most elemental duty of a Christian parent – the protection of the child’s right to believe in their own sacred dignity – those parents were protesting against the abuse of that right by ordained men, a possibility they had never been warned about by their bishops.
In many cases those parents then suffered what Jesus suffered – isolation within their own communities.
Have the bishops taken time to consider what ‘help’ those parents had ever received from ordained clergy in understanding and exercising their Christian duty – their priesthood – in that way?
Do they remember that Irish bishops first gave priority to the cause of protecting Catholic children from clerical abuse only in 1994 – at precisely the moment that the whole island first learned, from those injured parents – and that Irish bishops had until that very moment given a higher priority to the sheltering of abusive priests?
Other obvious questions follow:
If criminally abusive breaches of priestly celibacy did not bar ordained men from celebration of the Eucharist in Ireland until those breaches were publicly known, why is Christian marriage still a barrier to that ordained Eucharistic role in Ireland?
Why should a religious life deliberately sundered from any parental role continue to have higher status in the Church than the witness of married lives of integrity – especially those of mothers whose self-sacrificing love, as Pope Francis has observed, is indeed often the best witness a child will ever have of the Father’s unconditional love?
If the ordained priest is indeed best placed to help lay people to understand their common priesthood, why has Catholic social teaching always been a closed book for most diocesan clergy in Ireland?
From Confirmation on, why can young people expect to be bored rigid at Mass, instead of reminded of their own priesthood and challenged to pray to the Holy Spirit for the courage, wisdom and whatever other spiritual gifts are needed to meet together the dangers of their young lives – everything from schoolyard bullying, substance abuse, internet trolling and climatic collapse to media celebrity culture, institutional corruption, sexual harassment and white supremacist ideology?
Why have Irish bishops not yet initiated and published reliable research into the reasons for the widescale abandonment of religious practice here, especially among the young, by the Irish majority that still identifies as Catholic?
Why are there still no regular opportunities to raise such questions openly in Irish Catholic parishes and dioceses, when they could be asked by any alert teenager contemplating a life calling?
If seminaries are truly the best places to train men to be ‘in persona Christi’, why was no Catholic bishop anywhere in the world a whistleblower against clerical child abuse before parents and victims had to act?
To Follow Jesus Closely suggests that some Irish bishops believe that Catholic parents and grandparents have no access to reliable news media, no powers of observation or reflection, no memory, no access to the many gifts of the Holy Spirit and – after all that has happened in their own lifetimes – no such questions.
And it might also suggest that Irish teenagers who can qualify for university are naïve when it comes to recent Irish history. Are we all thought to be living in a 1944 bubble, preserved by nightly amazement at Bing Crosby as Father Chuck O’Malley in Going My Way?
How can Irish Catholic parents ever forget that it was other parents – never their bishops – who alerted them to the deadly danger of believing that seminaries and ordination would make men incapable of harming children?
It is from whistleblowers against institutional abuse and other men and women of integrity that we Catholic laypeople best learn the meaning of the common Christian priesthood of all of the faithful – people such as Marie Collins, Mary Raftery, Peter McVerry, Gordon Wilson, Michael McGoldrick, Martin Ridge, Catherine Corless, Maurice McCabe, Tom Doyle, Veronica Guerin, Ian Elliott, the founding CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, and Sister Consilio of Cuan Mhuire.
That understanding, guided by the Holy Spirit, will in time reshape the ordained Catholic ministry and renew the Irish Church, when all Irish bishops have fully accepted what is plainly visible to all.
There is “overwhelming evidence” that women served as clergy in the early years of Christianity – and some of the evidence was deliberately hidden by the Vatican, according to ground-breaking new research.
Experts in theology and the early history of the Catholic Church heard Dr Ally Kateusz, research associate at the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, outline the findings at a conference hosted by the International Society of Biblical Literature at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome yesterday.
Dr Kateusz, the author of ‘Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden Leadership’, bases her research findings on the depiction of women as clergy in ancient artefacts and a mosaic in a Roman church in which Mary, the mother of Jesus, is depicted as a bishop.
She revealed that this mosaic contained a red cross on a vestment that only bishops wore.
But it was covered over with white paint on the orders of the Vatican “to disguise the fact that Mary was portrayed as a bishop”.
The findings are set to challenge the long-held dogma in Catholicism that women cannot be priests, strictly enforced since Pope John Paul II, who also ruled that the issue of female priests could not even be discussed on pain of excommunication.
Some of the six Irish priests who have been censured by the Vatican in recent years were targeted over their support for women in the priesthood.
According to Dr Kateusz, the three oldest artefacts anywhere in the world depicting Christians at the altar in churches all portray a woman at the altar.
“They depict women at the altar in three of Christendom’s most important churches – St Peter’s in Rome, the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem,” she said.
Miriam Duignan, spokesperson for the Wijngaards Institute, said: “This is evidence that women served as clergy in some of the most important churches in Christendom.”
Some of the research relates to an ivory reliquary box dated around 430AD which shows a female priest at the altar in Old St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Speaking about the Lateran Baptistery in Rome and the hidden mosaic there, Dr Kateusz said: “Pope Theodore commissioned this mosaic including the bishop’s pallium [on Mary]. Her arms are raised as if performing the Eucharist. It is a symbolic way of saying Mary was a church leader.”
America’s Catholic bishops are gathering this week to debate new measures to hold bishops and cardinals more accountable in cases of clergy sex abuse. They’ll likely say the problem is largely in the church’s past. What they won’t say is that they already know how to largely eliminate sexual misconduct with minors but won’t do it: Get out of youth ministry.
During the nearly 10 years I spent working as a canon lawyer in different dioceses in the United States, I saw firsthand that the U.S. church accepts the sexual abuse of minors as the cost of doing business the American way.
The American church’s business model relies on programs aimed at children and young males who might become priests. Those youth ministry programs, which happen outside the core worship experience, are where abuse happens. U.S. church officials know this, and they could reduce the abuse that still happens by getting out of the youth ministry business, but they won’t.
It is well established that Catholic scouting, summer camps, retreats, youth days and other programming designed to, as one upcoming Wisconsin program’s brochure called Totally Yours puts it, “ignite the hearts” of young Catholics, create contexts in which young people are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and mistreatment. There is ample evidence that, even in the post-Spotlight era, predators among the clergy and the laity seek out these opportunities to connect with Catholic youth.
The Vatican’s own press kit for the pope’s global “Meeting On the Protection of Minors” in February described a timeline of the church’s response to abuse. It noted that in Slovenia’s communist dictatorship, from 1945 to 1992, “Catholic education was almost nonexistent and for this reason the potential abusers did not have direct contact with minors.”
Yet, since 2002 the Catholic Church has doubled down on these forms of outreach, prioritizing its need to evangelize and develop the next generation of Catholics over the safety and well-being of the same.
It also turns a blind eye to the ongoing problem of clergy singling out some children for special attention under the guise of fostering vocations to the priesthood or religious life.
This remains a concerning factor in many of the cases of abuse that have occurred post-2002. Yet, the church does little, if anything, to combat this. Instead, it uses wording like this on a Seattle archdiocesan vocations blog, telling priests to “draw a young man aside” and use praise and “sincerity” to encourage him to consider the priesthood.
In any other context, this would be labeled grooming.
However, the church needs to address its priest shortage. As a result, parents and other guardians are socialized to relinquish oversight and even good judgment when it is a question of encouraging a child along this path.
There are countless other examples of the Catholic Church prioritizing its methods of operating over the safety of children.
The lack of willingness to confront the problem of clergy sex abuse of minors, and yet the drive to cover it up, are what led me to resign in 2013 as the chancellor for canonical affairs for the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul and bring everything I saw into the light as a whistleblower.
Dioceses like my own could delay expanding youth programming until it has fully functional, empirically supported and evidence-based methods in place for ensuring the safety of these programs. Instead, it continues to create new programs, like the annual archdiocesan Youth Day, which was first held in 2013. The archdiocese had learned about abuse by the Rev. Curtis Wehmeyer in 2012, and although it had years worth of information about the potential danger the priest posed, it pretended that it had no indication of any potential for harm. I went public with my information the week before the event, and the county attorney launched an investigation that resulted in charges.
We don’t know if expanding the priesthood beyond an all-male, celibate clergy would eliminate sexual abuse, but the Catholic Church has made it clear that it won’t consider it even if it did. Likewise, the church is unwilling to embrace a shared-governance model including its laity, even though the primary agenda item for this week’s meeting is developing a means of addressing the frequent abuses and misuses that result from its current narrow concentration of power. Also, advocates for children continue to be outraged by the Catholic Church’s refusal to embrace seemingly common-sense reporting requirements because of some competing evangelization goal. For example, the church is fighting state laws requiring clerics to report sexual abuse they hear in the confessional, claiming such proposals violate religious freedom. As a canon lawyer, I can tell you such proposals can be easily accommodated within Catholic theology.
The Catholic Church is a religion, not a business, and therefore its operations must conform to higher considerations than merely profit and loss. Which in this case revolves around evangelization and recruiting priests.
To be clear, the issue isn’t about making or saving money. Safe environment training programs like Virtus, created by insurance providers, offer financial incentives for dioceses to participate as well as an affirmative defense in litigation. No, the currency here are souls, which the church argues it is saving by putting evangelization and priest-recruiting at the very top of the priority list, above child safety.
In an open, competitive religious American marketplace, the Catholic Church too must convince consumers that its product is the best on offer. To this end, its efforts at transparency and accountability would be greatly enhanced if its leaders would publicly acknowledge that eliminating sexual abuse by clergy is not the institution’s top priority and, furthermore, that its current efforts might reduce the frequency but are insufficient to eradicate the problem.
Statements like this would do more to deter coverups like the one I brought to light in 2013 that any other plan that is being put forward this week.