What to do with a disused church

— A quiet sign of Catholic surrender in the UK

In the face of damning demographic shifts, churches are closing down en masse. Has the Catholic Church given up the fight?

by Jonathan MS Pearce

Near my home in suburban UK sits a Catholic church attached to a primary school. Although we are less religious than our American cousins, who are themselves secular, our education system is still hugely under the influence of religion. About 37% of primary schools are faith schools.

For just under a decade, the church on a small plot next to the school was used not as a church but as storage for diocesan documents. Now it is just gathering dust and weeds.

The diocese sees two choices: it will be gutted for some kind of diocesan offices, or it will be sold off as land to make a pretty penny.

This is not at all unusual.

A recent survey run by an evangelical organization found that while just under half of the UK population say they are Christian, only 6% profess to be practicing, a significant decline in a few generations. As a result, over 2,000 churches have closed over the last decade. A Church of England report recently found that up to 368 churches could be at risk for closure in the next two to five years.

As a ramification of this demographic shift, dioceses are being forced to merge parishes, calculating which are the best choices of churches to close, and which to keep running with ever-decreasing congregations.

But what interests me is the practicality of these decisions running against what the Catholic Church, or any such Christian church organization, should be doing.

Far be it from me to exhort this to a religious organization, but shouldn’t churches be seeking to increase the size of their flocks? Have churches just given up in light of dwindling numbers? I ask because, for many of the remaining Christians, the collateral of them not succeeding in growing their flock is a growing flock burning in hell (or some such outcome).

A few years ago, the school to which the church is attached reduced its PAN—the number of children it accepts each year—for practical purposes from 40 to 30. To do this, they had to apply to the diocese for permission. The diocese accepted without any pushback.

Again, surely the desire of the diocese should be to grow their adherents. This should be everything they are about. Instead, the priests are more obsessed with stoking up culture wars than welcoming people to their fold.

If that land is sold, a few quick bucks are made. So what? Unless that is paying for a strategy to grow the church, then it is all just delaying the inevitable. And if the Church does grow again in the local area, they have lost that land and that building and would face much greater costs to build a new one.

Surely the desire of the diocese should be to grow their adherents. This should be everything they are about. Instead, the priests lean into culture war.

I can’t imagine what it must be like to work in the diocesan offices or in the clergy, but it must evoke the proverbial rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s a dying institution, at least in the UK, and everyone from within the organization is resigned to this fact.

Perhaps the Catholic Church is just positioning itself into a much humbler corner of UK society, receding in size until it reaches a comfortable irrelevancy.

As the Jesuit priest famously quipped, give me a boy of seven and I will give you a man. I can’t help but think, from a marketing point of view (and as much as I vehemently disagree with the religio-politics of this), that the diocese should be working extra hard to increase faith school intakes. Converting adults to Catholicism en masse is a ridiculous pipe dream in this era. Instead, ring-fencing groups of children to indoctrination is undoubtedly one of their best options.

Instead, the Catholic Church would rather sit back and grow weeds, either looking to other parts of the world for growth or being resigned to seeing their pews inexorably empty and their vestibules gather cobwebs.

Given the left hook from the constant slew of sex abuse scandals and the repetitive jabs from science and culture in a society that has moved on, I can’t help but think that they’ve given up the fight.

Complete Article HERE!

When words hurt instead of heal

— What never to say to someone who has survived abuse by Catholic clergy

As the daughter of a clergy abuse victim-survivor and a lay person who works for the Church, Jerri von den Bosch speaks often with fellow Catholics about her family’s experience with the abuse crisis.

by Guest

In June of 2021, I wrote 10 Things Never to Say to Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse that covered some of the hurtful things people sometimes say to clergy abuse survivors. Included were some more supportive things they might say instead. Many people read it and several clergy abuse survivors, including my mom, responded with additional things that they have heard from Catholics and would add to the list. I believe that most people who say these things are well intentioned; they are just not aware of how to walk with someone who has experienced trauma. So I present 6 Things Never to Say About Clergy Abuse Survivors, along with some things that you, as a supporter of abuse survivors, can say in response.

TRIGGER WARNING: Some of these items may be tough to read if you are a trauma survivor. Please take care of yourself.

1. “These people just want the Church’s money. This prevents the Church from helping the poor!”

This statement often crops up when there is news about a settlement between the Church and abuse survivors. As the daughter of a clergy abuse survivor, a friend to multiple survivors, and a survivor of trauma myself, I can tell you that almost no one would lie about their trauma in an attempt to get rich. Ask yourself: “Would I accuse someone of rape, sit through multiple depositions and interviews with lawyers, pay a lawyer upfront to represent me, and drag an individual’s name through the mud— all to get some cash?” Few people have the financial means or energy for this.

Next, I would like to put on my theologian hat and invite us to consider who “the poor” are. The Old Testament uses the word anawim (ah-na-weem) multiple times. It is a Hebrew term that means “the poor and lowly ones.” The Hebrew people applied the term to those who were financially insecure, as well as the widowed, the orphaned, and anyone who had lost their human dignity to earthly trials. These are the people God wants the Hebrews–and the Christians–to care for most. I would argue that survivors of abuse are the epitome of the anawim. They are oppressed, victimized, and orphaned from their Church.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: The people that the Church has hurt do fall under the theological definition of “the poor.” It’s important to help them.

2. “Can’t they just move on? It happened so long ago!”

If you have never experienced trauma, it might be hard to imagine why a survivor can not just “get over it.” Science reveals that living through traumatic events can rewire our brains. This is especially true for children who experience trauma at a time when their brains are not fully developed.

Most survivors I know would LOVE to move on from their trauma and from painful symptoms that include depression, stress, and mood swings. But it can take years of therapy and tremendous support from loved ones to heal from trauma and get to the point where it does not affect their everyday life. For example, my mom, a survivor of child sexual assault by multiple priests, still has episodes of PTSD today, 50 years after her abuse, despite having a great psychiatrist and a supportive family that knows her triggers. I would really love for her to never have another panic attack, but I know from experience that they are part of her healing journey. Many survivors say that they carry the effects of their trauma with them daily, decades after the initial abuse.

I would also like to add that this is not just a historic problem. We know from our work walking with survivors that abuse by Church leaders is happening today, so it is important to continue to work to prevent and stop it.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: The effects of trauma can last a lifetime for victim-survivors. We must continue to address the trauma that took place in the past, as well as the assaults that continue to happen.

3. “Why didn’t they fight back?”

I am sorry to tell you that we have also heard many stories of church leaders suggesting that victims are at fault for not fighting harder against the abuse they experienced. It is important to point out that “fight or flight” is an outdated model of how our brains are wired to protect us in response to harm. Most psychologists now believe that humans respond to threats with “fight, flight or freeze.” Many victims–adults and children alike–are so terrified that they find it safer to disassociate from the assault and wait to flee when they feel safe again.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: The situations they were put into sound absolutely terrifying! It isn’t fair for us to judge how they responded to a threat.

4. “They must have done something to trigger his behavior!”

This is a common form of victim-blaming, along the same lines as asking a woman “Well, what were you wearing?” after she has experienced rape. The reality is that the person who committed the crime is the culprit. Period. This victim-blaming tactic takes advantage of the fact that victim-survivors often agonize over the details of the incident trying to figure out what they did wrong. Truly, victims of sexual assault do not need your help playing the blame-game. They are already experts at it.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: They didn’t do anything to deserve this!

5. “After it happened the first time, why didn’t they learn their lesson? Why didn’t they get help? Why did they go back?”

In many cases, there is a simple answer to these hurtful questions: “They were scared.” Sexual assault is not easy to reveal to others. Victims can feel intense shame and be silenced by it. Perpetrators also may threaten their victims with statements like, “I’ll tell everyone what a bad person you are!” One of my mom’s abusers told her: “You’re a troublemaker. You’re trash. Nobody would ever believe you.” Perpetrators will often threaten violence, physical and verbal, to keep a victim quiet.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: The dynamics of abuse prevent most people from reaching out for help, and statements like this one make it even harder for them to tell their stories.

6. “They were abused as an adult? But that is not really abuse!”

I am really proud that Awake Milwaukee has brought attention to the problem of abuse of adults by church leaders. Honestly, before I got involved with Awake, I did not understand what a widespread problem the abuse of adults is, despite the fact that I am an adult survivor of domestic violence. It is easy for people to understand that a child feels powerless during an assault. For some, it is harder to show the same empathy to adults. Many people believe that an adult should have known better. This fails to acknowledge the power differential that exists between a priest (often viewed as a representative of God) and a parishioner or other Catholic. When the victim expects that they can trust a person and that trust is broken, they do not always know what to do next. To further complicate matters, parishioners often take the side of the clergy person. They assert that the survivor was the temptress and the priest was the victim.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: Children and adults both have equal dignity and their assaults are both serious crimes that were not their fault.

It all comes down to this: If someone shares with you that they have been abused, please remember that the most important words you can say are, “Thank you for sharing this with me, I believe you, and I am here for you.” It is that simple. Survivors do not need you to change the world, but they are looking for people willing to help them shoulder their pain, even for a little while. And if you feel at a loss for words in the moment, sometimes “I believe you” is more than enough.

Complete Article HERE!

She was an early church deacon. Catholic women now want to reclaim her example.

On Saturday (Sept. 3), 56 pilgrims from four countries will gather in Mexico City to celebrate St. Phoebe’s feast day and consider how they might urge the church to reclaim the diaconate for women.


Lisa Amman is a cradle Catholic who attended parish schools through 12th grade and then worked at her St. Paul, Minnesota, church for 15 years.

She would likely never have learned about St. Phoebe, however, had her then-6-year-old daughter, Evelyn, not begun asking questions at Mass one Sunday three years ago.

At one point in the service, Evelyn turned to her and asked, “Why are we here?” Amman recalled.

“I said, ‘We’re here to learn about Jesus and pray to God.’ And she said, ‘No, why are we here? This is for boys,’” Amman said.

On Saturday (Sept. 3) Amman and 55 other pilgrims from four countries gather in Mexico City at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe to celebrate St. Phoebe’s feast day. In the presence of an archbishop, several priests and nuns and a host of Catholic lay women, the pilgrims will honor the little-known saint who makes a solitary appearance in the New Testament’s Letter to the Romans as an associate of St. Paul and a female deacon of the early church.

Deacons in today’s Catholic Church are ordained clergy who preach and minister in the community but can’t celebrate Mass. Like priests and bishops, they are always men. But Amman, a stay-at-home mother of Evelyn and her sister and now the deputy director of engagement for a group called Discerning Deacons, plans to pray for Phoebe’s intercession to restore Catholic women to the diaconate.

“Phoebe represents hope and evidence that women have been in service to the church since the beginning,” said Amman. “This isn’t new. It makes me feel that it can happen in the future.”

Representatives from Discerning Deacons gather for a group photo at St. Peter's Basilica during a trip to Rome. Photo courtesy of Ellie Hidalgo
Representatives from Discerning Deacons gather for a group photo at St. Peter’s Basilica during a trip to Rome.

The prayer service, which will be streamed live, will open what Discerning Deacons calls the “Year of St. Phoebe,” part of a churchwide consultation process known as the Synod on Synodality. The three-year synod process began last fall as dioceses around the world collected responses from their individual congregations on how to better structure church life. The bishops of each country are now reporting back to Rome on what they are hearing.

Discerning Deacons are hoping the synod, which concludes with a summit of bishops in 2023, might lead to reforms that will welcome women as deacons.

A groundbreaking study by Georgetown University’s Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, or CARA, confirms that more than 70% of young women in the United States were drifting away from the Catholic Church, a much higher rate than men.

Seeing her daughter’s crisis of faith, Amman at first considered leaving the Catholic Church. Then she learned about Synod on Synodality and saw in it hope that the church might discern a way forward for women who feel called to leadership positions in the church.

Canon law defines deacons as clergy who minister to the people of God in “word, liturgy and charity.” To some extent, women fulfill those roles already but without the ability to minister to people in places, such as immigrant detention centers, hospitals and prisons, that don’t allow unordained people to serve. Joining the diaconate would also allow women to proclaim the Gospel and preach during Mass.

As Amman recently learned, until the 12th century, the Catholic Church ordained women deacons. In his Letter to the Romans, Paul introduces Phoebe as a “deacon of the church” and entrusts her to deliver his letter to the Romans.

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae,” Paul writes in Romans, chapter 16. “I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.”

She is the only woman in the New Testament with that title.

While the Catholic Church has not ordained women in 800 years, it has made exceptions where male priests are in short supply. In the Amazon region of northwestern Brazil, Dorismeire Almeida de Vasconcelos, who lives in Altamira, has been the mainstay of the church’s social outreach, working with indigenous peoples to help them fight against the deforestation and destructive mining of the Amazon.

“To me, women are already doing the work of deacons,” she said. “Can the church recognize the work they are already doing?”

Lisa Amman, Ellie Hidalgo and Casey Stanton gathered together for the first time last July in New Mexico to begin work planning. The group posed with a statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha. Photo courtesy of Ellie Hidalgo
Lisa Amman, Ellie Hidalgo and Casey Stanton gathered together for the first time last July in New Mexico to begin work planning. The group posed with a statue of St. Kateri Tekakwitha.

Many of the Pan-Amazonian bishops agree. In 2019, they asked the Vatican for a permanent diaconate for women. One of them, Archbishop Roque Paloschi of Porto Velho, Brazil, will be among the seven-member Brazilian delegation to Mexico City for the St. Phoebe prayer service.

The five-day pilgrimage sponsored by Discerning Deacons includes Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe and visits to the birthplace of Juan Diego and the Mayan pyramids at Teotihuacan.

The pilgrimage will also carve out time for testimonies and conversations about how the group might continue to engage with bishops, priests and laity as the synod process unfolds.

“The first step is listening well,” said Casey Stanton of Durham, North Carolina, the group’s co-director. “It’s a new discipline for us — the art of listening well to another and setting aside agendas.”

Discerning Deacons formed on Feast of St. Phoebe two years ago. It has since attracted a cadre of Catholic women who have served as Hispanic ministry leaders, youth and young adult ministers, religious sisters, diocesan pastoral staff and community organizers.

Last October, several in the group traveled to Rome for the opening Mass of the Synod on Synodality.

Since then, the group held listening sessions as part of the synodal process, drawing some 9,000 Catholics. In June, it issued a 38-page report reflecting on what it heard — a desire for a female diaconate that works with people on the margins.

Whether that recommendation gains traction is in question. In the U.S., Catholic bishops are more focused on a three-year Eucharistic revival, trying to reignite Catholics’ interest in the rite following the failed effort among some of their number to deny President Biden Communion over his support of abortion rights.

Ellie Hidalgo, who is the co-director of Discerning Deacons and is in Mexico City this week as a pilgrim, said she was realistic about the prospects that the church would change its position on women deacons.

“We realize the restoration of the diaconate is an uphill climb,” Hidalgo said. “It’s not an easy thing.”

But if nothing else, the group wants to lift up the example of St. Phoebe.

“I see elements of myself in her,” said Anne Attea, a pastoral associate at Church of the Ascension in North Minneapolis who traveled to Mexico City. “I see her in some of my colleagues. I see her in every mother and grandmother who has helped to pass on the faith.”

Complete Article HERE!

Surprises in the Irish Synod Report

Archbishop Eamon Martin


About five years ago, I attended a lecture in Manhattan by an Irish Redemptorist priest, Fr. Tony Flannery. The event was sponsored by Call to Action, an organization that is critical of the Catholic Church because of its ineptitude in applying the gospel message to the realities of our time. Fr. Flannery was and still is banned from speaking publicly in any church-owned facility.

In his speech he explained why he is considered a persona non grata, an outcast, by the powers in Rome. He named three areas of disagreement, pointing out that he does not question any of the traditional Catholic dogmas.

He objects especially to the second-class status accorded to women in all areas of ecclesiastical life. He cautioned that while he favors full ordination rights for females the focus for now should be on achieving deaconate status, a step below the priesthood.

He favors ending mandatory celibacy and welcoming married priests, and he was adamant that his church’s attitude to the homosexual community could only be described as pathetic. He spoke with conviction and left no doubt about his continuing commitment to radical changes in his church.

Amazingly and ironically, in response to Pope Francis’ Synodal Way, the Irish church recently submitted what they call the National Synthesis of its recommendations to Rome, and they have come out in favor of the positions which led to Flannery’s exclusion from practicing as a priest.

The big boys in Rome silenced him, but what will they do now with the whole Irish church?

The National Synthesis document was based on reports prepared by all 26 Catholic dioceses on the island of Ireland following widespread consultations with the people over many months, culminating in a countrywide national symposium in Athlone in June.

Over 19,000 people participated in Dublin with about 5000 in Limerick and a few hundred in the mini-diocese of Achonry in the west of Ireland. Reports from all sides suggested enthusiastic involvement throughout the country with members over the age of 60 showing the highest level of interest.

Cynics warned that the submission to Rome would be a watered-down version of the ideas for change that emerged from the consultations. The bishops would wrap the radical concepts in language acceptable to the Vatican hierarchy.

Not this time! The National Synthesis document pulls no punches and fairly represents the thoughts and feelings expressed up and down the country, as well as during the big weekend in Athlone.

In a cover letter sent with the report, Archbishop Eamon Martin explained to Cardinal Mario Gresch, the secretary general of the Synod of Bishops at the Vatican, that that there is a crying need in Ireland for healing, especially “among those who have suffered abuse by church personnel and in church institutions.”

He stressed that clear calls were heard in every diocese for “fresh models of responsibility and leadership which will especially recognize and facilitate the role of women. Our listening process has identified the need to be more inclusive in outreach, touching those who have left the church behind and, in some cases, feel excluded, forgotten or ignored.”

Pope Francis’ words are genuine. We believe him when he says he wants to hear from ordinary parishioners. Will he lead the response when the cry for change arrives in Rome from people all over the world?

In order to dampen expectations, he insists that the church is not a democratic institution. So, despite the strong support for radical changes, backed by a clear majority of the faithful, their ideas may well be set aside as traditionalists assert the pre-eminence of the church’s historical beliefs and practices.

During the struggle for democracy in Europe in the 19th and early 20th century, successive popes favored the old European autocracies with single strong leaders, which, of course, defines the Vatican. They still diminish the democratic process which claims that, despite its limitations, the people’s wisdom is the nearest we can get to an optimal system for selecting leaders and determining policy. Why is the church so dismissive of this approach? What are they afraid of in Rome? Is it just a power game?

Take the widespread belief that women should be ordained at a time when their services as pastors are clearly needed in many parishes. Most people in the United States and in Europe strongly support this needed alteration of church discipline. The Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), a very credible Catholic organization, affirms the many women who feel called to priestly service.

A tribute to Francis, information about WOC is included in the Vatican website as part of the synodal discussions. However, it is very unlikely that he will overrule John Paul II’s arrogant and dogmatic statement that women should never be permitted to say Mass.

Back to the real world of male hierarchies who preach their openness to the Spirit of Wisdom, but always seem to revert back to glorifying tradition. In October 2019 the Amazon Synod of Bishops met in Rome to consider the church crisis in that region of South America. The people in large parts of a few countries there have very irregular access to the sacraments.

The Synod passed, with a big majority, two recommendations to help ameliorate the situation. First, open the deaconate to permit nuns and other dedicated women who are serving there to provide communion for the people. Second, allow viri probati, married men of sterling character from the local communities, to be ordained to the priesthood. Pope Francis took their recommendations under advisement. No action. That was almost three years ago. Tough luck on the people pleading for communion in the Amazon region.

Mary McAleese. RollingNews.ie photo.
Mary McAleese.

Former Irish president Mary McAleese, who has had a conflicted relationship with the church, especially with John Paul II, was elated by the document and congratulated the hierarchy for not doctoring the recommendations to placate Rome. The adjectives she used to commend it left no doubt about her satisfaction: “explosive, life-altering, dogma-altering, church-altering.”

Mrs. McAleese has a particular peeve with the church’s puerile insistence that the gay lifestyle is unnatural and sinful. Her son is a homosexual. This demeaning thinking has been repudiated by science for more than half a century. Rome, however, keeps beating the old drum based on an outmoded belief in their version of natural law.

Fr. Tim Hazelwood, one of the leaders of the Irish Association of Priests, described the document as “stunning” because “it is not trying to uphold any of the old negatives from the past.” Those “old negatives” did immense harm to the preaching of the gospel message.

Pope Francis will meet with a full synod of bishops in October of next year to decide what changes they will institute, based, supposedly, on the recommendations from Catholics all over the world. We live and hope!

Complete Article HERE!

‘Sexism Is a Cardinal Sin’ Catholic Women Tell Vatican

Catholic women with parasols expressing the call for women’s ordination in the church at the Vatican, Aug. 29, 2022.

By Mitchell Atencio

On Monday, leaders of two Catholic groups dedicated to women’s ordination in the church reminded Catholic cardinals not to ignore their “sisters outside,” as the cardinals met to discuss church reforms.

Earlier this year, Pope Francis named two women to a dicastery, or papal committee, that selects new bishops in the church. However, Monday’s closed-door gathering of cardinals excluded women.

While cardinals met inside, a small group of women from the U.S.-based Women’s Ordination Conference and Women’s Ordination Worldwide stood at an entrance with bright red umbrellas bearing messages that included “ordain women” and “more than half the church.” They spoke with entering cardinals and handed them a letter explaining their efforts for recognition. Within 10 minutes, police detained the group, holding them for about four hours. Officially, the group was held on grounds of protesting without a permit.

Kate McElwee, the executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference and one of the women at the protest, spoke with Sojourners’ Mitchell Atencio hours after being released. She discussed her hope for women’s ordination, Francis’ attitude toward reforms, and the symbolic nature of their activism.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Mitchell Atencio, Sojourners: What were the cardinals meeting to discuss?

Kate McElwee: Pope Francis called a consistory and on Saturday, he created 20 new cardinals and [on Monday and Tuesday] he’s calling the world’s cardinals together for meetings. There are 197 prelates [church officials] who are in Rome particularly to discuss the reforms of the new apostolic constitution that was promulgated on Pentecost.

One of the significant reforms of that constitution is that he has opened the possibility for women, or any layperson, to lead dicasteries in the Vatican — this is a role that traditionally had been reserved for bishops and cardinals, so this is a significant move.

I’ve heard the intention [for these meetings is] to have the cardinals meet one another, practice and model synodality, and then get to know the constitutional reforms. But, of course, there are no women in this meeting.

We wanted to witness and just draw attention to the fact that this is a closed-door session where no women are present, ironically, when one of the biggest changes of the constitution is that women can now lead dicasteries

And how did your action go? You and your colleagues were detained for about four hours, what were interactions with police like, why did they say they detained you?

We had a prayer and an intention that our voices would carry through these closed-door sessions and provoke the conscience of the prelates meeting to know that their sisters are waiting outside. We opened bright red parasols with our messages written on them; everything from “reform means women,” “it’s reigning men,” “sexism is a cardinal sin,” and other messages. We processed down Via della Conciliazione till we reached the gates of the piazza, and then continued on to the dicastery for the doctrine of faith, where it’s a major entry point for the Vatican and we thought we could greet cardinals as they entered in.

We had a letter that said, “don’t forget your sisters outside,” but we greeted them very respectfully and were able to interact with a handful of cardinals who were going into their meetings. Some were more supportive than others. But in about 10 minutes various levels police came towards us and asked us to close our umbrellas and provide our identification documents. We complied after a short time, and they penned us into a small [space] between the colonnades. We were there for an hour, and their main complaint was that we didn’t have a permit — I lived in Rome for eight years, it’s very hard to get a permit for women’s ordination next to the Vatican. After an hour they escorted us to the closest police station where we were held for another three hours or so. It was a lot of waiting for them to process us for protesting without a permit, particularly at the Vatican. It was very, very Italian experience. We stopped for coffee before they brought us to the police station. I think they didn’t believe we were dangerous, but it was a matter of bureaucracy and formalities for them.

Why is women’s ordination important in the Catholic church?

It is a matter of justice for most Catholic women. Our calls are not heard. Many women feel like they have no voice or vote in the Catholic church. And there’s layers and layers of sexism that marginalize women from important leadership positions, both ministerial and administrative.

And like me, for so many Catholic women, this is our home. This is our identity and our tradition, and through the sacraments is how we navigate the world. To be considered second tier, or to not have our voices heard, is deeply painful. And we see the effects of this exclusion throughout the world.

One of the most important things about our work is to recognize that women’s ordination isn’t just about women priests. The Catholic church has 1.36 billion members. More than half of those people are women, and they have no representation within the church. That kind of exclusion and subordination is replicated through culture, education, and all the ways the Catholic church has power in the world — including having a seat at the United Nations and working to subvert policies on gender equality.

There’s also a deep pain. In my work, I get to hear the stories and the testimonies of women called to priesthood. You hear their vocational stories and they’re not dissimilar to male priests in any way.

I’m a very hopeful person. I believe that the church can actually be this incredible force for good and justice in the world, if it opened its doors to women.

How would you describe Pope Francis’ relationship to the movement for women’s ordination?

I think Pope Francis has done quite a bit to encourage greater dialogue around the question of women in the church, particularly through his Synod on Synodality and engaging all Catholics, to be involved in this collective discernment. In the United States [this] has inspired a lot of these diocese and synod reports to include mentions of the urgent calls for women’s ordination and women in ministry. In that sense, he’s really changed the culture. Because women’s ordination to the priesthood is a taboo in a lot of ways. And through synodality and dialogue that we’re engaging in together, he has opened up that conversation in bigger ways.

Unfortunately, when it comes to women’s ordination, specifically throughout his pontificate, he has repeated the logic and thinking of his predecessors. Although he has convened two commissions on women deacons, [and] that is still an evolving question in the Catholic church, on priesthood I think Francis hasn’t moved much, [even though] he has encouraged greater dialogue and called for greater inclusion of women in the life of the church.

What gives you hope that this is possible?

When I think about Pope Francis, he is a man who has changed his mind. He is leading the global church in collective discernment, which is so messy, but it means this is all in play, this is all in conversation. There’s a great opening for the church leaders to really listen to Catholics on the ground. The majority of Catholics are calling for women’s ordination and greater leadership roles in the church. That gives me a lot of hope.

As part of the synod on synodality, the Vatican’s Synod office listed the Women’s Ordination Conference’s resources on their official website, which, would be unthinkable in a different pontificate. That means that this is part of the conversation, the elephant in the room is on the table up for discussion. As long as we’re still talking about this — and we are because this question has not gone away in so many decades — that there’s still hope.

We’ve seen Pope Francis really model what a pastor is. I believe Francis is a quite a pastoral person. So part of my work is to create opportunities where he can hear the testimonies and vocations of women. He formalized the ministry of catechists recently and has opened the role of acolyte and lector to women, and that language really identifies discerning a vocation. When I read that language, I think that’s the same spirit that calls women to ordained ministry. I just hope that he’s open to hearing the calls of women to ordination. Unfortunately, when you’re surrounded by the architecture of the Vatican, interaction with women — particularly if you call these meetings of only men — can be quite limited.

What has it meant to you to do this work internationally and across cultures?

It’s absolutely essential. When you get to meet women in different cultures and listen to the language that they use to describe their longing for leadership and ministerial roles, there are nuances, but women around the world are just longing for equality for their voices to be heard.

The particularities of circumstances make priorities different, but at the core it’s that women are longing to be equal and to be embraced in by their own church. It’s very powerful to work alongside international women and leaders who are coming with their own context and their own stories. This can’t come from one place. This is a universal church. It’s part of that discernment that Francis is trying to model and lead us through. Listening to the voices and the context of all of women in different places is really important to what we do.

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