— Father Anne looks to change Catholicism for good
By Josh Lee
Father Anne knows quite a bit about being excluded.
Like many others before her, she’s been excommunicated from the Catholic Church, but unlike others, she hasn’t lost faith. Her major infraction, according to the Church, is being a female priest. She is not only barred from taking part in religious ceremonies, but she’s extra cautious to not even step foot on Church property.
Father Anne has made a name for herself by touring, advocating and campaigning for her cause, in the name of women everywhere. Her deeply-held convictions have led her down a difficult path fraught with naysayers and fundamentalists, but she continues to raise her voice in a call for reform.
When someone is excommunicated, they are no longer allowed to work or volunteer with the Church or take Sacrament. They are permanently pushed away from the Church and are no longer welcome.
“Women that get ordained are automatically excommunicated,” she explains. “It’s considered a crime as serious as the sexual abuse of a child by a male priest.”
The only difference is that male priests are rarely excommunicated for that sin. Instead, they are often laicized—meaning they are no longer allowed to be priests, but they are still considered members of the Church.
“[Excommunication is] the harshest punishment that the church can levy against someone who just wants to serve,” says Father Anne. “It’s terrible.”
But Father Anne continues to practice her faith despite her excommunicated status. She says that’s because she has no choice in the matter.
“My vocation is not a choice,” she says. “It comes from God. I was called by God to work for change.”
Father Anne’s journey has been a difficult one. She says she was living a “secular life” until she had a spiritual experience at the age of 29 that changed the trajectory of her existence.
“I began to seek God,” she says. “I checked out different faiths, and I ended up finding my way to the Catholic Church.”
She was living in Portland, Oregon, and managing a band when she started to study Christianity. She lived less than a mile from a Jesuit parish, where she began to learn the practices that would eventually lead her to become a priest.
“I started to learn how to pray,” she recalls. “The Jesuits taught me about spirituality and how to pray. That was when I started to hear the call to priesthood.”
Father Anne says she did all sorts of liturgical volunteer work and even started a young adult ministry. She went on to get her masters degree in divinity—the degree required for every Roman Catholic priest.
“And then I got to a point where I could no longer grow,” she says. “The institutional church that had formed me, that helped me and my relationship with God, that helped me blossom as a Catholic—it became the obstruction to the full expression of my vocation to priesthood.”
She says she was forced onto a parallel track because the institutional church obstructed her ability to live out her vocation. She became ordained through the Roman Catholic Woman Priest movement, which started in 2002, when male priests ordained seven women as priests. The next year, several women were ordained as bishops and given the power to ordain other women priests. There are now about 260 female Roman Catholic priests that have been ordained. Each of them has been excommunicated for breaking what they consider to be an unjust Canon law.
“That law is supported by a fundamentalist interpretation of scripture,” says Father Anne. “It violates the Church’s own teachings against fundamentalism. It’s hypocrisy at its finest.”
She says the law that keeps women out of the priesthood is also based on a false narrative that aims to downplay the role of women in the Church.
“The Church claims that women have never been ordained, and that’s really a misleading statement that obscures the rich history of the participation of women,” she notes.
Father Anne believes the Canon law is steeped in the sexist interpretation that women are inferior by God’s design and are meant to be subjugated by men. “This deeply conflicts with the values of Christianity and the life of Jesus, of course,” she points out.
“Because I can be harshly critical, it can get lost that I actually do this out of a deep love for the institution,” says Father Anne. “I just want to be a parish priest. I want to be part of the institution, accepted as fully human.”
But Father Anne’s drive to reform the Church isn’t solely based in her desire to be welcomed back. She says that convincing the Church to accept female priests could have significant ramifications in all walks of life where women are treated as second-class citizens.
“The thing about the Roman Catholic Church is that it is one of the most powerful institutions in the world,” she notes. “It’s the largest provider of non-governmental healthcare and non-governmental education in the world. It has a seat at the UN. It’s one of the largest landowners in the world. And not one woman has ever had a say at the highest levels.”
By allowing females to serve as priests, Father Anne says, the Church will set a precedent that will affect all women.
“That Roman collar on a man in the institutional Roman Catholic Church symbolizes the oldest lie in all creation: That women are inferior by biological design and deserve to be subjugated—not only in the sanctuary, but everywhere else,” she says.
Father Anne will be celebrating an online Mass on December 17, at 9am on Zoom. The mass is open to anyone who wants to attend, and RSVPs can be made by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Right now is a pivotal time,” says Father Anne, “because the Church is discerning the role of women, and ordination for women is on the table through the Synod on Synodality, which concludes in October 2024. The goal of the #GodSaysNow campaign is to make this issue impossible for bishops to ignore.”
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