Not on a Whim, Woman Catholic Priest Celebrates Momentous Georgetown Mass

Rev. Kathleen Blank Riether was likely the first women to celebrate a Catholic Mass in Georgetown.


The Roman Catholic Church wears its age well — and yet, after 2,000 years, is still developing new features, still growing into its body. Perhaps, for world religions, 2,000 years seems like puberty: you’re at the age where lots of people know you and recognize you, but inside you’re expanding in ways that are still going to surprise them.

Georgetown is a place where some of the Catholic body’s most important parts can be found: two schools, two parishes and a world-famous university.

Now, this oldest neighborhood in Washington, D.C., is also home to a growing part of the Catholic Church that many Catholics would surely find a little surprising: women priests.

On Sunday morning, Sept. 18, in a secluded backyard garden on R Street, a community of Catholics gathered for what was likely the first ever Catholic Mass held in Georgetown celebrated by a woman.

Washington Home Inclusive Monthly Mass (WHIMM) organized the Mass and invited Rev. Kathleen Blank Riether to celebrate it. In person and remotely, roughly 30 Catholics prayed, read and worshiped, while sharing the sacrament of the Eucharist — the bread and wine — consecrated by the female Catholic priest.

“Sounds like heresy,” said an older member of Holy Trinity when I told him I was going. “My dad would probably say the same thing,” I replied with a smile. I went anyway.

I am not much of a rule breaker. I wasn’t even sure how comfortable I was going to WHIMM’s Mass in the first place. I am also a parishioner of Holy Trinity and attend daily Mass (not every day). I was born at Georgetown University Hospital and was raised in a conservative Catholic family. I was teased by my Italian grandmother for going to “pagan school” — I went to National Cathedral School. I graduated from Georgetown. And I am a disciplined former ballerina who likes to match her belt to her shoes and pay her credit card bill early.

It was at Holy Trinity where I first learned about WHIMM. A few months before the pandemic, WHIMM’s mission was shared with me at a lecture in the parish’s McKenna Hall about women in the early church. The lecture was co-hosted by the parish’s RCIA coordinator and a parishioner with a Ph.D. in theology from Catholic University, both women. When I learned how women were key evangelizers in the early church and were even ordained as deacons, these early Christian women reminded me of NCS’s former headmistress, Aggie Underwood, whose infamously intense academic environment taught us that — as women — we could do anything.

Catholics do not teach girls that they can do anything. If a girl raised in a Catholic church, who grows to love her church, is asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and she replies, “I want to become Pope,” the answer is, “No.” And yet, here I was, standing in a garden on R Street, witnessing a female Catholic priest bless me.

Rev. Kathleen Blank Riether celebrates a Catholic Mass in Georgetown on R Street.

“We live in a finite, imperfect world in which every person and situation are an inextricable mix of both good and bad, right and wrong,” said Rev. Riether in her homily during Mass. “Though our minds want to automatically categorize people, situations, and things as right or wrong, good or bad, life is just not that simple… [Life] is a process of learning how to live with and negotiate the harsh realities of this world while upholding and living as fully as we can the teachings of Jesus.”

Reither belongs to Roman Catholic Womenpriest’s Eastern Region, an umbrella organization for the group of ten female Catholic priests called the Living Water Inclusive Catholic Community, the group from which WHIMM typically invites female priests. Based in Maryland, Living Water’s website states it began offering Masses in 2008 at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Annapolis and at the Stony Run Friends Meeting House in Baltimore. One of the leaders of Living Water is Andrea M. Johnson, a woman ordained deacon in 2005, priest in 2007, and now bishop as of 2009.  Officially, the Catholic Church excommunicates women who are ordained priests. The ordained women claim the right of apostolic succession.)

Although WHIMM’s Masses are primarily celebrated in private homes, they also offer “Mass on Mass” for a larger gathering in an outdoor park on Massachusetts Avenue and Fulton Street NW. This open, public Mass is offered just steps from the Vatican Embassy, where participants walk to afterward for a short prayer service.

“The goal is not to just bemoan or dismantle what is broken,” says Jane Malhotra, WHIMM’s founder, “but to also build something better.” “Behold, I am making something new!” quotes the group on its website from Isaiah 43:19.

Malhotra was inspired by her aunt, Anne E. Patrick, and her book “On Being Unfinished,” where she explains a belief in creative responsibility: “a willingness to think deeply and originally… to take appropriate risks for the sake of promoting good…”. In that same spirit, Malhotra created WHIMM and through it a space for Catholics, who “want to renew the Church by experiencing a new model of ordained ministry.”

Malhotra’s creative responsibility is not unlike the prophetic obedience (another term coined by Malhotra’s aunt) followed by the women priests from Maryland’s Living Water Community: “Going towards the higher calling of conscience, towards the greater good, towards inclusive and divine justice and the dignity of all God’s creation, even if it means going against the rule of an institution.”

In December 2018, a group of Washington-area Catholics attended the first WHIMM Mass led by a woman priest at a home in Bethesda. In October 2019, the first public Mass was offered — “Mass on Mass” —  in addition to ten home masses that year. By 2020, WHIMM Masses were celebrated in Arlington and Bethesda and continued remotely online during the pandemic.

At first, WHIMM started with about 15 Catholics. Then, Masses in private homes began collecting about 30 Catholics. Eventually, the Fulton Street public Mass gathered about 70 Catholics (“despite the rain”). Now, with an email list in the hundreds, a news crew filmed the Georgetown service, capturing attendees which WHIMM says exemplify a “growing community of Catholics seeking to live into the radical vision that Jesus calls us to, in unity with all God’s creation.”

So what is a WHIMM Mass like? Who was there? And what, if anything, was uniquely Georgetown about it?

At first, I felt like I was walking into a picnic (which perhaps, in its casual nature, isn’t too far from the Last Supper). A cardboard sign was taped to a tree to direct us where to walk to find the garden. A cheerful table was set up with mums for doughnut hour, complete with hot coffee and gluten-free pumpkin spice muffins from Trader Joe’s. The most notable culinary offering was actually the communion wine, a bottle of red with Snoop Dog’s face on it, which the label calls perfect for “rule breakers” and which the vintner calls “defiant by nature” and “bold in character.”

Everybody was lovely. The chairs were organized. The altar was recognizably set. The program was passed out. The readings, the psalm, the homily and the eucharist all played out like clockwork. But on this clock, there were some new features. There was no “Lord,” just “God” and “The Creator” (which sometimes took a feminine pronoun). The “Our Father” acknowledged both parents, beginning with “Our Father/Mother in heaven, hallowed be your name…”

Also, there was no unworthiness. Right about as we were to receive communion, instead of calling ourselves “unworthy,” we prayed a reminder that with Jesus we are worthy and that with his words we are healed. Though revised, the liturgy made perfect sense. It was as refreshing as it was heart-opening in a completely enlightened and still authentically Catholic way.

“At first, I felt like I was walking into a picnic…”

I could tell you that it was very Georgetown because of the Cartier watches, pearl necklaces, Celtic cross pendants, pinky rings, diamond earrings, Nantucket reds and chats about summer travel. (To be sure, the expected Tevas were there, too). But that wasn’t what made it Georgetonian. I thought back to how a 53 year-old John Carroll started building his school before he even officially owned the land. And it made me remember that it was a can-do, self-starting, proactive and hardworking American spirit that built a new country and which also originally defined the community living in Georgetown.

Perhaps, when I was presented with a torn piece of a gluten-free English muffin (instead of a cross-stamped wafer), and heard “the body of Christ” and said “Amen,” I had a hard time believing it really was the body of Christ. Maybe I was confused that there was no man in a robe initiating transubstantiation. But, do I need a man to tell me I am a part of the body of Christ? No. Indeed, I had no doubt that — in the group gathered around me — we were all a new (if a little unfamiliar) part of the body of Christ. And to my right, the older Catholic woman pinched up every crumb left in her palm and ate every morsel so as to not let any part of Jesus fall to the ground.

Complete Article HERE!

The Catholic Church is increasingly diverse – and so are its controversies


There is a lot of talk about “synodality” in the Catholic church these days. Synodality refers to a process in which bishops and priests consult with lay Catholics about issues in the church.

In 2021, Pope Francis called for the “Synod on Synodality,” a worldwide discussion of issues that impact the church, which will culminate with a bishops’ meeting in Rome. A final report is scheduled for October 2023.

The Catholic Church in Germany has also moved forward with a national “synodal path” to restore trust after its own sexual abuse scandal.

The German synodal path has been controversial. On Sept. 8, 2022, a minority of German bishops blocked a motion to redefine Catholic teaching on homosexuality, bisexuality, gender identity and masturbation. In response, some proponents of these liberalizations warned they would “take it to Rome.”

Church leaders around the world and in the Vatican have closely watched the German meetings. There has been sharp debate over calls by German Catholics for priests to ordain women and bless same-sex unions. These proposals have been embraced by some German church bishops, but criticized by the Vatican as well as by an international group of 74 bishops.

As a scholar of global Catholicism, I believe this controversy reflects much wider tensions within Catholicism. In 1910, two-thirds of the world’s Catholics lived in Europe. Today, just one in four do. The church’s numbers have grown most quickly in Africa and Asia. As more power shifts to the global south, the church sometimes struggles to chart a path forward for all regions, each of which has its own distinct perspectives.

The German meeting spotlights particularly difficult topics about sexuality and women’s roles, where some Catholics in Europe, North America and Australia clash with Catholics elsewhere.

Continental divides

The Catholic Church is often assumed to look and feel the same everywhere. But Catholicism is culturally quite diverse.

The most public disagreement involves African Catholics and those in the United States and Europe. For example, Ghanaian Catholic bishops have criticized advocates for LGBTQ rights for imposing “their so-called values and beliefs.” Other African bishops have said they feel betrayed by liberal sentiments in European Catholicism, such as the push to allow Holy Communion for divorced church members.

People in white robes kneel near the altar in a brightly colored church with a teal and orange wall.
A bishop blesses worshippers during an early morning mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Yamumbi, Kenya.

Polygamy continues to be a pressing issue in some regions of Africa. While Catholic doctrine prohibits polygamy, polygamous unions are still common in many countries with significant Catholic communities.

A crucial question is how to welcome polygamous families into the church. Some African bishops have suggested that the church’s most important rites, called sacraments, should be available for at least some polygamous Catholics.

Tribalism also remains a challenge. For example, a Nigerian priest published a social media video asserting the superiority of the Igbo tribe. In rejecting such attitudes, other African priests have emphasized that African Catholics should draw on the philosophy of “ubuntu” that affirms collective belonging to humanity.

Looking East

Issues in Asia, home to 12% of Catholics, are diverse.

In Japan, for example, where Catholics make up less than 1% of the population, the main dilemma is how Catholics can maintain their community identity. In the Catholic-majority Philippines, recent meetings for the Synod on Synodality have focused on how poverty and corruption impact the Catholic community and the nation as a whole.

In India, where 20 million Catholics live, the Dalit Catholic community is especially important. Dalit means “oppressed” or “crushed” and refers to the marginalized groups once known as India’s “untouchables.” It was only recently that a Dalit, Anthony Poola of Hyderabad, was named a cardinal, even though Dalits have long made up a majority of India’s Catholics. Caste discrimination in the church is a reality that Dalit Catholics have joined together to protest.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in East Timor, where Catholics are 95% of the population, has experienced its own divisive sex abuse crisis connected with a highly regarded American priest.

A woman in a pink shirt and green sari touches a statue of the Virgin Mary covered with garlands of flowers.
Catholics offer prayers in front of a statue of Virgin Mary in Hyderabad, India.

Catholic churches in China face unresolved disputes over who has final say in the appointment of bishops – the Vatican, or the Chinese government. Also, there are continuing issues about the status of the underground Catholic churches, which worship outside the purview of the state-sanctioned Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association.

In parts of Oceania, climate change is an existential concern. The spread of HIV/AIDS in Papua New Guinea remains an important issue as well.

Stronghold no longer?

Latin America is home to almost 40% of the world’s Catholics. But the rise of Protestantism has concerned many priests and laity. Many new Protestants in Latin America believe that evangelical and Pentecostal communities are more sensitive to their needs, prompting soul-searching for Catholics.

Another crucial question in Latin America is whether to ordain married men in regions where priests are scarce, like the Amazon. The Catholic church in Latin America still struggles with its colonial past and calls to apologize for that violent history. This legacy makes it particularly important to hear the voices of Indigenous peoples.

A global conversation

The worldwide Synod on Synodality is focused, in Pope Francis’ words, on creating a church that “walks together on the same road.”

It would be a mistake to see this “walking together” from an exclusively Western perspective. The debate in Germany reflects how ideologically divided Catholicism has become in the Western world alone. And it is not as though churches elsewhere are simply areas of potential problems or disagreements; their faith and rich theological traditions are an important resource for Catholics worldwide.

Still, given the cultural diversity of Catholicism, there are many potential flash points as the Synod on Synodality moves forward: poverty, adapting to local culture, sexuality and gender, church governance and the continuing sexual abuse crisis – just to name a few.

This has left some commentators wondering if anything meaningful can be discussed or achieved. In my view, whether Synod conversations turn into controversies will ultimately depend on how Catholics see themselves as part of a church that is truly global.

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. 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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