“Rocking the Boat,” on the ordination of Catholic women in the March 2007 issue of Sojourners magazine, was an article I’ve been wanting to write for years. The ceremony was held by the international organization Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which has held five ordination ceremonies since 2002.
As you may have heard, Catholic women can’t be priests.
I’ve never been a Catholic made in the image and likeness of the Pope. I’m a failed Catholic, a proud Catholic, a free-thinking Catholic, a dogged Catholic, a confessional Catholic, an angry Catholic, a cradle Catholic, and a Catholic woman.
I come from generations of Catholics – with great-great uncles who founded Catholic parishes, an Irish Catholic great-grandmother who was barred from entering through the front doors of businesses, great-great grandparents who were French and Spanish-speaking Louisiana Cajun Catholics.
I could no more change being Catholic than I could alter my DNA. Nor have I ever wanted to.
As a Catholic and a woman, I’ve wrestled with my church’s custom on women in sacramental ministry. I’ve fought it. I’ve preached against it. I’ve studied its history. I remain biblically, theologically, and (let’s just say it) genetically unconvinced that the “ontological” difference between women and men establishes women as secondary to men or prevents women from carrying out the sacramental ministries of the church.
So, for me, it was a profoundly spiritual experience in July 2006 to attend the first ordination in the United States of Roman Catholic women to the priesthood and diaconate. In doing so, the Catholics present aided in breaking canon law 1024, which states, “Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination.”
I was honored to meet the ordained women and especially enjoyed speaking with the women bishops – Patricia Fresen, Gisela Forster, and Ida Raming – who have risked so much for the future of the church they love.
Many non-Catholics may not realize that Catholics are forbidden by the Pope to even speak about the issue of women’s ordination. While there clearly is disagreement on whether Catholic women should be ordained (and for a short, rigorous, debate of the sides by two excellent women see Ordaining Women: Two Views), ecclesial gag rules are rarely the right tool for advancing human dignity.
Rose Marie Berger is an Associate Editor and Poetry Editor for Sojourners magazine.