Women rising in the Catholic Church

By Bernadette Meaden
February 15, 2013

During discussions surrounding One Billion Rising, it was pointed out that, when it comes to creating a culture in which women may be viewed as inferior in some way, religion has a lot to answer for.

Almost all religions, with some honourable exceptions, give men a role of power and authority over women, whilst at the same time preaching that we are all equal in God’s eyes.

As far as Christianity is concerned, perhaps the starkest example, unfortunately, is in the Catholic Church. While the Anglican Church wrestles with the idea of women bishops (some provinces having already consecrated them, as with Lutherans and others), the Catholic Church’s hierarchy has firmly ruled out the idea of women ever being ordained to the priesthood. Indeed, steps have been taken to suppress even discussing the issue. But not everybody in the Church is prepared to accept this, and there has been a long-standing campaign to have women ordained as priests.

This campaign is perhaps strongest in the United States, and in December last year the US Catholic news website, the National Catholic Reporter, published a closely argued editorial entitled ‘Ordination of Women Would Correct an Injustice’ which concluded:

Our message is that we believe the sensus fidelium is that the exclusion of women from the priesthood has no strong basis in Scripture or any other compelling rationale; therefore, women should be ordained. We have heard the faithful assent to this in countless conversations in parish halls, lecture halls and family gatherings.

When Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation, Women’s Ordination Conference based in Washington DC, issued a statement. After expressing respect for the Pope’s decision and concern for his health, the statement continued:

As Roman Catholics worldwide prepare for the conclave, we are reminded that the current system remains an 'old boys club' and does not allow for women's voices to participate in the decision of the next leader of our Church. WOC members plan to host vigils and raise 'pink smoke' during the conclave as a prayerful reminder of the voices of the Church that go unheard.

The people of the Church are desperate for a leader who will be open to dialogue, and will have the courage to create systems that will address the sexism, exclusion, and abuse in our Church. The Catholic Church needs to be a voice for justice in the world. We pray for a leader who can truly minister to all of the people of God.

Here in the UK, the campaign has a lower profile but is active. Catholic Women’s Ordination holds regular vigils at Westminster Cathedral, and meetings elsewhere in the UK.

It will be interesting to see, when a successor to Pope Benedict is elected, whether those in favour of women’s ordination to the Catholic priesthood believe the Church has taken a step closer to their goal.

* Flash mob for women's rights invades Geneva’s Ecumenical Centre: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/18021

* One Billion Rising on Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/OneBillionRising

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.