Pope Francis has done more to reform the Roman Catholic Church for a new era since Pope John XXIII convened the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. The ferocity of opposition in conservative American Catholic circles validates this assessment.
Francis acknowledged his growing opposition in flippant remarks aboard the papal plane on Sept. 4, 2019. ABC News reported that Francis said it was “an honor if the Americans attacked me.”
But despite everything he does, he draws a line under the ordination of women.
He accepted the decision of Pope John Paul II who said: “I declare that the Church has no authority to confer priestly ordination on women and that the judgment must be definitely held by all the faithful of the Church”.
That didn’t silence advocates of women’s ordination in 1994, and there are even more voices calling for it today.
This may have paid off as the Vatican recently included a lobby group for women’s ordination – the Women’s Ordination Conference – on a website promoting the two-year synod that will end in 2023. In other words, Francis wants to hear from them and many other Catholic advocacy groups.
And here’s the catch: the ordination of women could be far in the future. But some commentators believe that small incremental gestures by Francis, such as including the WOC and regularizing the roles of lector and eucharistic minister for women, may make it easier for his successor to ordain a woman, although Francis does not ever recognized this goal.
WOC executive director Kate McElwee admitted to America Magazine that she was surprised the Vatican agreed to the group’s inclusion on the ‘Resources’ site and said it showed ‘a lot of courage’ on the part of the office of the synod.
What took real courage, however, was the ordination of seven women priests into the Catholic Church by three bishops on a cruise ship on the Danube in 2007. This sparked a movement, mainly in South America. Nord, who ordained about 200 women. as priests to this day. Still, this is a drop in the ocean compared to the number of male priests totaling around 410,000 worldwide.
Other Christian denominations and Reform Judaism, meanwhile, have ordained women for decades.
The Vatican declared the ordinations of 2007 and subsequent years illicit and declared that the women declared themselves excommunicated by undergoing the ordination. But the church has stopped making such claims.
Validly ordained male bishops have ordained women to ensure apostolic succession and as long as they are valid, the Vatican will not accept them.
Take the case of Ludmila Jararova, who was secretly ordained a priest in communist Czechoslovakia in 1970 for the underground church. Once the church could practice publicly, her underground male peers could continue as priests, but she could not.
Author Jill Peterfeso has done a great job supporting movements that have encouraged women to be ordained, women priests themselves, and the communities they lead outside of the normal parish structure. In “Womenpriest,” published by Fordham University, one of its main findings is that these women don’t just want to be ordained like men.
Their credo, she writes, could be: “We have not left Rome. We propose a new model of ordained ministry in a renewed Roman Catholic Church.
These “women priests,” a word coined by advocacy groups, are resisting the clericalism that has kept a patriarchal system in place and want more inclusion at all levels. And in the wake of the great clerical sexual abuse scandals, which still reverberate around the world, Peterfeso wrote: “If the bodies of male priests inspire fear and mistrust, the bodies of female priests represent new potential.
Without major reform, women vote with their feet, Peterfeso concluded.
“While women’s attendance at Mass is higher than men’s, women’s has declined twice as much as men’s,” she wrote.
And the decline among millennial women is significant.
The “no” – those who claim no religion – multiply. Another group, A Church for our Daughters – an online program supported by about two dozen women’s equality groups – knows that justice and equality for women is still a powerful movement and that without the inclusion of women in church leadership, young women will continue to walk one way.
Pope Francis has appointed women to positions of greater authority than any previous pontiff. In 2019, 24% of Holy See employees were women, compared to 17.6% in 2010. When Sister Nathalie Becquart, a member of the Congregation of Xavieres, was appointed as the first female Under-Secretary of the Synod of Bishops, she told reporters that her appointment was proof that “the patriarchal mentality [of the church] change.” Cardinal Tobin of Newark, who sits on the Vatican Synod Committee, praised his accomplishments.
Charles Carr, my seminary classmate now in Philadelphia who left before ordination, said, “My personal vote would be to ordain women as priests. If the Eucharist, or union with Christ, is fundamental for Christians to experience rebirth into a new life, then why wouldn’t we imagine the power of women to play this transformative sacramental role? »
And while most polls show Catholics overwhelmingly support women’s ordination, Peterfeso reveals that more would prefer the institutional church to ratify the change. As I approach 40 years as a priest, I have met many women who can lead.
Reverend Alexander Santora is the pastor of Our Lady of Grace and St. Joseph, 400 Willow Ave., Hoboken, NJ 07030. Email: [email protected]; Twitter: @padrehoboken.
To learn more…
“Woman Priest: Tradition and Transgression in the Contemporary Roman Catholic Church,” Jill Peterfeso, Fordham University Press; 2020.
“The Rising: Can a New Group of Women Leaders Change the Vatican? Colleen Dulle, America Magazine, October 2021.
“Women on the Verge”, Margaret Talbot, The New Yorker, June 28, 2021.