IN THE NEWS: Women’s Ordination in the Catholic Church


On October 6th, the first Catholic women’s ordination in Los Angeles was performed when two women were welcomed as priests into Roman Catholic Women Priests.  There are now 143 women ordained worldwide in a movement that has refused to wait for the Vatican to acknowledge women as leaders in the Church.

There has been a great deal of dialogue around the issue of women’s ordination in the Catholic Church.  Organizations like Women’s Ordination Conference are focused on the mission of ordaining women in the Catholic Church and argue that women in leadership roles will lead to change in policies that are oppressive to women.   However, other movements argue that ordaining women simply continues the hierarchical culture of the Church.  

While Roman Catholic Women Priests continues to grow and ordain women who have been called by the Spirit and their communities to priestly roles, others maintain that only a discipleship of equals will truly lead the Church on a path to justice.

Do you think women’s ordination is the path necessary to achieve the recognition of women’s full humanity and to interrupt policies that are oppressive to women?  Will only a discipleship of equals offer true equality in the Church?  Or is perhaps women’s ordination a stepping stone to a discipleship of equals?  Please share your thoughts and let’s engage in a conversation on this very important topic.



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11 replies

  1. I really do think the only way we can get to a discipleship of equals is if we first start ordaining women, and, in fact, people of all gender identities. One of the reasons, I feel, that Priests were able to distance themselves from the laity and form a hierarchical relationship with their congregation was precisely because there was a large proportion of the congregation who could never take the same role as them. Once you start barring certain groups of people from a position, it inevitably becomes a hierarchical position because it ‘others’ the group who are not allowed in, and when the position is a position of honour, then the barred group become less than as well as other. The first step to achieving an equality of discipleship HAS to be allowing people of all genders into the priesthood as it is the most obvious inequality within the priesthood today.

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  2. In the Episcopal Church women are ordained and have been since 1974. This allows us to seek to change the system from the inside. Yet, women can be as caught up in hierarchy and power over others as men. Of course, those who perceive themselves as losing power because women and sexual minorities are now ordained kick up the intensity of backlash. Rosemary Ruether describes this as the death throes of patriarchy. It may be unpleasant, but it is not the same as being totally excluded. As some women and men and sexual minorities chose to share power and uplift all — the institution changes — despite those who would attempt to continue to maintain power over.

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  3. I am not a Catholic, but I tend to agree with Anti-Pope Joan above. I think women’s ordination is an essential step towards greater equality. Mainly, because while I believe that a “discipleship of equals” is an important goal, not all roles in an faith community will be the same. Differences in the way we serve our faith are important; and important to remember. I feel I honor my sense of the divine in the teaching that I do and my own meditative practice, but I do not feel ‘called’ so to speak, towards making a pastoral role central to my life. I believe that equal access and opportunity to embody different roles is a necessary step in honoring these differences– as well as, hopefully, undermining oppressive hierarchies that have been built into different roles.

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  4. One never knows the ultimate consequences of one’s actions, but if I had to guess, I would say that as the college of cardinals is packed with conservatives, it is more likely that the women ordaining groups in the Catholic Church will become a separate denomination in time. Will they stick with a hierarchical ordination and church structure? Will they change other patriarchal elements of the church? If so, will they maintain identity as Roman Catholic? If not, will they wither away?

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    • Wow. Carol, your questions really hit home for me. I am an active supporter of the Roman Catholic Womenpriest Movement and active member of the Women’s Ordination Conference. I can assure you the probing questions you posed above are being discussed fervently in the RCWP Movement along with WOC national who are both in the process of re-envisioning and re-situating ourselves in relationship to the Vatican. This past summer I was blessed to be a part of a Catholic think-tank conference on the future of Catholic feminism in the roman catholic church. I was surrounded by my foremothers Rosemary Ruether and Mary Hunt along with Catholic women from across the nation engaged in diverse ministries that support the empowerment of women in OUR church. As a group, we decided that our commitment as catholic feminists are to the global poor and poverty. In that context, we will champion the feminist work of critiquing the Vatican when it is complicit in its mission to care for the most marginalized, poor, women, as Jesus did. For me, the Vatican, is just that, a building. The last couple of months I have an image in my head of it being empty. The windows are shattered and the Spirit of Sophia is moving in the form of grassroots movements such as RCWP. Currently, RCWP is giving birth to something new. It is not perfect, but, it is evolving effort based on feminist principles. In response to your question about whether catholics, such as individuals in the RCWP Movement, [myself included] will leave the church. My response is that the church has left us. Thus, in response, WE are about reclaiming a discipleship of equals as ESFiorenza so eloquently coined for us. For me, and for Rosemary Ruether as well, it is taking shape and form in the ordination of women and men in the RCWP movement and across denominations who are supporting us in this effort. In this light, my efforts and commitments as a catholic feminist theologian are to the creation and empowerment of grassroots movement that are truly authenticating Jesus’ witness in our world to right relationships between self, other, and the divine. This is what it means to be catholic to me.

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      • I do not have a problem viewing some aspects of the Jesus story as a model for “right relationships.” But I don’t see him as the only or a unique model. As Charles Hartshorne said, he didn’t have to look any farther than his own mother. I believe thinking about the nature of the world and our place in it leads us to a relational worldview.

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      • con,t.

        For me the motivation to care for others and the natural world springs from recognizing that we would not be here if someone had not cared for us and if the earth had not given to us.

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      • So my question is: what makes your view Catholic rather than Christian (I certainly learned about the love of God and caring for others in Protestant churches) and what makes it Christian at all if it is a viewpoint available to all human beings?

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  5. I don’t think it matters what gender is ordained. If they’re planning to abide by the same Roman Catholic policies currently in place, the power system will still skew toward rich, white, straight men. Ordaining women without changing the power structure is like saying America would be better off under Michelle Bachman just because she’s a woman.

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  6. I am a Catholic woman with a mixed reaction to the women priest movement. I strongly support women’s ordination but am concerned about the impact of increasing numbers of unaffiliated women priests. In the early church, leadership arose from local communities, and to me this practice seems important for creating a discipleship of equals. I would like to see a stronger vision of a renewed church coming from the women priests.

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  7. I’m also not Catholic, nor Christian (although I was raised Protestant). But it seems to me that the concept of “discipleship of equals” is not non-hierarchal enough, since it still posits a “master’ to whom one is a disciple. If the master is understood as God, perhaps that’s sufficiently non-hierarchal. But since the entire problem with women’s ordination from the Vatican perspective is that women are not made in Jesus’ image, i.e. his image as a human male, it seems that the concept of a (humanly male) God still “others” and disempowers women. That’s one of the reasons why the Goddess(es) are paramount in my life. Also because the Goddess, as I conceive of Her, is both creator and creation. I am a part of Her, and She is a part of me. In this context, hierarchy can only exist as an organic hierarchy (like, for example, a child being nurtured by her mother or father).

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