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Issue Date:  December 7, 2007

Finished playing by the rules

Given that the Vatican has banned Catholics from so much as talking about women deacons or priests, is it surprising that some women are opting to fast-forward to action? They aren’t discussing whether women should be ordained; they aren’t asking for permission to be ordained; they are just doing what, as they see it, a church crying “priest shortage” needs them to do. These are women who have faithfully served the church in many ways, putting their own wishes on hold. Until finally, they have said, “Enough.”

When even the deeply traditional Greek Orthodox church finds a way to authorize ordaining women deacons, how is it that Roman Catholic church officials get by with treating women as they do: as if they were children -- so infantile that their dreams for themselves and for the church are unworthy of even serious talk. Fortunately, numerous ordained men, even bishops, with a stronger sense of justice and more courage than the rest, have come forward to assist, assuring that these illegal women priests are validly situated in the apostolic line.

We find it fascinating that while church officials assert these “simulated” ordinations lack meaning, some of the women have received the Vatican’s highest penalty -- formal excommunication. In other cases, as in the recent St. Louis ordinations, the hierarchy has tried various tactics aimed at bringing these women to heel.

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The hierarchy is rightly nervous about women declaring themselves ordained, however illegally, because these ceremonies carry a strong implicit message. Well-educated women, loyal to the church, know that the historical and theological reasoning advanced for excluding them from ordination is dangerously thin. Citing the growing number of priestless parishes worldwide, they make a compelling case for a different kind of church -- an inclusive church, in which both men and women, whether married or not, heterosexual or homosexual, can participate at all levels. They know that polls show they have significant backing, given that some 70 percent of the Catholic faithful in the United States support women priests. So, like Catholics who ignore many of the church’s other bans -- on birth control, on single-gender lifestyles, on divorce and remarriage -- because they find little in these teachings that corresponds to their own experience of what is right and good, these women, in the vein of other defiant trailblazers, are saying we are finished playing by the rules.

Whither women priests? Perhaps they will become yet another breakaway movement, as many church officials must drearily hope. Or, depending on the faithful’s response, these women could conceivably drag the church into the 21st century. We’ll pray for that.

National Catholic Reporter, December 7, 2007

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