Over the years, I’ve received mixed messages about my value and worth as a woman within the church. Through Sacred Scripture I know that we are all made in God’s image and all are equal in Christ. Yet that Scripture is too often “interpreted” by men to exclude women from the ordained ministry under the threat of excommunication. I am prohibited from even the choice to pursue ordination because of my gender.
Priests take vows to remain celibate. But decades of investigations into the sexual abuse of children, and its cover-up, show the large number of men who broke this vow in the worst possible way. Moreover, we already have married priests —married Episcopal priests who have been allowed to convert to Catholicism.
I find the claims of a priest shortage offensive to the Holy Spirit, who communicates in so many ways: women are called to priesthood. The refrain “You have free will” echoes in my ears, yet patriarchy painfully limits the ways in which I can answer that call. I wonder what Jesus would think of the modern hierarchical church. Didn’t he rail against the Pharisees who could only see the law and rules and not the person?
At times I feel utterly invisible in my own church, a seemingly insignificant ghost aimlessly wandering until summoned to an expected mandate. I experience only a fleeting feeling of purpose when asked to raise money or volunteer on a committee, only to be tossed aside after my efforts are done. When I visited another parish recently, the pastor came up and greeted my husband (who works for the archdiocese) and managed to hold an entire conversation with him without so much as acknowledging my presence. Sojourner Truth’s words: “Ain’t I a woman?” Nearly 70 years in the church and I am still enduring this behavior. Years of rage and anger resurfaced in that moment, a reminder of the searing pain of the wound of misogyny and rejection I still carry. I ask myself: why do I stay?
I experienced a glimmer of hope in 2021: Pope Francis initiated a worldwide synodal journey, a process of discernment and deep listening to the cries of the people of God. This two-year process began at the local level—aiming to reach out to those most marginalized by and in the church —and will culminate in October 2023 with a global meeting in Rome. The question of women in the church has surfaced as one of the most prominent issues to be addressed. It feels like my pleas for equality—once falling upon deaf, placating ears— may finally be heard.
More hope came when I became aware of the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) and the many global networks working to advance equality in the church. Support! Solidarity! Maybe I am not so alone after all. In September of this year I joined WOC as a board member, becoming part of a movement that began in 1975 and continues today, the largest and longest-running organization working to ordain women as deacons, priests, and bishops into an inclusive and accountable Roman Catholic Church.
I love that WOC is a grassroots-driven movement that promotes activism, dialogue, and prayerful witness to call for women’s ordination and gender equity in the Roman Catholic Church. The organization has a powerful social media presence highlighting its actions, and is inspiring the next generation to take up this struggle. I will say, hesitantly, that perhaps my years of anger and hurt might yet be transformed into hope, healing, and the beloved community I have so longed for.