Why do I stay in the Catholic Church?
Many Catholic women who feel called to the priesthood
ask themselves the same question.
Here we give excerpts from their own
Have you read the biography of St. Francis? Do you know what Franciscans call the Night of Spoleto? Francis was about to participate as a crusader in a battle against Pulla, under the orders of Pope Innocent III. Then, he heard God in a dream, asking him what he was about to do. Francis answered that he was going to fight for the Pope. God asked then: Who may serve you better, the lord or the servant? When Francis answered that it would be the lord, God asked again: Then, why do you serve the servant and not the lord? Realizing that what God said was the truth, Francis asked humbly: My Lord, what do you want me to do? God told him to return to Assisi and to wait for His orders. And Francis obeyed and returned back to his hometown. God didnt tell St. Francis His plans for him, so the saint had no idea of his own future. Francis just accepted Gods will. And this allowed him to become the great saint we all love and try to imitate. Women called to priesthood face this same dilemma.
The Roman Curia tells us that our call is a by-product of the fights for the emancipation of women, a consequence of feminism, and that it has no real value; women should blindly obey Rome and reject the vocation of ministerial priesthood. But the Roman Curia is a servant of God, and then, again, God calls women to priesthood. To whom women called to priesthood should obey, the Lord or the servant? Although he always remained faithful to the Church, the attitude of St. Francis to obey God, follow closely the Gospels and his insistence in living in absolute poverty brought him problems with the Curia of those times, to his brothers and to his Orders. But his ideas were finally accepted by the Church, and now, Franciscan ideals of peace, ecumenism and simple life are highly regarded by even non-Catholics around the world. For me, the answer of the question about who I should serve was not easy. But St. Francis gave me an idea on how to deal with it. God is the supreme authority; even the Popes cannot be above Him. So I decided to follow God, allow God to guide me, and He will provide, if I remain faithful. That is why I remain in the Church, to be there and being ready for the day women could become Roman Catholic priests.
My calling was so great that I felt I had to explore other avenues, and that perhaps being an Episcopalian priest would be the answer. I talked to many people, clergy, theologians in the Episcopalian faith, but after much soul-searching I realized that my calling was for the Catholic Church.
In all conscience I had to explore that possibility through, and I'm glad I did, because it made me realize that I am to build up the Body of Christ within the Catholic Church, somehow. So often I've felt my hands tied, and I have literally cried when I see how some priests celebrate the Eucharist, or how they respond to their people with coldness, and indifference. All I can say is that I leave it up to God. God knows that if I had the opportunity I would answer the call to serve God as a priest. I leave the responsibility up to the Church.
At times the emptiness in my heart is so great to bear, and all because I was bom a female instead of a male. So many people suffer for lack of a priest, when God provides many. It just happens to be in the form of women. How long before the Church realizes that life is a balance, and that male and female can all work together for the good of all, as equals?
I began to develop more intentionally a sacramentality to my ministry and my life. I began to read as much as time would allow on priesthood, the role of the bishop, the history of ministry in the church, and the theology of women in ministry. My prayer life deepened, especially prayer on behalf of the people of God, and the liturgy of the hours and daily scripture reading have connected me more closely with the tradition and universality of the Body of Christ. I take every opportunity - in the car or waiting in line, for example - for informal theological reflection and for the day-to-day dialogue with God that's essential for the Christian. At liturgy I pray that I can proclaim with my life the gospel I'm not allowed to proclaim at liturgy...and that some day I may.
Over the years I have shared my story of how I have heard the voice of God calling me to serve the church as a priest with those who ask to hear it. Most have been supportive. I have no platform or polemic to push, nor do I harbor any resentment or ill will toward church leaders on whose shoulders the earthly decision of womens ordination falls. I have only the experiences I have lived through, the call I have heard echoed in the silence of my heart and through others voices to serve as a priest.
I included prophecy in the title of this article. I believe that as Christians we are called to be prophets to take a stand in particular ways. In the 1980s I was involved - with so many others - in the peace movement and hard though it was, I would have preferred that my main prophetic ministry continue to address major injustice in the world. But I have reluctantly come to see (I guess prophets are normally reluctant!) that Gods call to me to ordained ministry is a call to prophecy.
In my present situation I am inevitably living this call, showing for example, that Roman Catholic women can be involved in training for ministry, that such training can be ecumenical and that there are alternatives to the seminary or theological college models that are more integrated into life - with family, parish, work, etc. - and so are rather more appropriate in training for a pastoral role.
People from all churches and none ask me questions about what I am doing, inviting me to be both honest and imaginative in answering in ways which speak to each one. The variety of responses have included looks of disbelief. And I sometimes have to handle a sense of personal rejection, though I am so grateful for the support and encouragement of many - some almost in spite of themselves. I pray that the Spint will fill me with the gift of hope so that whatever I may do when the other students are ordained, I will have the courage to continue to follow this prophetic calling.
The journey into priesthood has been often hard, frustrating and lonely as well as nourishing, joyful, delightful. It has always been a call to service and I have been privileged in being able to serve the Church in formal as well as informal roles. In recent years my own gift of preaching has at times been recognised. To speak Gods words in a female voice created by God to serve that end, is an awesome calling, not least because so few women called are permitted to exercise it.
When we serve, especially publicly, we are not there for ourselves, but in the service of others and our voice must also be the voice of the silent others who could undertake this ministry as well or better than ourselves. And, most wonderfully, there have been no objections from congregations. Whenever I have been challenged, it has been on the content of my sermons, not on the fact that I am giving them. Similarly, I believe that, when women appear as God wills, priests upon the altar, their role will be accepted by the Church, and we will move on together.
These are hard times for Catholic women who wish to test their perceived calling to the priesthood. But I believe there is no reason for women to lose their vocation over the hardship. There are those who have turned to the Anglican Church to see if God is opening a way for them there. There are many who are called to stay and change the Catholic Church from the inside.
But, don't let us keep saying we need to give the structures time to change! They haven't moved in the last thirty-five years, and without a lot of pushing they won't move for the next thirty-five. We have already betrayed a generation in offering no more than a six-year-old's faith and a moribund Church in a society that regards the Christian Gospel as dead. A Church which has to hear the voices of the unvoiced from within itself before it can move to serving the world, will be a stronger and humbler Church. One worth living for, and risking all for, to take the joy of Christ to a world very short on delight, love and adventure.
From about 10 years ago I know that I have been called. During some part of my life I fought my vocation, at times more, at times less. My vocation to be a priest is a vocation that goes against the grain. It is a vocation of rebellion against tradition and against masculine theologies of Church ministries. However, there is also room for a vocation for a Church that will have changed and renewed itself, that will have gone beyond patriarchal and matriarchal theologies and structures. The men, brothers and fathers, are the better and more powerful people. They occupy the highest places. This is what my womens history, family history and Church history has taught me. Yes, when I reflect on it: my vocation to be a priest is a vocation against accommodation.
I remember an experience of my vocation. I see myself sitting in the Church in Kastanienbaum/Luzern. I revolve in my heart the parish priest, the community and the people I know and all of a sudden I feel in myself a wish so strong so strong that it almost explodes out of me: I would like to celebrate the Eucharist with the people here present. I feel and acknowledge deeply in me: the Eucharist is the sacrament of unity, the thanksgiving for the oneness of God/Christ with us human beings and of human beings with each other. I am overcome with sorrow: only because I am a woman I will not be able to celebrate that oneness. In this experience I certainly became conscious of something I had carried hidden inside me for decades.
The part of my subconscious that likes to accommodate was obviously not allowed to become aware of this vocation, since it implies protest and rebellion. What cannot be, is not allowed: even though it is part of me. I am experiencing in the Church the same thing that I experience in my own family: I am not right, the way I am. I am not equal to my brother. He has privileges in the family which as daughter do not enjoy. It was self evident that my brother would learn a profession - - I had to learn a profession against the wish of my parents: they wanted that I would marry quickly, have children and look after them. I resisted such a traditional plan of life as strongly as I could. Otherwise I would have become a very unhappy and - I am sure - also very dissatisfied and bitter woman. All of this was self evident. My brother was allowed to do that which suited his own plan of life and to choose the profession he liked - - there was no question about it - - it was just taken for granted.
I was not allowed to do that in my family and may not do the same even in my Church, a Church to which I belong and to which I feel called: just because I am a woman. With gratitude and profound fulfilment I know today: I am right. God gives me the gift of my being right and I myself give that gift to me. Since I feel in me the vocation to be a priest, God himself makes me understand: I am right. I have walked a long spiritual way, and I know how to understand my inner experiences and how to do justice to the deep impulses that come from my deepest being. I know from myself and from my spiritual counselling of many people and of whole religious communities, how important it is yes vitally important, to take ones own vocation seriously. I have known people who because of not having lived their vocation - also the vocation to be a woman priest - have become ill. The certainty grows on me that I would do everything I could to enable me to live my vocation and that of many other women, and to do so with official recognition in my Church.
I remember a dream I had many years ago. I am in a large hall. Many brothers and sisters from the St Katherine Werk are gathered, also guests unknown to me are present. We are celebrating a big feast. Then the Pope comes in. He approaches me directly, greets me and puts a stole over my shoulders. I know that I am right in my vocation to be a priest. The Pope of my dream knows I am right. So far the notes from my retreat. I would like to add that surely the time will come that also the pope and the Church will know and act accordingly! Yes, they will have to act - - for what will the Church of the future be without its female dimension. Many women know what it means, with great difficulty under pain and crying to give birth to ones own female identity if they want to live as woman. The woman Church too is pregnant with her female side - - so I am hoping - - and will have to give birth to her female identity. With all my heart I have great expectations inspite of everything that obviously is still alive in the Church - - I hope it will happen soon.
A letter, like so many others we receive
Dear Sir or Madam, I am a Catholic undergraduate at University. While searching the internet for information about women in the Bible, I came upon www.womenpriests.org. I was overjoyed at the discovery of such a terrific website.
All my life I have wondered why women could not become priests. As a younger child, I felt a calling to the priesthood that was always dismissed by my parochial priests with a now you know you can't do that and a smile. I did know that I couldn't become a priest, but I never knew why. When I finally did ask, I was told that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women. I wasnt quite sure how to take that statement.
I later learned that it had nothing to do with women being somehow above ordination and everything to do with the backward fact that it had never been done before. In my last year of high school, I became disenchanted with Christianity, especially with the Catholic Church. I thought it was very sexist, hypocritical, and too blinded by history to be a rational religious sect. Although part of me still believes this, a greater part of me is still drawn to Catholic Christianity.
In reference to my considerations of withdrawing from the Church, a priest once asked me, would you ever leave a sick friend? My answer, of course, was no. As much as it is tempting to leave the Church because of its sickness, I have realized that part of my calling in life is to help reform it. I would love to become more educated in this matter, and spread the knowledge I acquire to fellow Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
|Overview||Signs of a Vocation||A woman's journey||Steps to take||Answering critics||Writing your story|
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