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hearing the call, correspondence in the Tablet, 6 May 2000

Hearing the call

Correspondence in the Tablet, 6 May 2000, pp. 608-609

Read the original article in the Tablet.

Sir, I note the debate at the National Board of Catholic Women as to whether someone who differs on current papal teaching concerning the ordination of women should be allowed to hold office on the board’s executive. Your report (22/29 April) stated: “It was pointed out that the NBCW is a Catholic organisation whose office-holders are expected to respect the Church’s teachings when speaking on behalf of the board, but that people’s private opinions should not be the subject of such scrutiny.” At what point are a person’s “private opinions” considered not to “respect the Church’s teachings”?

Eight years ago, at the age of 22, I went through a prolonged and difficult discernment concerning my life’s vocation, at the end of which I made an eight-day retreat with a Jesuit spiritual director in Goa, India. The retreat revealed that I had been fighting against a clear calling to both celibacy and priesthood in the Catholic Church, a discovery which was distinctly unwelcome at the time, but which was accompanied with a gift of such joy, inner peace and trust in God that I have not since been able to deny the experience nor resist the implications of its inner imperatives.

As one of the women whose testimonies are published by John Wijngaards on the internet at www.womenpriests.org, I cannot help but wonder how many Church-related roles are likely to be closed to me as a result. I am prepared to work gladly as a lay minister in the Catholic Church for the rest of my life, but not to remain silent over a call that has been tested and found to be at the root of my being.

It is hard enough for any person, whether ordained or not, to express a belief that the Church might be being called to ordain women. The fear of a Catholic woman wrestling with even the possibility of a calling to priesthood is immense. Speaking out publicly is terrifying. I have heard stories of women who have subsequently been denied the opportunity to act as eucharistic ministers and readers - even, in places, refused Communion. The chance to minister, to be part of a representative body in the Catholic Church, or to be gainfully employed where one most wishes to serve, may all be put at risk.

It cannot be sufficient to state that the teachings are clear and there is nothing further to say on the matter. How can the debate be closed down? The fact that the subject continues to surface again and again in the workings of the many and varied Catholic and ecumenical bodies suggests precisely the opposite, rather that the decisions now needing to be made are about the most loyal and respectful ways to keep it open. In particular the discussion must be kept open with members of the hierarchy. Priests and bishops have a decisive influence in the appointments ofn lay people in most parishes and Church-related bodies and have a responsibility to listen.

If a laywoman worker comes forward with a spiritual calling and a desire for priesthood, there should at least be freedom on all sides for this to be expressed and explored.

On a positive note, I have heen fortunate in that, despite my frequent fears, meeting with such openness has nearly always, in fact, been my personal experience and I must here express my immense gratitude to those priests, spiritual directors and others along the way who have been prepared to listen seriously, to accept my commitment, and to point a respectful, prayerful, way forward.

Colette Joyce
2 Tynemouth Street
London SW6 2QT

Sir, John Wijngaards’s Viewpoint “Are women called to be priests? (7he Tablet, 8 April) brought to mind an experience I had some years ago as a missionary in Peru. As a Maryknoll brother-in-training in 1981, I accompanied a Sister of Mercy to an extremely remote Aymara Indian hamlet in the Altiplano. A local guide rode in our Land Rover as we drove through the mountains, with no road in sight for over five hours, pointing the way to his small village of perhaps 200 people.

The sister explained that this had been an annual pilgrimage for her for many years, and noted that she and I would be the only non-Aymara people that many villagers would ever meet. On our arrival, she conducted a liturgy of the Word and Communion, baptised children born in the past year, and officiated at a marriage ceremony for several couples.

At the fiesta after these ceremonies, when the whole community came to greet us, I was fascinated to hear many people call her Padrecita - a combination of the Spanish masculine noun for “Father” and the feminine ending of the affectionate diminutive “dear”. Here, in this tiny, isolated Andean community, about as far as one could possibly get from Vatican bureaucrats and ecclesiastical debates about women priests, the people of God had found a creative and endearing way to describe a woman they eagerly embraced as their pastor.

Michael Hovey
Coordinator, Peace and Justice Education
/ona College
715 North Avenue
New Rochelle
New York 10801
United States

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