The situation in the RC Church regarding women priests
by Ito Megumi
This was presented to the Intensive Seminar organized in the summer of 2003 by the Japanese Feminist Theology /Mission Centre in Tokyo with the theme “The Situation of Women in Ecclesia: how female Christians suffer and struggle with the women clergy in their respective Churches.”
In the Roman Catholic Church women clergy are not supposed to exist, should not exist. According to the Church Law, only male baptized persons are allowed to be ordained as legitimate priests. (cf.Canon Law 1024, 274) In the course of time Rome declared that woman cannot be ordained as a priests nor deaconesses. This was added recently in the statement of the Congregation of Doctrine as well as in the Pope’s Apostolic Documents. The reasons given are that Jesus Christ was male. And also that He chose his apostles from among men. But the movement for the ordination of women started around the time of the Vatican Council II, becoming worldwide by now.
As there is no woman priest in Japan, the cases in Europe and America will be introduced here, how the women were ordained and are supported by the faithful in their respective places.
I. In Czechoslovakia
During the Communist regime the Czech Bishops’ Conference was out of communication with Rome. After the Synod of the underground Church in 1970 Bishop Felix Davidek ordained Ludmila Javorava and others according to his conscience in a legal and valid way, so that they might assist the prisoner nuns who were dying without priestly supports such as Confession and Eucharist. After the change of the regime their priestly activities were restricted, silenced and watched. Ludmira set forth the circumstances of her ordination in a letter to the Pope without receiving any reply yet. All this was revealed in 1995 when her report “Yes, I am a Catholic woman priest” was published. Now sometimes she accepts the invitations to talk to the groups such as Church reform and woman ordination.
II. In Austria and Germany
Last year on June 29 seven women, three from Austria and four from Germany, were ordained as priests an the Donau by Bishop Romulo Braschi, a bishop of the “Catholic-Apostolic Church of Jesus the King.” These women were well prepared for ordination by completing degrees in theology and were convinced of their genuine call to the priesthood. Their statement says that they dare to challenge the Church leaders to give the space to the women, protesting against the doctrine and Church Law that discriminate against them. They see themselves directly imitating Jesus who broke with laws that had been established by the hierarchical religious authorities of his time and his religion. Immediately the Congregation of Doctrine sent them warning for excommunication, inviting them to repent by the Feast of Maria Magdalena. The seven asked to have an opportunity to have dialogue in vain and were excommunicated in August.
Regarding this ordination on the Donau there are pros and cons within the Church, but where there is a higher rate of education, people seem to show understanding and support toward the women priests, giving the reason that this is the matter of their own faith on which nobody has right to say anything, and also that the rules of the Church can be changed. Besides, this is the sign that the Spirit is working vividly in the Church, and often Jesus and the prophets performed what was not ordinary. At the same time although they are not branded as heretical, there is a danger of the split in the movements in the Church.
In Austria one of the three was ordained as a bishop. She tells that besides teaching at school she engages in her pastoral works such as giving catechism and Baptism, celebrating Eucharist, wedding, hearing Confession, visiting the sick and also preparing other women for priesthood. According to her, there are some parish priests who mention in their sermons the necessity to have female as well as married priests.
In Germany, on the other hand, the four women, since they have been excommunicated, are not allowed to be around the Catholic Church, but the Protestant Church offers them to use their building to give conferences and homilies and to have liturgies. This spring, two of them, Ida Raining, a scholar of canon law, and Iris Mueller, a convert from Lutheran Church, were invited to USA for the length of five weeks, talking to about six thousand audience in all, giving some kind of impact and getting much support. It is said this may serve as a turning point for the Catholic Church there.
III. In USA
There are approximately 300 women priests all over the country, ordained by the support of their own communities in the movement for women priests since 1970s. The Catholic Church, once minority in this country, has grown in number with the immigrants from Latin America, Vietnam and the Philippines and they suffer from the shortage of priests for the pastoral care of the faithful. Along with the aging of the priests, the recent scandal of some priests, taken up by mass media so extensively and also the accountability of the bishops who are responsible, there grows the expectation for Church reform. In such situation the women priests seem to be the realistic need. Of course there is a criticism against this. But we understand this by taking account of their historical and social background in exploring the new land, overcoming all sorts of difficulties to form the new nations of their own, acquiring the freedom of raising their voice and the arguments, always searching for the possible solution in the actual necessity, and having learned through the civil rights and feminist movements, especially courage and boldness. Thus, the women priests are created, recommended and supported by their parish priests or by their communities from among those qualified women who are working is various forms of service in the Church.
IV. In Japan
There has been formed a group to work in conjunction with the worldwide network, studying how the women were playing their roles during Jesus’ time, Early and Medieval Church from the historical, biblical and theological standpoints as well as how the sexism sneaked in the Church, how the women deacons were excluded. etc. and discussing the concrete issues of the present Church. Like the Anglican women who have been walking together with the Catholic women in UK, here also some women from the Episcopal Church show their interest end concern with support and encouragement. Hopefully the Catholic women may wake up out of the long silence and invisibility in the patriarchal and authoritarian Church here, make use of their given gifts for the Church. Still there is a long way to go.
V. What would be ‘ordination’
A person to be a priest is ordained in the Christian community. recommended by the people of God who would lay their hands, which means not necessarily by the power of the apostolic succession as if some kind of magic being played down from Peter, the first bishop. The bishops lay hands representing the people of God. If they cannot play this role, the faithful should take back the role to lay bands as they used to do in Early Church. If the celibate male priesthood does not function it is quite natural for the well qualified women and married men should take theír place instead. It may be almost the time for the people of God to regain the power. And this kind of ordination should not be carried out as a protest against the Church authority but in the gathering of the Christian community, Ecclesia. Maybe the people of God should lay their hands upon those seven excomunicated women priests to cover the defects of that ordination on a boat on the Donau.