It appears that the Vatican is being by-passed by a movement in the Catholic Church led by those who support ordination of women as bishops,priests and deacons, and also ordination of married men. Despite efforts by the Catholic hierarchy to prohibit such measures, the numbers of women priests continue to rise. They of course are not part of the Vatican-led Church, but are part of the Roman Catholic Women Priest (RCWP) movement. The effort to put an end to mandatory celibacy for male priests is also strengthening, along with that for ordaining Catholic women.
Articles in the current issue of The Woman's Pulpit, a publication of The International Association of Women Ministers, of which I am a member, indicate steady increases in the numbers of ordained women in the Catholic Church, via the RCWP. The initial moment for such action took place June 29, 2002. Seven women were ordained to the priesthood on a boat in the Danube River, by bishops with authentic credentials and in good standing. Later ordinations also took place on the St. Lawrence waterway. Apparently rivers are in a different and neutral category where the strictures of church dogma do not apply.
Today the count runs to around 90 women, ordained in Europe, North and South America, and South Africa. Three of these are now deceased, but their sisters grow in number. In addition, a number of women have now been ordained as bishops in the RCWP, able to ordain priests. There are at least 12 women bishops today, serving in several different countries. They are supported by a number of male priests and bishops who in addition favor allowing clergy to marry.
How does the Vatican deal with this powerful ongoing movement? Not well. Last October in Rome representatives of Catholic organizations from around the world called for full and equal participation in the Church by women deacons, priests and bishops. A vigil led by Father Roy Bourgeois took place in St. Peter's Square, following presentation of a petition signed by 15,000 supporters of the movement. (Fr. Bourgeois is also known for founding the School of the Americas Watch, and faces dismissal from his Maryknoll order for his support of women's ordination.) Behind the visible supports in this country we find that 63% of Catholics here also support women's ordination. That along with removing the celibacy requirement for priests would address in very practical terms the shortage of priests world-wide. But the Vatican is having none of this. Their opposition remains in spite of historical documents showing that the early Christian bodies included women deacons, priests and bishops. Even so, the Rome leadership stands by Canon 1024, prohibiting women's ordination.
It would seem that despite such opposition to the ordination of women and married priests, Catholics around the world are finding ways to by-pass such archaic rules and making it possible for that very large body of Christians to be even more effective. Life will go on, and if the old order refuses to budge, it will be left behind in the coming decades.
It may appear to some that as a Protestant clergywoman, I don't really have a reason for engaging in and supporting this growing movement. But as a member of the Body of Christ, which must not be divided in spite of the many different traditions within it, what affects one part of that body affects me. I remember the difficulties I went through when actively serving in ministry as a woman. It was always a struggle to be recognized and accepted by some as fully equal in my ordination. I survived by involvement with communities of ministers, lay and ordained, male and female, who knew that change could not be prevented. We grew because we had support systems. And that is how the Catholic women are making their ministries accepted and received with thanksgiving. The objections, which are extremely strong and vicious, cannot prevail against them. As a Benedictine Oblate, I have many friends among that community who demonstrate by their gifts that women are strong leaders and believe in ministry as a communal effort. We wait for the inevitable with great joy and anticipation.