I belong to a parish I adore. My pastor is a good man. I have a tremendous respect for him: his kindness, warmth and integrity. He makes everyone feel welcome and at home. You are happy to come to church every week.
The people of the community fit the same mold. It is a place where you strive, because you feel happy and loved, to live the values of the faith and try to do right every day.
But a situation came along this year to beckon me to live my faith in a prophetic way.
I recently made a commitment to be part of a community lead by a Roman Catholic Womanpriest. I am a little scared, but also very resolute in my commitment to my priest, her ministry and the community she is undertaking to bring to life. It is an honor for me to be part of this group.
The dual feelings of joy and apprehension are not new. It is worship on the shadow’s edge; gathering in discretion, hoping not to invite persecution at the hands of religious authorities, but understanding it is always a possibility.
The last time I experienced faith on the margins was in the early ’80s, when Dignity groups were tossed out of church facilities. Instead of going away quietly, gay Catholics found new moorings in liberal protestant churches and nondenominational facilities. Forced out of the gay ghetto, Dignity and CCL members expanded relationships with other reform and renewal-minded Catholics. There are now several hundred “gay-friendly”Roman Catholic parishes with supportive family and friends, and discreet, but out, gay and lesbian parishioners.
The priest of my new community was ordained in Boston on July 20, 2008. “The organization calling itself Roman Catholic Womanpriests is not recognized as an entity of the Catholic Church,” said Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston. “Catholics who attempt to confer a sacred order on a woman, and the women who attempt to receive a sacred order, are by their own actions separating themselves from the Church.”
The Womenpriests organization says their ordinations are legitimate because Catholic bishops in good standing ordained their first members to become female priests and bishops. That means the women being ordained can claim apostolic succession, or direct descent from Jesus’ apostles.
The organization has not released the name of the bishops it says ordained the first women priests and consecrated the first women bishops, saying they would face sanction by the Vatican, but says it will release the names once the male bishops die.
The Boston ordination ceremony was presided over by Dana Reynolds of California and Ida Raming of Germany.
“We know only too well in how many ways Vatican church leaders refuse to acknowledge the equality in Christ that God has established between men and women, and how they constantly try to reimpose the precedence of men over women, which is unchristian,” Bishop Raming said. “We give witness to the whole world that it is not male gender which is the prerequisite for a valid ordination, but faith and baptism, the foundation of our dignity and equality.”
“I’m feeling such joy, I could rise up,” said one of the newly ordained priests, Judith A.B. Lee, said in an interview after the ceremony. She pointed out that she was wearing a cross from Dignity, an organization of gay Catholics. “I am a priest for the poor and for those who live at the margins, and we deserve the full sacraments of the church,” she said.