Background: The Dublin Conference, June 29 - July 1, 2001

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JUNE 29 - JULY 1, 2001

Among the aims of Women's Ordination Worldwide (WOW) are goals to foster dialogue and bring together people working for women's ordination in the Catholic Church.  One of the ways it achieves this is through its hosting of international conferences

The Irish organisation Brothers and Sisters in Christ (BASIC) organised and hosted WOW's first international conference. It was held in Dublin, Ireland from June 29 to July 1, 2001.

Keynote speeches were delivered Sr. Joan Chittister, John Wijngaards and the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin who replaced Aruna Gnanadason of the World Council of Churches.

Because of pressure from the Vatican Gnanadason was forced to withdraw from the conference.  But the content of her address was delivered to the conference nonetheless.


Three hundred and seventy participants from twenty-six countries and six continents gathered in Dublin for this conference titled NOW IS THE TIME - A Celebration of Women's call to a Renewed Priesthood in the Catholic Church.

Keynote Addresses

Keynote speakers were:


Eleven resolutions for future actions to further women's ordination were voted on and approved by the Conference.

One resolution narrowly missing the 60% approval rate and was not approved. It called for Peter's Pence payment to Rome to be withheld and redirected to organisations supporting women's ordination.   At the end of this document is a full list of all the resolutions which were approved.  The list starts with a call to the Pope to revoke the ban on the discussion of women's ordination.

Withdrawal of Aruna Gnanadason of World Council of Churches

Aruna Gnanadason from the World Council of Churches was to have been the key-note speaker on the first evening of the conference (a Friday.)  She was forced to withdraw because of pressure from the Vatican.  The address she would have delivered is here.

International Panel

 Six representatives from countries with 'lesser heard voices' addressed the conference, sharing some of the realities of the position of women in both state and church.

Sister Myra Poole, SNDDN Forbidden by the Vatican to Attend

Myra Poole who at the time had been a Notre Dame sister for forty two years and who, for the past three years has been the International Coordinator for WOW (Women's Ordination Worldwide), was forbidden by the Vatican to attend the conference.

She was told that if she attended this conference she would be expelled from her Order. After much prayer and reflection, she arrived at the Conference on the Saturday afternoon. She was met with acclamation from all the participants.

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB Forbidden by the Vatican to Attend

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB of the Benedictine Order in Erie, Pensylvania, and honoured worldwide for her contributions to Spirituality and Theology was likewise warned by the Vatican not to attend this conference.

One hundred and thirty-five sisters of the Benedictine Order signed letters of support for the monastic practice of personal responsibility and Joan's decision to attend. Joan's firm position was/is that Benedictines do not adopt a hierarchical approach to obedience, but have a monastic charism that sees discernment and individual responsibility as the basis of an adult obedience."

She received a huge standing ovation for her talk.

Soline Vatinel

Soline Vatinel, spokesperson for the WOW conference, declared that, 'It's success had exceeded our wildest dreams.'

The packed timetable included prayers, talks, discussions, drafting of resolutions. The conference concluded with a very moving and spiritual Liturgy of Thanksgiving.

Resolutions to the Member Organisations of WOW Passed at the WOW Ecumencial Conference in Dublin, Ireland, June 30 to July 1, 2001


All of us, people of God, have gathered from twenty-six countries and five continents for the inaugural WOW ecumenical conference in Dublin, June 29 - July 1, 2001. As followers of Christ we answer the call to radical discipleship and seek justice so that all may participate in the sacrament of Orders.

Conference members wholeheartedly celebrate the freedom of speech and the primacy of conscience proclaimed by the teachings of Vatican II. We  consider any obstruction of these to constitute a violation of human rights and an obstacle to the Holy Spirit in guiding the churches into the fullness of truth. 

Conference participants hold that vocations are not restricted by gender, race, marital status, sexuality, educational background or life opportunities.


1.   That this conference calls on the Pope to revoke the ban on the discussion of women's ordination.

2.  That this conference calls on each member organisation of WOW to pursue dialogue with local bishops , religious , priests and laity on the subject of women's ordination in the context of retrieving the discipleship of integrity.

3.  That this conference calls on the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to restore the diaconate to women as was the practice in the early church.

4.  That this conference encourages women who feel called, to study for the diaconate and the priesthood and resolves to support the establishment of suitable training courses where they are not available to women at present.

5.  That this conference resolves to promote the cause of women's ordination by drawing constant public attention to the issue, through regular demonstrations by each member organisation, by an annual world day of prayer for women's ordination on the 25th March and by a world conference within three to five years.

6. That this conference calls on ministers in all the churches to adapt the language used in liturgy to reflect the equal dignity of all Gods' people. Images of God need to reflect both the female and the male.

7. That this conference salutes Ludmila Javorova, our sister priest, and the women deacons ordained by courageous bishops in the underground Roman Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia and asks that the Vatican join us in recognising the validity of their orders.

8. That this conference proposes that WOW through its member groups create avenues for the financial support of those who lose their position as a result of their stand on the ordination of women.

9.  That this conference calls on WOW through its member groups to encourage those women and men who have been punished for their support of women's ordination to tell their story publicly and expose the Vatican's actions.

10. That this conference proposes the setting up of a rapid response email system by WOW in order to support the networking of women's ordination groups.

11. That this conference proposes that the purple stole/ribbon be adopted as the international symbol for women's ordination.

Statement of Benedictine Prioress Sr. Christine Vladimiroff

Statement of Sr. Christine Vladimiroff

Background Note:

Sr. Joan Chittister had been invited to be one of the main speakers at the international Conference in Dublin of Women's Ordination Worldwide, 29-31 June 2001. However, the Vatican Congregation for Religious began to exert pressure on her Superior General to prevent her from taking part in this important event. Here is the Superior’s reply.

Joan Chittister of the Benedictine Order in Erie, Pennsylvania, and honoured worldwide for her contributions to Spirituality and Theology, was officially warned by the Vatican not to attend this conference on the ordination of women. One hundred and thirty-five  sisters of the Benedictine Order signed letters of support for the monastic practice of personal responsibility and Joan's decision to attend. Joan insists that the Benedictines do not adopt a hierarchical approach to obedience, but have a monastic charism that sees discernment and individual responsibility as the basis of an adult obedience." She received a huge standing ovation for her talk.

Below is the official response of the Prioress of her Abbey, Christine Vladimiroff, OSB:

Prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie & President, Leadership Conference of Women Religious, USA (2004)


For the past three months I have been in deliberations with Vatican officials regarding Sister Joan Chittister¹s participation in the Women¹s Ordination Worldwide Conference, June 29 to 31, Dublin, Ireland. The Vatican believed her participation to be in opposition to its decree (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) that priestly ordination will never be conferred on women in the Roman Catholic Church and must therefore not be discussed. The Vatican ordered me to prohibit Sister Joan from attending the conference where she is a main speaker.

I spent many hours discussing the issue with Sister Joan and traveled to Rome to dialogue about it with Vatican officials . I sought the advice of bishops, religious leaders, canonists, other prioresses, and most importantly with my religious community, the Benedictine Sisters of Erie. I spent many hours in communal and personal prayer on this matter.

After much deliberation and prayer, I concluded that I would decline the request of the Vatican. It is out of the Benedictine , or monastic, tradition of obedience that I formed my decision. There is a fundamental difference in the understanding of obedience in the monastic tradition and that which is being used by the Vatican to exert power and control and prompt a false sense of unity inspired by fear. Benedictine authority and obedience are achieved through dialogue between a community member and her prioress in a spirit of co-responsibility. The role of the prioress in a Benedictine community is to be a guide in the seeking of God. While lived in community, it is the individual member who does the seeking.

Sister Joan Chittister, who has lived the monastic life with faith and fidelity for fifty years, must make her own decision based on her sense of Church, her monastic profession and her own personal integrity. I cannot be used by the Vatican to deliver an order of silencing.

I do not see her participation in this conference as a "source of scandal to the faithful" as the Vatican alleges. I think the faithful can be scandalized when honest attempts to discuss questions of import to the church are forbidden.

I presented my decision to the community and read the letter that I was sending to the Vatican. 127 members of the 128 eligible members of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie freely supported this decision by signing her name to that letter. Sister Joan addressed the Dublin conference with the blessing of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie.

My decision should in no way indicate a lack of communion with the Church. I am trying to remain faithful to the role of the 1500 -year-old monastic tradition within the larger Church. We trace our tradition to the early Desert Fathers and Mothers of the 4th century who lived on the margin of society in order to be a prayerful and questioning presence to both church and society. Benedictine communities of men and women were never intended to be part of the hierarchical or clerical status of the Church, but to stand apart from this structure and offer a different voice. Only if we do this can we live the gift that we are for the Church. Only in this way can we be faithful to the gift that women have within the Church.

- Sister Christine Vladimiroff, Prioress,
Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania

In the news:

Sister Christine Vladimiroff, Prioress,
Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania

Seven Who Make Their Voices Heard for All of Us

By Chris Lombardi

WEnews correspondent

Friday, January 4, 2002

Author Gail Evans, Health Activist Jessica Halem, Organizer Elizabeth Martinez, Lobbyist Dina Merrill, Educator Dr. Rose Marie Robertson, Media Activist Wanda Rapaczynski, Religious Independent Christine Vladimiroff.


Sister Christine Vladimiroff speaks gently of her decision to stand her ground in deliberations with the Vatican--a course of action which could have led to expulsion from her order or ban her from participating in the rituals of her faith.

She did so, she says, because she was obeying a higher power than the pope--and a much older monastic tradition of obedience achieved through dialogue rather than hierarchical decree. Her decision also conforms with her lifelong mission as an educator, she says.

In March 2001, Vladimiroff, the prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pa., received a formal warning from the Vatican stating that a noted author in her community could not speak at a July 2001 Women's Ordination Worldwide conference in Dublin, Ireland. The letter threatened unspecified "just penalties" if the warning was not obeyed. Instead of delivering it to the nun invited to speak, Vladimiroff met with all the members of her religious community and then with Vatican representatives. Vladimiroff even traveled to Rome in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the Catholic authorities that the invitation to speak in Dublin should be honored.

Vladimiroff joined the convent at age 17 in her hometown of Erie because the nuns in her high school "were the most happy and competent women I had ever seen." She pursued college degrees with the order's support and earned a doctorate at the Universidad International in Mexico City. She has been a secretary of education for the Diocese of Cleveland, the second-largest Catholic school system in the country, a college professor and the executive director for 10 years of Second Harvest, the national network of food banks headquartered in Chicago. "I saw this as a way to educate people about hunger in the United States," she says.

She resigned in 1998 when her order in Erie elected her their prioress--the equivalent of Mother Superior but, in this 1,500-year-old order, not any sort of commander.

Decisions are made by consensus and the order prays not to the "Father, Son and the Holy Spirit," but to "Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier." One of the order's most well-known members is Sister Joan Chittister, author of 20 books, including "Heart of Flesh: A Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men," and "Beyond Beijing," her journal from the United Nations' Fourth World Conference on Women. It was Chittister who was invited to address the ordination conference.

When Vladimiroff returned from Rome, she gathered all 135 members together and read them her response to the Vatican, in which she wrote that she could not, in good conscience, deliver the papal order to Chittister.

She was saying no to the Vatican. All but one of the members of her order added their signatures to the letter, which then made all of them subject to the same "just penalties."

Chittister spoke and the Vatican took no action. After the conference ended and hundreds of participants from four continents had departed, the Vatican's spokesman said that church authorities had "not taken--in this case--disciplinary measures into consideration."

Vladimiroff finds the statement heartening, she says, "because it indicates an openness to continue a dialogue."

"This was not about women's ordination," Vladimiroff says. "This was about silencing being wrong when dialogue brings truth."

Chris Lombardi is a freelance writer in New York. She coordinated Women's Enews' Fall 2000 election coverage and helped cover the Beijing + 5 conference on women. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine, The Progressive and Inside MS.

Intern Allison Steele assisted in the reporting and writing of these profiles. She has worked as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun, the Kansas City Star and The New York Times. She hopes to apply her background in journalism to a career in social work and legal defense.

Sidebar note from WOW: Recommended readings also:

Keynote: Mairead Corrigan Maguire: A Celebration of Women's Call to a Renewed Priesthood in the Catholic Church

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German Version

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

"MY SOUL DOTH MAGNIFY THE LORD AND MY SPIRIT HATH REJOICED IN GOD MY SAVIOUR". I love these words of the Magnificat. They are the words of a woman who has found inner freedom. A woman who feels fulfilled and whose 'spirit' dances with joy and gratitude to God. Mary says 'yes' to becoming the mother of Jesus, and through the working of the Holy Spirit, the impossible becomes possible.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner, peace activist and member of the Catholic faith lights the Women's Ordination Worldwide Candle at the opening evening of the Dublin Conference, Friday, June 29, 2001.

And just as Mary said 'yes' and gave birth to Jesus, so too each one of us are called to give birth to love and truth. This calling starts in the heart, and for some it may be to an ordained or lay ministry. God chooses whom to call and it comes with our freedom to say 'yes' or 'no'.

And that is why I am so happy to be with you all at this Conference. We come together in celebration of women's call to a renewed priesthood in the Catholic Church. I want to acknowledge my joy at being here in the company of some of these women to whom God has given a priestly vocation. And while I myself, do not feel called to Ordained Ministry, I fully support these women, and this Movement.

And that is why I am so happy to be with you all at this Conference. We come together in celebration of women's call to a renewed priesthood in the Catholic Church. I want to acknowledge my joy at being here in the company of some of these women to whom God has given a priestly vocation. And while I myself, do not feel called to Ordained Ministry, I fully support these women, and this Movement.

I want also to thank Women's Ordination Worldwide for their invitation to be present. For a long time I have believed that woman's ordination in the Catholic Church will happen, it is only a matter of time. However, before now, I did not feel the need to seek out and listen to women who had such a calling. Now, I have listened and not only will I continue to fully support them and this movement, but will do what I can to break down the cold wall of silence and apathy to their plight and pain.

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire delivers her keynote address at Women's Ordination Worldwide First International Conference held in Dublin, Ireland June 30 - July 1, 2001

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire delivers her keynote address at Women's Ordination Worldwide First International Conference held in Dublin, Ireland June 30 - July 1, 2001

Prior to meeting a woman who explained to me her pain and joy, when she received a priestly vocation, I never much thought about how difficult it must be for women who receive this call from God. We are so culturally conditioned to think of priests as men only. We grow up in a sexist church, which excludes women from ordination. Catholic theology teaches that priestly ordination is for men only. The Vatican's reasoning for this is that Christ chose his Apostles only from amongst men. They seem to think that maleness is more important than any other attribute which Jesus possessed. Yet, in the Gospels, Jesus' divinity and humanity were more important than his maleness. But, I believe, once we ourselves break through the cultural conditioning of thinking only of male priesthood, there is no reason why women should not be ordained and very many reasons why they should be ordained. For example, women's ordination is more than Women at the Altar. There is also the serious sacramental element, where women could bring their gifts to help people to understand how the grace of God nourishes our souls through the Sacraments, scripture and Prayer. Women's ways of nurturing, mediating, meditation, counselling, would help 'feed the human spirit' and would enrich both priesthood and people. However, the most important reason is that our Baptism confirms us as sons and daughters of God and we are all equal in God's sight. In Genesis 1.27 we are told that male and female God made them, and that 'in God's own image, they are made'. As the spirit of the Holy Trinity lives in all our hearts so we too share in the divinity of God and are loved equally. Why then does the Vatican not realise how deeply offensive it is to women to be told that because of their 'biological' make-up they cannot be ordained? Many Catholics are coming to see that this kind of theological argument based on 'biology' is nonsense. Moreover, people are coming to realise the spiritual violence being done to men and women's consciences by the Institutional Catholic Church. One Religious sister said it came home to her when she realised she could read the epistle, but not the gospel - we all have our waking moments!

And the spiritual violence is experienced not only by women, but also by theologians, priests, religious and laity. We are all aware of the Vatican's practise of 'silencing' those whose opinions differ. In a time when 'Dialogue' is being called for by both secular, state, and church bodies, Irish society is permeated with fear amongst clergy and religious, of speaking out on issues such as women's ordination. Indeed they have tragically been forbidden from doing so. Since l996 when the Pope re-affirmed the Roman Catholic church's stand on priestly ordination of men only, this was made a doctrine of faith and Theologians and Religious may not speak about this matter. I believe this kind of attempt to control by the Vatican is an abuse of power. It is dehumanising, demoralising, and is a form of spiritual abuse. It is an assault on the sanctity of a person's conscience, and the removal of the right to freedom of thought and speech. This kind of spiritual abuse is causing very grave damage to many priests and religious who love their faith, but feel torn between conscience and church rules and regulations. I have met such good people, whose spirit, like a wilted flower, calls out in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins "Give my Roots Rain."

I myself give thanks to God for the gift of faith and conscience. Born into a catholic family, from childhood I have been surrounded with nuns and priests who have blessed me with their friendship. They accompanied me down into the valleys and up onto the mountaintops. I want to publicly thank them today. I have great hope for the Church in the new millennium, and it is because I have met many good shepherds - Bishops, nuns, and priests. I see too many wonderful new forms of discipleship being developed by the laity of all churches, and faiths, but above all, I believe Jesus and take his divine promises very seriously. From time to time also, we see the prophetic church shine through, and the spirit of Jesus comes alive. Such was a time during Vatican II when we heard such sweet words of freedom as 'grace lives in the hearts of all men and women.' We also took great hope from the Council which taught us that we should follow our formed conscience and that our conscience is our most secret core and our sanctuary. I loved this. I undertook a vigorous process of discernment and began to try to inform my conscience, by reading relevant church doctrine, pondering tradition, praying, seeking spiritual guidance, and finally taking a decision. However, sometimes my decision did not coincide with the Church's teaching! Still, I abided by my decision and did my best not to be disturbed by scruples or guilt. I always asked myself 'what would Jesus do'? and after making my decision, refused to allow man-made traditions to destroy the joy and beauty of my faith in God's presence with me on my journey.

Today the institutional catholic church is in the eye of the storm. When the apostles were in the boat and the storm blew-up, they were fearful. There is fear and anxiety in the boat today. But there is also hope and joy, because Jesus is present with us on the journey. Jesus and Peter, the fisherman, knew all about storms and boats, exhaustion, and disappointments. They knew when it was time to pull the boat ashore, turn it upside down, scrape the rubbish and rot off the bottom, repair it, and get back out to sea again. Like the boat, our Church needs renewal. In order to do this can we move out of what one theologian has called 'paternalistic neurosis', that controlling culture within the church which attempts to limit the freedom of people by well-meaning regulations. Many people are rejecting religious authority, but they are passionately looking for religious truth and experience. They can tell the difference between religiosity and spirituality. Can we change the 'power-thinking' that is a throwback to older darker days when the Church vied for wealth, and worldly power? Can we re-discover the beautiful non-violent tradition of Jesus and the early Christians who lived unarmed, loving each other and their enemies? I believe so! I also believe when the Church re-discovers and lives out of its nonviolence roots it will warm people's hearts and rekindle their spirits.

Perhaps the time is coming soon for a new Vatican Council, a new Pentecost in the Church? Time to assemble as the people of God, in the spirit of humility and simplicity, and receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit, of happiness, creativity, fulfillment, and freedom. This then is my vision of a renewed priesthood and church. With Mary, I say 'yes' to this vision, and ask the Holy Spirit 'but how can this be'? Only a deep profound silence comes back to me, the silence of the spirit of truth and love at work in the hearts of all men and women in our world.

God's deep peace to you.
Deo Gratias,

Friday, June 29, 2001


About Mairead Corrigan Maguire from Nobel Women's Initiative:

Maired Corrigan Maguire

Maired Corrigan Maguire

Mairead Corrigan Maguire was awarded the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her extraordinary actions to help end the deep ethnic/political conflict in her native Northern Ireland. She shares the award with Betty Williams.

Mairead was the aunt of the three Maguire children who died as a result of being hit by an Irish Republican Army getaway car after its driver was shot by a British soldier. Mairead responded to the violence facing her family and community by organizing, together with Betty Williams and Ciaran McKeown, massive peace demonstrations appealing for an end to the bloodshed and a nonviolent solution to the conflict.

Together, the three co-founded the Peace People, a movement committed to building a just and peaceful society in Northern Ireland. They organized each week, for six months, peace rallies throughout Ireland and the UK. These were attended by many thousands of people - mostly women, and during this time there was a 70% decrease in the rate of violence. Mairead currently serves as Honorary President. 

Since receiving the award, Mairead has dedicated her life to promoting peace, both in Northern Ireland and around the world. Working with community groups throughout Northern Ireland, political and church leaders, she has sought to promote dialogue, nonviolence and equality between deeply divided communities.

A graduate from Irish School of Ecumenics, Maguire works with inter-church and interfaith organizations and is a councilor with the International Peace Council. She is a Patron of the Methodist Theological College, and Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education. She is also the author of  The Vision of Peace: Faith and Hope in Northern Ireland, the second edition of which was recently published by Orbis Books.

- See more at:

From Portugal: Ana Vicente - Post Conference Commentary


Post Conference Commentary
by Ana Vicente
Member of We Are Church - Portugal
October 15, 2001

Women's Ordination Worldwide (WOW)
'Now is the Time'
First International Conference
Dublin, Ireland
June 30  - July 1, 2001

A Conferência Ecuménica Mundial sobre a Ordenação das Mulheres, realizou-se em Dublin, na Irlanda, entre 29 de Junho e 1 de Julho de 2001, promovida pela Organização Mundial pela Ordenação das Mulheres, que integra uma série de movimentos a favor da reforma da Igreja Católica. O tema era : CHEGOU A HORA - CELEBRANDO O CHAMAMENTO DAS MULHERES A UM SACERDÓCIO RENOVADO NA IGREJA CATÓLICA. As e os participantes totalizaram 370, vindos de 26 países, dos quais 15% eram do sexo masculino. Havia cerca de 30 religiosas e alguns sacerdotes. Estiveram presentes duas portuguesas do Movimento Internacional 'Nós Somos Igreja', Maria João Sande Lemos e Ana Vicente.

As conferências principais, seguidas de debate, foram pronunciadas por Mairéad Corrigan-Maguire, católica de Belfast, Irlanda do Norte, Prémio Nobel da Paz; Rose Hudson-Wilkin, inglesa, pastora anglicana em duas paróquias de Londres; Joan Chittister, norte-americana, teóloga e religiosa beneditina; e John Wijngaards, holandês, padre, teólogo e organizador do sítio da internet sobre a ordenação das mulheres na Igreja Católica Realizou-se também uma mesa-redonda com participantes da África do Sul, México, Colómbia, Uganda, Japão e Hungria. No final da Conferência foram aprovadas as Resoluções que adiante se apresentam.

Mairéad Corrigan-Maguire afirmou que a posição do Vaticano sobre a ordenação das mulheres «é desumanizante, desmoralizante e é uma forma de violência espiritual.» Acrescentou que «muitos católicos entendem agora que uma argumentação teológica baseada na 'biologia' torna-se ridícula.» Rose Hudson-Wilkin, casada e mãe de três filhos, deu um testemunho eloquente sobre a sua caminhada e a sua experiência de vida. Esta oradora substituiu a teóloga indiana protestante Aruna Gnanadason, do Conselho Mundial das Igrejas, que foi obrigada a desistir de falar na Conferência devido a pressões do Vaticano sobre esse Conselho, ameaçando que deixaria de integrar alguns grupos de trabalho se ela participasse. Segui-se uma excelente intervenção de Joan Chittister, beneditina há 50 anos, autora de mais de vinte livros, a qual também tinha sido intimada pela Congregação dos Institutos de Vida Consagrada e Sociedades de Vida Apostólica a não participar. Contudo, 127 das 128 religiosas da sua comunidade e também a respectiva Madre Superiora, a apoiaram na decisão. Numa declaração pública, a Madre Superiora afirmou: «A minha decisão (de apoiar a participação da Irmã Joan Chittister) não deverá ser entendida como uma falta de comunhão com a Igreja. Procuro ser fiel ao papel desempenhado na Igreja no seu todo por uma tradição monástica com 1500 anos de história. A nossa tradição remonta aos Padres e às Madres do Deserto no 4º século, os quais viviam à margem da sociedade a fim de se constituírem como presença de oração e de questionamento tanto dentro da Igreja como na sociedade. As comunidades beneditinas de homens e de mulheres nunca quiseram fazer parte integrante da estrutura hierárquica e clerical da Igreja, mas colocar-se à margem desta estrutura a fim de oferecer uma voz diferente.» A conferência da Irmã Joan Chittister incidiu sobre «Um ministério ordenado para um povo sacerdotal.» Afirmou que «uma religião que prega a igualdade das mulheres mas nada faz para a concretizar nas suas estruturas corre o risco de repetir os erros teológicos que durante séculos fizeram com que a Igreja não condenasse a escravatura.» Acrescentou que a Igreja não só tinha que pregar o Evangelho mas também «não o obstruir» John Wijngaards, que publicou recentemente um livro intitulado «A Ordenação das Mulheres na Igreja», afirmou que o «desejo da ordenação das mulheres nasce no âmago da nossa fé católica enquadrada na igualdade dos homens e das mulheres no sacerdócio universal de Cristo adquirido pelo baptismo.»

Por sua vez, a religiosa católica inglesa, Myra Poole, da Congregação das Irmãs de Notre-Dame, de 68 anos de idade e 42 ao serviço da sua Ordem, que tinha presidido à comissão organizadora durante três anos, foi também intimada, uns dias antes da Conferência a não estar presente, tendo sido ameaçada pelo Vaticano de ser expulsa da Ordem. Com grande coragem e depois de muita oração e reflexão, resolveu, contudo, estar presente, de acordo com a sua consciência.

Uma semana após o final da Conferência, um porta-voz do Vaticano anunciou que nenhuma das participantes seria castigada.

Realizaram-se várias cerimónias litúrgicas durante a Conferência, sempre muito participadas e ouve diversos momentos de oração, vividos em intensa comunhão. Também houve várias reuniões das participantes que se sentiam chamadas para um sacerdócio renovado. Em alguns países já se iniciaram cursos de formação para a ordenação frequentados por mulheres.

A Conferência mereceu a atenção de muitos meios de comunicação social, entre os quais a revista 'Newsweek' que publicou duas páginas sobre a mesma.

Foi muito comentado pelas/os participantes a coincidência de, naquela altura estar a percorrer a Irlanda uma relíquia de Santa Teresa de Lisieux, que sempre desejou ser ordenada para o ministério presbiteral. A partida da relíquia para outro país realizou-se no mesmo dia do encerramento da Conferência.

Toda a documentação da Conferência, alguma da qual se encontra traduzida para diversas línguas, pode ser encontrada no seguinte sítio: ou pode ser pedida à Secção Portuguesa do Movimento Internacional 'Nós Somos Igreja', a/c do Centro de Reflexão Cristã.

Keynote: Dr. Aruna Gnanadason: We Will Pour Our Ointment on the Feet of the Church

We will pour our ointment on the feet of the church
The Ecumenical Movement and the Ordination of Women
Dr. Aruna Gnanadason

Women's Ordination Worldwide
First International Conference
Dublin 2001

Note:  Because of pressure from the Vatican, Aruna Gnanadson of the World Council of Churches was forced to withdraw from the conference.  She was replaced by the Reverend Rose Hudson-Wilkin. Though Gnanadason did not present, the text of her 'would have been address' is here.

In this paper I focus on the ecumenical discussion on this issue, from the perspective of women of World Council of Churches' membership who have been wrestling with the issue in their own churches. As I read books, articles and personal testimonies to prepare for this paper, I was amazed how many times women spoke of their pain but also of their joy as they encouraged their churches to recognise the spiritual and pastoral gifts they have to offer.

Dr. Aruna Gnanadason World Council of Churches

Dr. Aruna Gnanadason
World Council of Churches

But first an anecdote. I.R.H. Gnanadason my father-in-law was a Bishop of the Church of South India and Moderator of the Church, when he died in 1973. He has been widely acknowledged as one of the greatest Bishops the Church has had in its almost 55 year history as a United Church. He died before my son was born but it was his memory that my son honoured when he was just 5 years old as I was trying to get him ready for school. He said, "I don't need to go to school, or to study because when I grow up I am going to become a Bishop like thatha (grandfather), and for this school is not necessary. To be a Bishop, all I need to know is about God. And I already know about God."

The more I thought about what he said, the more it made sense. Ordained ministry is about a calling, it is about the courage to "give oneself to the Church in utter devotion" - it is indeed about "knowing" God. Therefore it follows that anyone - woman or man - who feels calls to this ministry and comes to that conviction with humility and utter devotion to God, to the vocation of priesthood and to the community, deserves to have that call tested and be ordained as a priest of the church. Such a call needs to be tested against the communities needs, it is not simply an individual's personal desire - it requires the embracing support of a community, which discerns the Spirit leading them.

Making a difference

My church has ordained women as priests for the past 25 years, and one of the "stories" of ordained women is that of Nirmala Vasanthakumar, one of the first two women ordained by the Church of South India. She along with her husband shared ministry in a congregation. She speaks of an incident when a woman who brought her child for baptism asked that she be baptised by Nirmala rather than her husband, because as a woman she would understand better what it means to birth and nurture a child.

A year after the first women were ordained by the Church of England in 1994, a magazine commented: "Approximately a year ago, 38 women were ordained in the Church of England. In 1995, the total is more than 1400, constituting one-tenth of clergy in that church. The Anglicans have observed an increase in religious practice in parishes where a woman priest officiates ... the number of parishioners increased by between 10 to 30 percent following the calling of a woman to serve as parish priest."

In other words, women priests can make a difference. It is true that for some churches the problem is theological - but other churches are re-examining the heart of their faith and have founf theological and spiritual resources and insights, which have led them to ordain women. At the same time, I would state clearly, right away, that in this process we as women need to contribute to a redefining, refining and reconstructing of what priesthood is all about. We need to constantly challenge those who would still hold on to an understanding of the clergy "as an authoritarian sacerdotal caste with only formal ties to a community."

We live in a world of exclusion and violence; a world with untold forms of discrimination that threaten the integrity of communities; a world that constantly poses difficult moral and ethical choices to men and women; a world where secular forces are strong and spirituality is undermined; a world where religious fundamentalism runs rife and religion is used to legitimise communal identities leading to conflicts. Additionally, in the life of the church itself, increasingly there is evidence of gender based discrimination and even of sexual abuse of women in pastoral contexts and more recently of the new steps the church has been called to take in the face of increasing evidence of paedophilia. In such a context, what should ordained ministry be about? The Church is called to respond with compassion and pastoral fortitude. At the heart of the commitment to the ordination of women and men must be the concern for the community in which the church is present to serve. Therefore, women in ordained ministry must be viewed within the framework of, "partnership or community rather than in isolation, because of the desperate needs of the people and the earth. Everywhere one turns there is reconciliation to be made, bodily and emotional wounds to be healed, relationships to be righted, wrongs to be amended and simple acknowledgements to be made." Ordained ministry of women can be a "way to subvert the church into being the church", as Letty Russell describes it. She says this in the context of her own experience as an ordained woman for 35 years as the minister of a poor community church in East Harlem.

And as we discuss this issue, we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses, women saints ancient and new who have been recognised by the church for the spiritual gifts they offer to the church - a "priesthood" of love, care and compassion that they have through the centuries offered to the church and human communities they served. They stand as our spiritual guides as we discuss this question. While the tradition of sainthood has been on the edges of the Protestant traditions and has accompanied us in our liturgical life, it is the Orthodox Tradition that has offered this gift to the ecumenical movement. As we know, among the saints are a number of women saints, often, ordinary women who worked uncompromisingly and sacrificially for Christ and their communities. Ion Bria, Romanian Orthodox theologian describes the ministry of the saints to the Church in this way: "The faithful are called saints because of their participation in the holiness of God, who is holy by nature (Isa. 6:3), in Christ (Phil.4:21). They are "God's chosen ones, holy (or saints)" (Col. 3:12). One aspect of the mystery of the church is this new consecration in Christ of a "kingdom of priests", "consecrated nation", "royal priesthood" (Ex. 19: 6; Isa. 43: 20-21; I Pet. 2: 9) which is not exclusive or restricted. This among other things is the tradition that has inspired women in the Orthodox Church to begin discussions on the ordination of women to the priesthood in their churches, which I refer to later in this paper.

On April 1 this year, I was privileged to witness the consecration of the third woman Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Germany, Bishop Barbel Wartenberg Potter who had designed most of the liturgy for the ceremony herself. The most moving part of the afternoon was the time for the laying on of hands. Among those who laid their hands on her to bless her, Bishop Maria Jepsen and Bishop Margot Kaessmann, the other two women bishops in Germany, along with male bishops from German churches and bishops from Africa, Papua New Guinea, Latvia, India and the United Kingdom. But there was also Marie Dilger a housewife and friend of Bishop Wartenberg Potter. All of them invoked the Holy Spirit to lead her on in her ministry. The new Bishop was not only received into the Lutheran Church of Holstein-Lübeck, but she was received into the community of the church, a global community, a community that goes beyond ecclesial boundaries. She starts her ministry with manifold blessings - the blessings of God, the blessings of the community and the blessings of women. The words and a garland of flowers offered by the women of the Diocese symbolised this last. This ceremony came after her formal election and approval of her election by the women and men of that diocese. Her community or "her congregation" were in prayer with her, as she acknowledged her servant-hood to them.

Call | Vocation

Most women who are ordained and those who are in dialogue with their churches on the issue of the ordination of women would speak of how they have been called to this vocation. Some women are concerned that the church abuses the concept of the call as a way of "keeping women in their place" - ecclesial authorities tell women that they are called to diaconal or other ministries and not to priesthood. Nancy Duff writes that, "The doctrine of vocation affirms that every individual life with its unique combination of gifts and limitations has divinely appointed purpose and that we are called to glorify God in all we do." She continues later in the same text, "Although the doctrine of vocation can be misused to counsel tolerance for oppressive situations, if rightly interpreted it challenges oppressive conditions." With women there is a difference in their understanding of the calling. In India for instance, many women enter theological schools, as a first choice, fully aware that they have no guarantee of ordination, or even of a job, and even if their churches will ordain them, they have no assurance that local congregations will accept them as priests. They enter anyway, with the conviction that it is their vocation, a call they cannot ignore.

In a collection of personal testimonies, on Women in the Ministry, every woman who has contributed refers to her ordination as a response to her vocation. Some of these voices: Alison Fuller of the Scottish Episcopal Church speaks of the denial of her vocation by the Church as the denial of women's humanity before God; Elizabeth Wardlaw of the Church of Scotland compares her vocation, her calling to that of Paul on the road to Damascus; Margaret Forrester ordained by the United Reformed Church speaks of being aware "of an overpowering sense of vocation which every church in which I worshipped had refused to recognise. The frustration and pain of this were hard to bear." Jean Mayland of the Church of England writes: "I had come to believe that I had a vocation to the priesthood when I was in my teens, but of course I was told this was completely impossible. I was brought up in a high Anglo Catholic church where my faith was nurtured and my vocation spurned".

Taking the risk responding to the call

"The Church will never believe that women have a religious message until some of them get and take the opportunity to prove they have." - Maude Royden

Let us follow just one of the women quoted earlier. Jean Mayland, one of the first women ordained by the Church of England, shares her struggles and joys in the process leading to her ordination and what followed. In 1907, the Anglican Church ordained the first woman, Li Tim Oi a Chinese woman, in Xingxing, in China. From there it has slowly but surely spread - to Hong Kong, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Latin America, Kenya and other African countries, the united Church of South India and Ireland. In 1862, the Order of the Deaconesses was revived in the Anglican Church and Elizabeth Ferrar was ordained as the first deaconess.

Jean Mayland describes how she pursued her vocation: "During my theology year I went for a selection conference and was accepted to train as a 'Lady Worker' in the Church of England. On reflection I felt I could not face all the limitations and frustrations that would be involved in that work. I felt called to priesthood and not to 'lady worker ship'. I do so admire those women who moved in and worked as 'lady/women workers', and later as deaconesses. With courage and patience they pushed back the boundaries. I could not have done it. I would either have exploded or have been destroyed and embittered by frustration."

And so she got into the fray and with other women accompanied her church on the way to the final decision to ordain women. She speaks of how she, "along with my sister priests, have had to campaign and also fight with our church long and hard. Yet I love the Church of England with every fibre of my being... ". In 1992, she was one of the few privileged women, (having won in the ballot for tickets) to be able to sit in the gallery of the Church House and witness the debate and final approval of ordination of women to priesthood. She reminiscences, "I managed to overcome my urge to burst into tears, and expressed my joy and delight that after all these years this had happened.... The words that came to my mind were those of Siegfried Sassoon's poem about Armistice Day, which concludes 'and the singing will never be done.'"

But, there was not much space for singing after that - things did not go with the smoothness women hoped for. The press, who wanted to sensationalise the news about the ordination, especially because there was enough awareness of the opposition to it, constantly misquoted her. Some of the Bishops and senior staff seemed to be more concerned about keeping in the church those who opposed the ordination, than to celebrate with the women their success. Even deans and canons showed their hostility. Family obligations did not make life easier. She was not able to take up frill time ministry. While the earlier quotation from a magazine indicates that the ordained women in the Anglican Church of England did bring change in some congregations, it is also true that a few years after the decision to ordain women, many did not get parish ministries, they had to go into specialised areas of work of the church or accept Assistant posts.

But Jean Mayland was one of the 38 women to be ordained in that first batch. She writes: "I am eternally grateful to God, with whom I often wrestle, that along the mysterious path of life where the going is often so dark, She has brought me on occasions to sit in places of stimulation, or of tranquillity and joy" She speaks of the deep emotions she experienced the first time she celebrated the Eucharist, "When I began the Eucharistic Prayer I felt I would not be able to get through it without collapsing into tears.... Never will leading the people in making Eucharist lose its humbling thrill, but never again will it be such an awe-inspiring privilege as that first time."

I have traced the struggles and joys of one woman in one member church of the WCC who has gone through such a history because it these women we have at the centre of our thoughts, when we speak of the ordination of women. One meets women like Jean Mayland in every part of the world - women who so love the church that they are willing to put their lives and those of their families on the line, for the sake of what they believe in intensely. Women who follow for whom ordination is now a given, will never be able to fathom what price their "fore-sisters and mothers" have paid. The Team Visits to the member churches of the World Council of Churches at the mid-point of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women, met with women in many churches where this is an issue. The report of the team visits, the Living Letters records that: "There are churches in all regions which forbid the ordination of women, even where they can cite no doctrinal or theological reasons why this should be so. While some churches recognise women's gifts, many are quite slow and even resistant to recognise and support women in ministry. Even where women have - after much struggle - been trained and ordained, fair pay, stable placements and moral support as they exercise their ministry are not guaranteed to them. After graduation many women ministers must wait a long time to receive a posting. They may be forced to chose between vocation and family."

The challenge to the ecumenical movement

The women I speak of here are all from the World Council of Churches' membership churches and from the constituency the World Council of Churches (WCC) serves. At the Decade Festival (Harare, Zimbabwe, November 1998) that brought to conclusion the Decade a letter was addressed to WCC Assembly. In what I consider, was a regrettable mistake the issue of the ordination of women is referred to as "an ethical and theological problem" for the church. The drafters of the text left it this way to respect women from churches where ordination of women is not yet an issue. Strong, requests from ordained women present that this formulation be changed, and a new paragraph be drafted devoted to just the question of ordination, to highlight both their joys and difficulties, was ignored. The process did not allow for their voices to be heard and this left many women who had been involved in long years of struggle for ordination to the priesthood, disillusioned and unsatisfied. This has convinced the WCC of the need for further discussion on the ordination of women was evident and discussions have begun within the Faith and Order Commission (of which the Roman Catholic Church is an official member) to re-engage the member churches on this issue.

The question of ordination of women and the unity of the Church

"Openness to each other holds the possibility that the Spirit may well speak to one church through the insights of another"
(Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry text)

That the issue of the ordination of women has been one of the most divisive of issues for the churches has to be acknowledged. Mary Tanner, former Moderator of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches, describes the dilemma clearly when she writes that among the churches that grew out of the Reformation, the movement to ordain women to full ministry of word and sacrament, "coincided with the movement towards the visible unity of the church. The one has had an effect on the other. This result is not surprising, for the visible unity of the church involves the recognition not only of all its baptized members as members of a single community of faith but also of those who are called to be ministers of one communion." She quotes Anglican Archbishop William Temple who expressed the view, as early as 1916, which she says has been shared by many other committed ecumenists, "I would like to see women ordained.... desirable as it would be in itself, the effect might be (probably would be) to put back the re-union of Christendom - and reunion is more important."

While the question of the ordination of women is certainly not easy given the diversity of positions among the various church traditions that are part of the ecumenical movement, whether the question of the ordination of women can be held responsible for the slow and arduous process to visible unity is a matter of debate. But there are several instances where the issue did affect unity discussions: the Anglicans did not join in the United Church of Canada in 1956 because that church ordained women. In the Anglican-Methodist unity scheme in England in the 1960's the Methodists delayed the ordination of women till it was obvious that the unity scheme had failed. Even in the covenanting process that followed involving the United Reformed Church, the Methodists, the Moravian and the Anglican churches, the ordination of women once again was an issue. The Church of England included a separate motion referring to the recognition of women ministers of other churches - this was defeated in the House of Clergy. At the Consultation of united and uniting churches in 1987, the situation was summed up this way: "For some churches the ordination of women adds to the hindrances to unity; but the united churches are clear that further union for them is being made a more open possibility by the willingness of those to share the ordination of women which they have found to be a creative element in their common life."

According to Mary Tanner: "The contribution of the WCC has been to help the churches to set the discussion within the context of an emerging convergence on the understanding of ministry and priesthood and, perhaps even more important, within the concept of the unity we seek. The studies on the unity of the church and the renewal of human community have enlarged and enriched the perspective of this unity. Some have come to maintain that the churches' ministry must include women in order to show to the world the depths of unity in human community and make the gospel and the vision of the kingdom credible in a broken and divided world. The unity of the church ought not to be set over against the unity of the human community."

Melanie May had posed a similar question when she asked, "At the end, each and everyone of us will need to search our hearts before God to discern whether we believe with Archbishop William Temple that visible church unity is "more important" than the ordination of women or whether visible church unity is at all achievable unless all baptized members - men and women alike in God's image - can fulfil the ministry to which God has called them in Christ."

Preceding the formation of the World Council of Churches, at the very first World Conference on Faith and Order in 1927 in Lausanne, of the 400 church delegates only 7 were women and yet they issued a prophetic motion which was accepted by that body. It is recorded in the Minutes: "the right place of women in the Church is one of grave moment and should be in the hearts and minds of all." Commenting on this Lukas Vischer writes, "They pointed out that if the Church seeks deeper unity it must re-examine the question of the relationship between women and men, and that the mission task makes it imperative to put to better use all the gifts available in the Church. They deliberately refrained from raising the problem of church order in this connection. But already at that time it was clear that it would not be possible to avoid facing the question later."

The Third Assembly of the WCC in New Delhi, in 1961, called on the Working Committee on Faith and Order "to establish a study on the theological, biblical and ecclesiological issues involved in the ordination of women". It was also stressed that the study be undertaken in close conjunction with the Department on Cooperation of Men and Women in Church, Family and Society. The Working Committee of the Faith and Order approved the proposal and decided to place the question of ordination of women on the agenda of the Fourth World Conference on Faith and Order to be held in Montreal, Canada in July 1963.

"This decision was felt as necessary because the problem is of practical concern to an increasing number of churches. Many churches welcome women to the ordained ministry and have found the policy advantageous. Others, having adopted this policy, face serious tensions. In others, the policy is under discussion and provokes heated debate. The matter frequently becomes acute in negotiations for church unity. And even apart from formal negotiations, it affects the mutual relations of churches that ordain women to those that do not. It would be wrong, therefore, to view this issue as a result of feminist demands or agitation by a few enthusiasts. It concerns the total understanding of the ministry of the church and therefore has deep theological significance."

This position spoken of nearly 40 years ago remains true till today, though in this period many churches have decided to and have ordained women to priesthood. It continues to be regrettable that some churches even today, view this deep longing of women to respond to their vocation as a campaign of a few feminists making unreasonable demands! Two other important contributions to the discussion

Two other important contributions to the discussion

In the work of the Faith and Order Commission, there were two other important study processes that have contributed to the ongoing discussions on the ordination of women. The first is the Community of Women and Men Study process that had been initiated during the V Assembly of the WCC in Nairobi in 1975 and which culminated in 1981 at an international consultation in Sheffield. This process was based on a recognition that "the unity of the church requires that women be free to live out the gifts that God has given them and to respond to their calling to share fully in the life and witness of the church." The process was to be an ecclesiological study, focused on the recognition that 'women's issues' are issues concerning the wholeness of the whole church, a study of church unity with particular regards to the experience of women. As a result, "Significant ecclesiological challenges emerging from the study included questions about the structures of the church, about how power and authority were exercised and by whom. The question of power and exclusive leadership inevitably brought up the controversial questions of the ordination of women to the priesthood and the episcopate. Although there was no agreement on the answers to these questions, at Sheffield they were clearly, and often painfully, articulated."

At Sheffield the discussion recognised "the complexity and diversity of the existing situations both within and between the different churches. The state of the discussion is also at different stages in different cultures. Amongst the churches there is a plurality of practice embracing those who do ordain women, those who do not, and those who are hesitant for ecumenical reasons" The report goes on to say that as knowledge of theology and sociology develop, "we are offered a chance to deepen our understanding and practice of ministry and our relations with one another... The issues involved in this matter touch us at our deepest level, embedded as they are in liturgy, symbolism and spirituality. There can be no real progress if church, state or any group within the church seeks to force a change in practice without taking this into account." Sheffield also pointed to the fact that the problems of the ministry are related "to the social and cultural context where the identity of the church and individual Christians is being constantly challenged."

It is important to comment here that at that time it was assumed that the ordination of women was an issue of concern only for women from western protestant churches. But women from all parts of the world have described their own struggles with their churches. They have challenged their churches for reverting to cultural contexts in their societies as the base for excluding women. Musimbi Kanyoro gathers together some of these voices from Asia, Africa and Latin America in the book entitled In Search of a Round Table. She writes about African women: "....the powers of healing, preaching and spiritual direction, typically understood by the Christian Church to be priestly duties, are powers traditionally exercised by women and men in African societies. If there is to be any general picture of African women in ordained ministries, an inclusive study of the religious roles played by women in different types of societies in Africa is imperative." Datuk Thu En-Yu from Malaysia makes a similar claim about women's roles in societies, which follow the path of Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism.

Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry Document ... another opportunity?

The second important stream in the WCC was the study, which culminated in Lima, Peru in January 1982, where the Faith and Order Commission gave final form to a convergence text entitled Baptism. Eucharist and Ministry (BEM) for discussion in the churches. It marked points of "theological convergence among the churches on issues which traditionally caused division among the churches." It was at this same meeting that the final report of the Community Study was also received. However, the BEM document does not treat the ordination of women to priesthood in the main part of the ministry text but considers the issue in a commentary that gives a short description of the positions of churches that ordain women and those that do not.

Janet Crawford feels that the BEM text was not entirely uninfluenced by the Community Study. She writes: "In both the baptism and eucharist sections of the text there are 'theological insights about unity, equality and the imaging of Christ in us all' which, at least implicitly, makes connections to the community study and which may signal to women that they are 'partners in the search for the visible unity of the church.' "It is in the section on ministry that the lack of connection between BEM and the Community Study becomes most obvious. The whole controversial issue of the ordination of women is dealt with in two carefully formulated and balanced paragraphs which conclude that: 'An increasing number of churches have decided that there is no biblical or theological reason against ordaining women, and many of them have subsequently proceeded to do so. Yet many churches hold that the tradition of the church in this regard must not be changed.' (BEM, "Ministry" para 18)"

Commenting on the BEM text, Crawford quotes Cardman: ". . . in the much-praised Lima text itself, little attention has been paid to what was described as 'the most obvious point of present and potential disagreement, namely, the ordination of women'. (Cardman, BEM and the Community of Women and Men Study, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 21 Winter 1988). Rather, on this point it seemed that Faith and Order had retreated from its bolder statements. The result satisfied neither opponents nor proponents of women's ordination, and did little to advance dialogue between the two. BEM gave no lead to the vital and church-dividing question of women's ordination."

Respecting diversity.... the key to mutuality and ecumenical discipline

Women too come into this discussion from different understandings and from varying positions. This diversity has to be respected, because clearly the ecumenical movement among women does not intend to call for any one uniform pattern of ordained ministry. Even in those churches where it is still not openly discussed women are beginning to discuss the issue. While there are many examples of World council of Churches member churches I can reflect on, I refer here to the contributions of Orthodox Christian women to the discussion. Three important books that have been offered by Orthodox women theologians are: Elisabeth Behr-Sigel's The Ministry of Women in the Church published first in French in 1987 (Oakwood Publications, California); Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald's Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church, Called to Holiness and Ministry published in 1998 and revised and republished in 1999 (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, Massachusetts); and Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Kallistos Ware's The Ordination of Women in the Orthodox Church published in 2000 (World Council of Churches, Geneva). A series of meetings of Orthodox women - all under the patronage of the leadership of the Orthodox churches - starting with the first in Agapia, Romania in 1976; Rhodes in 1988; Damascus 1996 and Istanbul, 1997 - all have addressed this issue. Some of the participants in the meeting in Damascus welcomed "the idea of organising an inter-Orthodox conference on the ordination of women to the priesthood.". Orthodox Christian women have participated in ecumenical women's meetings and would naturally be influenced by the discussions. But Behr-Sigel refers to the new challenges within the Orthodox Churches themselves and describes one of the signs of the times as "a call that that we should discern between the living Tradition and a fossilized traditionalism, particularly regarding the place of women.". She writes: "As responsible theologians in the Orthodox Church - both men and women - have become aware of these contradictions, the question of the admission of women to a sacramental ministry has arisen. The question no longer comes to them only from outside in the course of ecumenical dialogue, but it has also become for them an internal problem."

The World Council of Churches offers an ecumenical space...

The impact of the Community of Women and Men Study and the theological and anthropological challenges it posed; the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women and the unfinished ecclesiological challenges it has left the churches with and the newly begun process Being Church: Women's Voices and Visions which will explore the ways in which women vision the Church and its forms of leadership and ministries - all will leave an indelible mark on the churches and their search for visible unity. All these processes will contribute to the proposed Faith and Order, consultation on "Ministry and Ordination in the Community of Women and Men" to be held in 2002, which will certainly contribute to this discussion. The decision to hold such a conference was taken by the Faith and Order Board at its meeting held in Toronto, Canada in June 1999. Introducing the debate Melanie May, spoke of how the 'Discussion on the Ordination of women is threaded through the ecumenical movement in the 2Oth century. This thread of discussion is, however, a slender one and has, at times, been all but unravelled by silence on the subject. Today we seek to weave this thread more integrally into the search for visible unity of the Church, acknowledging that the visible unity of the Church is predicated on the recognition of all baptised members and the recognition of all those called to ordained ministries. We cannot, therefore, achieve the visible unity of the Church, unless we are willing to walk together, in truth and love, about the question of women's ministries, including the ordination of women."

Are we willing to walk together in truth and love in our search for unity? This is the question that accompanies the WCC and its designing of the concept of an "ecumenical space" to provide a safe environment for difficult and church dividing issues, such as the ordination of women, to be discussed.

Konrad Raiser, General Secretary in his report to the VIII Assembly of the WCC in Harare, 1998 said, "In the uncertainty of the present situation, with its temptation to see identity in a defensive and exclusive way, the ecumenical movement needs to recapture the sense of the pilgrim people of God, of churches on the way together, ready to transcend the boundaries of their history and tradition, listening together to the voice of the Shepherd, recognising and resonating with each other as those energised by the same Spirit. The World Council of Churches, as a fellowship of churches, marks the space where such risky encounter can take place, where confidence and trust can be built and community can grow. At present, this conviction is being tested severely by conflicts over moral issues, especially regarding human sexuality, and by the ecclesiological and theological challenges arising from the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women. More than ever before we need the WCC as an ecumenical space which is open and yet embraced by the faithfulness of God and protected by the bond of peace, a space of mutual acceptance and understanding as well as of mutual challenge and correction."

In the discussion on the ordination of women within this ecumenical space, the most important criteria will be to discern the diversity of voices and opinions on the issue and to enter the discussion with sensitivity and respect for different ecclesiologies. It requires all parties to listen attentively to each other - to listen to the struggles over vocation. It is critical that in unity talks where "churches which take a more traditional view are contemplating union with churches which believe that in ordaining women they are led by the Spirit", that the churches participating "seriously face the theological issues involved", and in this "it is much to be hoped that whatever decision an individual church reaches there will be no accusation of heresy but that its decision will be accepted by others as a genuine effort to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit." Additionally, we cannot undertake our discussion of the ordination of women or the ordination of men without serious and sustained discussion of the ministry of all baptised members and the fact that some - women and men - are "set apart" or called to ordained priesthood. There has also to be further reflection on Christian anthropology and what it means when we affirm that male and female are created in the image of God. Perhaps most importantly of all it requires an openness to the working of the Holy Spirit, in a reaffirmation of the doctrines, with the possibility of the development of the doctrines of the church in keeping with the times.

I believe it is appropriate to conclude with the words of Bishop Kallistos Ware, Bishop of Diokleia, who addresses the Orthodox churches, with words that are appropriate for all churches - those that ordain women and those, which do not. He writes: "In discussing the ministry of women in the Church, let us not be afraid (as Orthodox) to acknowledge that there is a mystery here which we have scarcely started to explore. In speaking of a 'mystery', I am using the word in its proper theological sense. A mystery is not just an enigma or an unsolved puzzle. It is a truth or a set of truths revealed by God to our created intelligence, yet never exhaustively revealed because it reaches into the depths of divine infinity. The primal mystery is always the incarnation of Christ (see Ephesians 1:9; Colossians 1:26-27), in which all other mystenes - including the mysteria or sacraments of the Church, such as baptism, eucharist and priesthood - find their origin and their fulfilment."

We will continue supporting each other in our yearning to be faithful to God's call to ordained priesthood. We will also continue our exploration into what being church means for the world today as we strive for new models of leadership - ready, responsive and courageous; caring, loving and compassionate; inclusive, hospitable and embracing.... so that the Church will be each and every day truly the Church of Jesus Christ. And I say again, we as women, as the Spirit leads us, will pour our ointment on the feet of the church.

Dr. Aruna Gnanadason 
World Council of Churches
Geneva, Switzerland

Dr. Aruna Gnanadason World Council of Churches

Dr. Aruna Gnanadason
World Council of Churches

Dr. Aruna Gnanadson

Aruna Gnanadason is Executive Director for Planning and Integration in the General Secretariat of the World Council of Churches.  She was Coordinator of the Justice Peace and Creation Team and of the Women’s Programme of the World Council of Churches before taking up this present position.  She took up her appointment with the WCC in May, 1991. She is married and has two sons. Aruna comes from India and belongs to the Church of South India. She was educated in Bangalore, has a M.A. in English and has completed a part of the Bachelor’s Degree in Theology programme at the United Theological College of Bangalore.  In 2004, she completed a Doctorate in Ministry with the San Francisco Theological Seminary in the US.

Aruna worked as lecturer in English at the Government College, Kolar, and at the National College, Bangalore, for the academic year 1972/73. In 1974 she was invited to join the Vicharodaya College, Women’s College, Ecumenical Christian Centre, Whitefield, Bangalore, as Lecturer, and from June 1976 was invited to become Dean of the programme.

In 1982 she was invited to join the staff of the National Council of Churches in India as Executive Secretary of the All India Council of Christian Women a unit of NCCI, playing an advocacy role for women and building a women’s movement in the church, and helping church women relate to secular women’s movements. In this capacity she has organised national and regional conferences for urban and rural women on themes such as women in development, women in church and society, violence against women, women in the struggle for a just society, women and health, women at the end of the UN Decade, science and technology and its impact on women, etc.

Aruna was a member of the Student Christian Movement of Bangalore and India for five years, and served in various posts in its executive committee. She was an active member of the Free University 1971, a student group involved in a slum project and study of the Indian situation. She was involved with Vimochana, a forum for women’s rights, in Bangalore, and other women’s groups in Tamil Nadu. She continues to be part of a small collective working with urban poor women in Madras. She is a member of the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians (EATWOT) and has been actively involved in its Women's Commission and is recognised as an Asian woman theologian.

She has been involved in lobbying the Indian Government in an attempt to bring change in the Christian Personal laws relating to marriage, divorce, inheritance, etc. She has given talks on such themes ranging from Women and Work, Human Rights and Women’s Rights to Eco-feminist Theology, Indian Feminist Theology and The Church and Violence Against Women . She has addressed major meetings in Europe, North America and Asia on the North-South question, mission priorities, etc.

She has contributed innumerable articles to Christian and secular journals, magazines and books on a wide variety of topics – especially on issues related to women and to

North-South relations. She was editor of several publications including the regular newsletter of the Ecumenical Decade of the Churches in Solidarity with Women – the Decade Link. She is the author of the book No Longer a Secret: The Church and Violence Against Women, (1997) and Listen to the Women, Listen to the Earth (2005) both published by the World Council of Churches in the Risk Book Series. She co-edited several books including the WCC Publication Women, Violence and Non-violent Change.

In 1983 she served on the Worship Committee of the WCC IV Assembly in Vancouver, and had served as Vice Moderator of the working group of the Sub-unit on Women in Church and Society of the WCC for the period between the Vancouver and Canberra assemblies. In this capacity she was a member of the Advisory Group which organised the Seoul World Convocation on Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation and was a member of the writing group on Biotechnology to bring in the feminist perspective particularly on reproductive technologies. Now her work concentrates on playing an advocacy role for the participation of women in all aspects of the life of the World Council of Churches and in ensuring that the perspectives and visions of women are included in the programmatic work of the Council.

She is recipient of three honorary doctorates:

  • from the Academy of Indian Ecumenical Theology and Church Administration, an Honorary Doctorate in Theology
  • from the Senate of Serampore Colleges, India, a Doctorate
  • from the Matanzas Theological Seminary, Matanzas, Cuba.

She has also completed her earned Doctorate in Ministries (DMin.) from the San Francisco Theological Seminary, USA.

Keynote: John Wijngaards: Discerning the Spirit's New Creation

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Discerning the Spirit's New Creation
by Dr. John Wijngaards
Saturday, June 30, 2001
Women's Ordination Worldwide
First International Conference
Dublin 2001

Dr. John Wijngaards

Dr. John Wijngaards

I do not know if you have heard the apocryphal story that the Conregation for Doctrine in Rome met in an emergency session. "We have done everything possible", a monsignor reported, "but many people in the Church still  believe women can be ordained. We have forbidden all discussion on the topic. We have appointed only bishops who promise not to promote women priests. We make parish priests swear an oath of loyalty. Theologians who speak out are on our black list and are being expelled from their congregations or teaching jobs. It doesn't seem to help."

"We could burn their books!" one consultor proposed.

"We tried. It created the wrong kind of publicity."

"We could ask the Pope to write another encyclical on women", someone else suggested.

"No use. After Mulieris Dignitatem two-thirds of Catholics still think women would make excellent priests!"

"Then we have no other choice", the Prefect of the Congregation sighed. "We have to stop women from being baptised!"1

Where do we go from here?

Those who oppose the ordination of women usually claim that the desire for ordination arises from the contemporary drive for equal rights. They portray the demand for women priests as a modern and novel idea, a secular invention, the intrusion of profane social equality into the sacred precincts of the liturgy, a giving in to strident feminist bullying. Inter Insigniores blames both women's emancipation and ecumenical pressure from other Churches.2  But while it is true that the climate of social emancipation has helped to raise the question of women's absence from the ministries, the real origin of the demand lies in our common baptism.

Diagram 1

Diagram 1

Since Vatican II women theologians have brought a new dimension to the Church. They began to systemically expose the inequality between men and women in all areas of Catholic life: in worship and spirituality, in the parish and in the home, in theology as well as in law.3  They re-examined the roles of women in the early Church and drew consequences from this for New Testament exegesis.4 They studied in detail women's lives during various periods of the Church's history.5  They brought new light, from a woman's perspective, on matters of liturgical language, imagery and church symbolism.6 But none of these women theologians, to my knowledge, claimed that the equality of women in Christ derives from secular or civil rights. We have to carefully distinguish between external impulses on a doctrine and its Christian source (see Diagram no 1).

The Second Vatican Council recognised that the Church should pay attention to what modern society is telling us. We should listen to the signs of our times. We are told to "decipher the authentic signs of God's presence and purpose in the happenings, needs and desires which Christians share with other people of our age".7 The Council endorsed present-day society's concern for equal rights and it singled out the emancipation of women as an important issue. "For in truth", the Council declared, "it must be regretted that fundamental personal rights are still not being universally honoured. Such is the case of women who are denied the right to choose a husband freely, to embrace a state of life or to acquire an education or cultural benefits equal to those available to men." 8  Now it is a fact that the rise of women in society does put pressure on the Church. It forces Catholics to answer the question: "Why are women still denied the sacrament of ordination and access to power structures in the Church?"9  But these wholesome external promptings are not themselves the justification for demanding women's ordination.

That demand comes from our common baptism in Christ. For there is nothing that distinguishes the baptism of a man from that of a woman. As Paul said: "all who are baptised in Christ have put on Christ himself. So there is no difference between men and women ... You are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3, 26-28). Because we do not live any longer in Old Testament times, we do not realise how significant this fact is. The Israelites were God's people, yes, but the men were more God's people than the women. Men did not only dominate in the home and in society. Men enjoyed a privileged status in religion. Only the men were circumcised. The covenant was made directly with them. Women belonged to the covenant through their fathers and husbands. The men had to sacrifice in the Temple. The men read the Torah in the synagogues. Women could take part if they wished, but then from a distance. Christ overthrew this fundamental discrimination.10

Both men and women equally die with Christ and rise with him to new life. Both men and women become members of his new covenant, and share in his eucharistic meal on an equal footing. Both men and women in like manner share in Christ's priestly, prophetic and royal dignity. The openness of women to the ordained ministry arises from within the sacrament of baptism itself. The cry for social equality may have woken us up. The truth of equality in Christ's covenant has always been there.

The demand for the ordination of women arises from the centre of our Catholic faith.

  • It stems directly from the equality of men and women in Christ's universal priesthood, acquired through baptism.
  • It derives from the nature of the Church as the People of God in which women as much as men are full and equal members.
  • It is implied in women's full participation in the whole sacramental order.
  • It is testified to in the sense of faith carried by Catholics who instinctively know that it is not God or Christ who bans women from the priesthood.

That demand comes from our common baptism in Christ. For there is nothing that distinguishes the baptism of a man from that of a woman. As Paul said: "all who are baptised in Christ have put on Christ himself. So there is no difference between men and women ... You are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3, 26-28). Because we do not live any longer in Old Testament times, we do not realise how significant this fact is. The Israelites were God's people, yes, but the men were more God's people than the women. Men did not only dominate in the home and in society. Men enjoyed a privileged status in religion. Only the men were circumcised. The covenant was made directly with them. Women belonged to the covenant through their fathers and husbands. The men had to sacrifice in the Temple. The men read the Torah in the synagogues. Women could take part if they wished, but then from a distance. Christ overthrew this fundamental discrimination.10

Both men and women equally die with Christ and rise with him to new life. Both men and women become members of his new covenant, and share in his eucharistic meal on an equal footing. Both men and women in like manner share in Christ's priestly, prophetic and royal dignity. The openness of women to the ordained ministry arises from within the sacrament of baptism itself. The cry for social equality may have woken us up. The truth of equality in Christ's covenant has always been there.

The demand for the ordination of women arises from the centre of our Catholic faith.

  • It stems directly from the equality of men and women in Christ's universal priesthood, acquired through baptism.
  • It derives from the nature of the Church as the People of God in which women as much as men are full and equal members.
  • It is implied in women's full participation in the whole sacramental order.
  • It is testified to in the sense of faith carried by Catholics who instinctively know that it is not God or Christ who bans women from the priesthood.

There are some important consequences in all this for our strategy. Each of the various groups that together form Women's Ordination Worldwide has already spent much time on planning practical strategies and concrete proposals. I see it as my task to formulate a few important aspects of strategy that may further our common purpose. Without claiming to be exhaustive, I will propose four principles that I trust will lead to fruitful discussion.

Principle One. The movement for the ordination of women needs to position itself squarely in the heart of the Church.

1. The ordination of women priests is part of a much wider reform in the Church.

The ordination of women priests is part of a much wider reform in the Church.  The need of reform does not limit itself to the question of women's ordination. Other linked issues are: pastoral re-shaping of the ministries, lay participation in Church administration, sexual morality (including responsible use of contraception, optional celibacy, re-evaluation of homosexuality), more co-responsibility on all levels (bishops' conferences, dioceses, parishes), etc. Though the ordination of women is a valid issue in its own right, its effective implementation demands structural reform in many other areas of the Church's life and practice.

2. The movement addresses all sections of the Church.

The movement addresses all sections of the Church. It is characteristic of a movement, in distinction from an association, that it influences society gradually and in all directions, as yeast transforms the dough. All members of God's People: the pope, bishops, priests, religious and the laity, need to re-discover the full equality of men and women in Christ. We will not be satisfied until the whole community of the faithful, led by its pastors, recognises that women should be admitted to holy orders.

3. The movement aims at transforming the whole Church from within.

The movement aims at transforming the whole Church from within. Full participation of women in all ministries will require an overhaul of church law, of seminary training, ecclesiastical structures, pastoral practices.

4.  The movement should stay squarely within the body of the Church.

The movement should stay squarely within the body of the Church. We should not allow the movement for the ordination of women to be pushed to the fringes, or even: down the cliff, on a rubbish heap outside the Church. This is what our opponents would love to do: to get rid of us as an invasion of aliens, a secular infection, a lump that needs to be amputated.

In other words: we want women to be ordained priests because we are Catholics and we know that opening the priesthood to women agrees with our deepest Catholic convictions. On no account will we allow ourselves to be maneuvered outside the Catholic community.

I am told that, last century, one of my ancestors in Holland clashed with his parish priest, a disagreement that lasted for 20 years. The reason was that the parish priest levied rent on the seats in the parish church, with the front seats costing more. Sunday after Sunday, my ancestor, Klaas Wijngaards, kept standing up at the back of the church. One day, the PP called out from the pulpit: "For God's sake, Klaas, why don't you come forward and take a seat?"

Klaas refused.

"Then go home and leave the church!"

"I won't", Klaas shouted back. "This is my church as much as yours!"

But if we do not want others to push us out, we ourselves should also refrain from doing anything that would put us outside the community of the Church. I refer in particular to arranging for women to be ordained by bishops who are not in communion with the Catholic Church.

I am not speaking here of individual women who may discern that in their own case, their priestly vocation weighs heavier than service within the Catholic community. Given the present lack of prospect for ordination in the Catholic Church, I can understand that such women may have valid motives for joining another Sister Church and offering themselves for the ministry there. They should have our full support. But this is quite different from whole organisations or the women's ordination movement as such promoting the ordination of women by 'outside bishops'. Such an approach would be wrong for many reasons:

  • The hierarchy, however much it needs reform in the way it is organised and in the way it often operates, is part of the sacramental communion of the Church. Christ said about bishops and priests: "Who sees you sees me". We should not destroy the unity of the Church for the sake of an inner-Church reform.
  • By going outside the Catholic Church for ordinations, the movement would lose the goodwill of many bishops, priests, religious and lay leaders who, though in silence, are at present on our side.
  • We should support the ordination of women by a local Catholic bishop, or Bishops belonging to a national bishops' conference, who in this way build up their own local Church. We have the admirable example of the Czech Bishop Felix Davidek of Brno who ordained women during the communist regime in the 1970s. Bishops are 'vicars of Christ, not vicars of the Roman Pontiff' and they carry immediate responsibility for their flock 'in their own right'. 11 Of course, they too have to balance the spiritual welfare of their own people against the good of maintaining Church unity. But they might well legitimately decide on scriptural, traditional and theological grounds that, in view of local pastoral needs, the unjustified interference by Roman authorities should be ignored.
  • Our purpose is to enable the whole Catholic Church to admit women to all ministries. We will have failed if we do not get our reforms incorporated in all structures and levels of the Catholic Church. Leaving the Church does not serve that purpose. At present we experience a serious 'brokenness' in the Church as half its members are excluded from the ordained ministries. But the new 'wholeness' we desire will be achieved rather through a confrontation with the hierarchy, however painful, than through any step that would remove us effectively from the body of the Church.
  • It is not our aim to make the priestly ministry possible for a small number of women. We want all Catholic women to enjoy the right to full participation in all ministries, including the episcopate and the papacy. This is a more difficult target, but the only one that will do justice to our Catholic sense.

The truth will set us free

Diagram 2

Diagram 2

Campaigners for women's ordination sometimes think that beating the drum of women's rights will bring opponents round - but will it? Do we then not underestimate the power of defence mechanisms? Did the Protestant ridicule of Mary in previous centuries not result in more fervent devotion to her among Catholics? Have we not seen that forced religious attendance in Catholic schools produced youngsters who hated going to Mass? Does external pressure not often generate the opposite effect? (see Diagram no 2)

Let us not forget that opposition to women priests is basically a prejudice. As psychological studies have shown, prejudice feeds on its own kind of reasoning. Prejudice justifies its hostility through arguments that pretend to be reasonable. "Prejudice is an emotional rigid attitude that leads one to select certain facts for emphasis, blinding one to other facts."12 Prejudice bases itself on "selective, obsolete and faulty evidence".13 The bias against American Africans ('blacks'), for instance, rested on the claim that they were an inferior race, less intelligent, happy-go-lucky, unreliable.14

With regard to women as priests, prejudice has ready-made arguments that go back to the Middle Ages. "Jesus did not choose women priests. The Church has never admitted women to holy orders, and-so-on" Arguments used to shore up a prejudice have to be taken seriously because the first step in dismantling a prejudice is for those who hold it to recognise that its basis is false. It requires challenging the truth of one's reasons and one's rationalisations. Overcoming the bias against blacks, for instance, called for a recognition of their intelligence, strength of character and reliability. Bishops, priests or lay people who think it was Jesus who excluded women, should be brought to an awareness of the emptiness of that claim. And their smug assertion that "it was never done" can be demolished by the indisputable evidence that women were admitted to the holy orders of the diaconate through a full sacramental rite of ordination.

Diagram 3

Diagram 3

The need of a concerted effort to spread correct information follows also from the behaviour of social groups when faced with outside criticism. Remember 'group indoctrination', a phenomenon well known from present-day 'sects and cults' who try to immunise their members by inculcating their own world view. Throughout the centuries the Church has often acted in a similar fashion. Because of Protestant propaganda and even persecution in some countries, the post-reformation Catholic Church screened itself off as a fortress 'to protect the faithful'. It produced catechisms to counteract attacks by opponents (see diagram no 3). A similar development is happening now.

Church leaders are well aware of the pressure exerted by women's emancipation in society. Over the past thirty years they have built up an official ideology that tries to spell out 'why the Catholic view is different'. For people who feel insecure in their Catholic identity, the 'official position' is gratefully seized upon. It is not uncommon for women, for instance, to defend the ban against women priests with an appeal to the traditional arguments. 15 They need those arguments to explain to themselves and to others why the Pope is right when he says that the exclusion of women from the ministry is not a denial of their dignity or equal status in the Church.

What we should note is that the 'equal rights' argument will not convince such people. Their reaction will be: "So what? This is not an equal rights issue. It is Jesus himself who wanted it this way. And he had good reasons."

The consequences of all this are clear.

Principle Two. The women's ordination movement needs to sustain a programme of education for change. (See diagram no 4)

1. Our core members need to be thoroughly briefed so that they can act as facilitators.

Diagram 4

Diagram 4

It is not enough for our key members to support the ordination of women on the general axiom of 'equality in Christ' (however valid that basic axiom is). They will have to know the arguments for and against.

  • No dialogue with traditionalist members of the Church is possible without understanding their way of thinking. Regretfully, facilitators need to be familiar with the main grounds on which women are banned from ordination, and the theological reasons that invalidate these grounds. (See diagram no 7).

  • Facilitators also need to be clear on positive reasons from Scripture and Tradition for the ordination of women; and on questions of strategy. (See diagram no 8).

  • The Catholic Internet Library on Women's Ordination offers a short Internet course on the women priest question that covers the main areas of debate.

2. Via the media, the general public should be involved in an informed discussion.

Diagram 7

Diagram 7

We live in a media age and people pick up 'the truth' from the media. Fortunately, the media are interested in the issue of women's ordination (they love conflict), but they are liable to overstress the equal rights angle in the sense of: "The Catholic Church is the last bastion of male monopolies". While this may be true, it will arouse defence mechanisms in the minds of many Catholics. It is important, therefore, that the theological arguments also be addressed.

  • Documentaries, panel discussions, interviews, in-depth articles can raise a genuine awareness of the real religious issues that are at stake and of the flimsy basis for traditionalist claims.
  • This needs to be planned with the help of professional media personnel. Too often we are at the mercy of the media's own agenda.

3. We need to keep discussion alive among opinion leaders in the Church.

In the Catholic Church the main opinion leaders are: bishops, priests, theologians, editors, authors, lecturers and teachers. All these groups belong to organisations and have regular meetings. Many of these opinion leaders are sympathetic to the cause of women priests, but they may need to be prodded to put the issue on their 'consultation agendas'.

  • We must promote seminars, workshops and conferences on the ordination of women wherever possible.
  • Organisations should be asked to devote a regular event (for instance, their annual meeting) to this topic.

4.  Our facilitators could conduct awareness courses on local level.

Most parishes have prayer groups, bible groups, advent or lent groups, women's or men's associations that might be open to such courses.

  • A series of meetings (e.g. five evenings) could be organised by a local facilitator during which the issues are presented and discussed. Suitable material for this should be prepared that could include: a small guide, reading matter and accompanying videos.
  • Institutions that run theological formation programmes for priests, religious or the laity could offer specific courses on the women priest discussion.

5. Our educational programmes will also inspire confidence.

Struggling against patriarchal structures often seems like fighting for a lost cause. Signs of despondency soon set in. Support is essential, both through proper information and by mutual solidarity. The Church has faced this kind of crisis before, and reforms have happened. We can move forward with the firm conviction that what we are working and praying for, will one day become a reality.

Creating contrary experiences

Another lesson we can learn from psychology is that providing correct information is not enough. Prejudice gets its best chance to flourish and grow through what has been called 'social distance'. It is broken down by creating familiarity (see diagram no 2, bottom half).

Diagram 8

Diagram 8

To stay with our previous example of Afro-Americans since the phenomenon was widely studied, people prejudiced against 'blacks' rarely knew them as intimate friends. In this context, psychologists identified six circles of closeness: (1) kinship by marriage; (2) personal friends; (3) neighbours; (4) colleagues at work; (5) immigrants; and (6) visitors to one's country. A research from 1928 showed that standard white Americans would admit white Englishmen or Canadians to circles of family and friendship, would hesitate about Spaniards, Italians and Jews, and would positively bar Negroes, Chinese and Indians. On the other hand, once individuals from these suspect nations were admitted to closer circles, prejudice was more easily broken down.16

I do not know if you have heard the story about the surgeon who arrived late at the hospital and rushed into the operation theatre where a young man was waiting to undergo emergency surgery. On seeing the patient, the surgeon exclaimed: "He is my son!" The patient opened his eyes and said: "Hi, mum!" -- Surprised? We are still not accustomed to think of women as surgeons. And what about the young man who said "Hi, mum!" to the bishop?

Familiarity is the key word here. Catholics are used to see only men officiating at the altar, only men taking all decisions in the diocese and the parish. Unconsciously they associate liturgical functions with men. The more they see women in roles that border on the priestly ministry, the more they will overcome inner psychological resistance.

Principle three. The women's ordination movement should promote all developments through which women are given more responsibility in the Church. (see diagram no 5)

In other words: the intermediate steps too count. Psychological barriers have to be broken down by women assuming a more visible presence in the Catholic community.

1. Women should be at the altar in liturgical settings.

Diagram 5

Diagram 5

Though the priestly ministry extends much wider than presiding over the Eucharist, it is women's closeness to the Eucharist that will serve as a powerful symbol for traditional Catholics.

  • Women already function in eucharistic worship as members or directors of the choir.  This is an advance, since until 1917 women were forbidden to be members of the choir by Church law. This ridiculous prohibition was reiterated more than once by the Sacred Congregation for Liturgy: 

"Neither girls nor adult women may be members of a church choir" (decree 17 Sept. 1897).

"Women should not be part of a choir; they belong to the ranks of the laity. Separate women's choirs too are totally forbidden, except for serious reasons and with permission of the bishop" (decree 22 Nov. 1907).

"Any mixed choir of men and women, even if they stand far from the sanctuary, is totally forbidden" (decree 18 Dec. 1908).

  • In many places women are beginning to function as Mass servers, readers, ministers of holy communion, preachers and as presiding over communion services. Here too we have made progress. The 1917 Code of Law restricted all ministries at the altar to males (CIC 813). The new Code of 1983 which is still in force today, allows lay people, including women, to be readers, Mass servers, cantors, preachers, leaders of prayer services, ministers of baptism and communion, but only by a 'temporary deputation' (Canon 230, §2-3).
  • Inclusive language should be used at all times during liturgical services. Even if the officiating priest forgets to do this, other ministers such as readers and preachers should observe the rule. People will get the point. 

    During the prayers of intercession, a regular petition could be inserted asking the Holy Spirit to guide the Church in the matter of the ordination of women, or some such prayer. The formulation has here deliberately to be left open for two reasons: (a) we should not dictate to the Holy Spirit what she should do; (b) all members of the community should be able to join in the petition, whatever side they are on regarding women priests.

2. The movement should encourage all situations in which pastoral authority is entrusted to women.

Present Church law forbids women to be clerics and so deprives all women of clerical offices which require the power of order or the power of jurisdiction [=church governance] (can. 219, §1 & 274 § 1). On the other hand, Church law allows women to be appointed to many tasks and this should be exploited to the full:

  • To be a member of the pastoral council of the diocese (can. 512 § 1) and of the parish (can. 536 § 1).
  • To be full members of provincial councils of bishops (can. 443 § 4), diocesan synods (can. 463 § 2 & 1.5), the finance committee of the diocese (can. 492 § 1) and of the parish (can. 537). To be a financial administrator of the diocese (can. 494).
  • To be consultors on the appointment of parish priests (can. 524) and the appointment of bishops (can. 377 § 3).
  • To preach in a church or oratory though not the homily (can. 766).
  • To be catechists (can. 785) and to give assistance to the parish priest in the catechetical formation of adults, young people and children (can. 776).
  • To assist at marriages under certain conditions (c.1112).
  • To assist the parish priest in exercising the pastoral care of the community, as parish assistants, or as chaplains in hospitals, colleges, youth centres and social institutions (can. 519).
  • To be to be entrusted with a parish because of a shortage of priests (can. 517 § 2).
  • To administer certain sacramentals (can. 1168).
  • To hold offices in an ecclesiastical tribunal, such as being judges (can. 1421 § 2), assessors (can. 1424), auditors (can 1428 § 2), promotors of justice and defenders of the marriage bond (can. 1435).
  • To hold the diocesan offices of a chancellor or a notary (can. 483 § 2).

3. The women's ordination movement should promote the ordination of women as deacons as a first step.

The Church has a well-established tradition of women deacons. It is possible that Rome will make some concession in this regard.

  • Women who feel called to the ministry should be encouraged to study full theological courses.
  • Suitable candidates should be prepared to serve as deacons. However, the women's ordination movement should never accept a watered-down version of the diaconate for women. If women are ordained deacons, this should be done on the understanding that the sacrament of the diaconate is administered to them as to male deacons.17

All the above tasks can be taken up by women under the existing law and the opportunities offered here are not fully utilised. It is encouraging that various bishops' conferences are promoting a better integration of women into leadership roles.18 At the same time, women are already developing new ministries in pastoral settings of North and South America, Africa, Asia and Europe. These may well herald the way in which a reformed priestly ministry will function in the future.

Overcoming organisational control

In recent years Rome has unleashed an unprecedented 'reign of terror' in the Church with the express purpose of suppressing all further discussion on women priests. This springs, no doubt, from the conviction that the ordination of women contradicts Scripture and Tradition, and that the faithful should be spared the ordeal of going through uncertainty and confusion. Powerful measures of organisational control have been put in place and are being constantly monitored (see diagram no 3, bottom half).

  • Bishops. Only those men are elected as candidates for the episcopacy who undertake, probably on oath, not to promote the ordination of women. Constant pressure is put on bishops 'to resolutely refuse any support to those people, whether individuals or groups, who defend the priestly ordination of women, whether they do so in the name of progress, human rights, compassion or whatever reason it may be'.19 Individual bishops receive detailed instructions from Rome regarding supposed 'dissidents' in their dioceses. The Synods of Bishops, which were instituted by the Vatican Council to curb curial monopoly, have been deprived of any real influence by a rigging of the agenda, by saturating committees with members of the Roman Curia, by a subtle censorship of bishops' contributions, by selectively omitting resolutions voted on by the bishops.20

  • Religious Superiors. Whenever a man or woman religious expresses disagreement with Rome's view on women priests, Roman Congregations lean on the Superior General concerned. Usually this happens behind the scenes and religious superiors are urged to keep Rome's intervention secret, but some cases have come out into the open. In October 1994, fourteen prominent Religious Sisters in India belonging to ten different Religious Congregations addressed their objections to Ordinatio Sacerdotalis in a letter to the Holy Father. All the Congregations were leaned upon.21

  • Theologians. Professors in seminaries and theological colleges are required to swear the oath of loyalty which now, since Ad Tuendam Fidem(28 May 1998), includes agreement to the ban on women priests. Theologians have been dismissed from their teaching posts because of their views on the ordination of women. Others have been warned that they will be dismissed if they speak out on the issue. Rome has issued new instructions that put Catholic Colleges under more direct ecclesiastical control. I know of cases where theologians have been admonished by their bishops, on instigation of Rome, because they had allowed their articles to be published on the women priests' web site. Last year the Bishops' Conference of England and Wales withdrew sponsorship of a theological conference in Newman College, Birmingham, because I was one of the speakers.22

  • Editors, Writers, Publishers. Many Catholic newspapers and magazines are vulnerable because they are owned by dioceses or by publishing houses owned by religious congregations. Rome has issued strict instructions to book censors not to give the Imprimatur or Nihil Obstat to books favourable to women priests. The Liturgical Press of St. John's Abbey, Minnesota, North American publisher of Woman at the Altar by Lavinia Byrne, allegedly burnt its stock of 1300 copies when it was informed by the local bishop that Rome was displeased with the book. A number of Catholic publishers to whom I showed the manuscript of The Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church. Unmasking a Cuckoo's Egg Tradition, responded with: "We'd love to publish a book like that, but we can't in the present climate in the Church!"

  • Parish Priests, Lay leaders. Through the new oath of loyalty priests too are put under pressure to fall in line with Rome's opposition to women priests. The ban to women priests has been incorporated into central Church documents: Church Law (can. 1024), the official Catechism (§ 1577).

  • Congresses and Meetings of Catholic Organisations. The outcome of such consultations is often manipulated by Roman interference. An infamous example is the Third World Congress for the Lay Apostolate (Rome 1967) that manifested the wide range of 'hierarchical control mechanisms' that Rome has used ever since.23

The intimidation from above has resulted in a climate in which many individuals and groups act and speak against their better knowledge. They feel trapped between conflicting loyalties. On the one hand, they do not want to disobey authority or risk their jobs and positions. On the other hand, they realise that Rome's stand against women priests is really untenable and is doomed to fail. This becomes a problem of conscience which is 'resolved' with the help of classical rationalisations:

  • Authority has spoken. I have to obey.
  • Everybody else toes the party line. Why should I risk my neck?
  • Another Pope will surely change this policy, meanwhile I better comply . . .
  • It is better for the people entrusted to me that I keep my job.

It is not my intention here to condemn the persons who are caught in this terrible dilemma. Their struggle is real. As a professor of Sacred Scripture in the missionary college in London I experienced the same trauma. I continued to teach, saying to myself: "Surely the Church will come round soon! It's better for my students that I stay. I can prepare them for the future ... " That was before Ad Tuendam Fidem that imposed the oath. The problem is that, while everyone finds excuses, integrity, truth and credibility suffer. If people comply, and even swear oaths, with bad consciences, the Church itself is gradually being corrupted. For what is more important in theology than that the truth be fearlessly sought out and freely discussed? And what is more important for the teaching authority than that its opinions can be trusted? And what is more dreadful to the People of God than that they are reduced to a bunch of puppets held by a string?

The abuse of power by the Roman Curia calls for an urgent reform of how authority is structured and exercised in the Church. 24 It also calls for special steps on our part.

Principle Four. The movement for the ordination of women should promote integrity at all costs. (see diagram no 6)

1. Pastoral leaders should be encouraged to speak out.

Diagram 6

Diagram 6

In recent years a number of bishops, religious superiors, parish priests and theologians have spoken out. They deserve our full support and their statements should be widely publicised to encourage others to do the same.

In this context it is useful to remind all concerned that Church functionaries who have sworn the 'oath of loyalty' are not bound by the oath as to parts which go against their conscience. Bishops, for instance, who have promised not to promote the ordination of women as a condition of their admission to the episcopacy, are able to change their position once they realise that the ban against women priests is based on faulty evidence. Bishops know from their study of moral theology that a promise, even if made under oath, ceases to oblige if (a) a substantial error affected their knowledge regarding the object of the promise, or (b) if an error affected the purpose of the promise (e.g. what is good for the Church), or (c) if the promise was made under fear, or (d) if the object of the promise has become impossible or harmful. The promise ceases ab intrinseco, as Thomas Aquinas taught: "Whatever would have been an impediment to the making of a promise if it had been present, also lifts the obligation from a promise that has been made."25

2. We must 'disrupt the system' by voicing protests on all suitable occasions.

It has become clear from many studies that oppressive systems are kept in power through the complicity of silent majorities who disagree, but who allow the oppression to continue. This applied to the Soviet Union26 and to dictatorial governments in Latin America,27 and it has consequences for Christians,28 also in the context of the women priests' question. Church leaders will continue to ignore the issue unless we constantly remind them of the anomaly. This is known as 'disrupting the system'. 29

Women's movements in many countries are already engaged in such activity: rallies in front of the diocesan cathedral on regular days; parish priests who refuse to take the oath of loyalty;30 male pastoral workers who decline the diaconate until their women colleagues will also be ordained;31 public billboards demanding 'Ordain Women' and many other actions. The North-American Women's Ordination Conference is leading the way, and publicising ideas through its email newsletter Action Alert and its quarterly NewWomen, NewChurch.32

It is imperative that such demonstrations be stepped up and maintained.

3. We must expose all forms of behind-the-scene pressure.

Many Catholics would be appalled if they knew how much pressure Rome is putting on bishops, religious superiors, heads of colleges, theologians, editors, publishers and writers. Rome often succeeds because it simultaneously imposes a duty of 'silence'. No one is supposed to know. But, unless there is a genuine case in which confidentiality needs to be maintained for some personal reasons, this secrecy plays into the hands of those who abuse their power. The answer lies in openness and in revealing publicly what is happening.

At the Synod on Evangelisation in 1974, Vatican organisers surreptitiously withdrew a report of what the 200 participating bishops had suggested in their various workshops and substituted it with a document they themselves had already prepared in advance. The new document was presented as if it was a summary of the bishops' suggestions. The ploy was only frustrated by some participants courageously unmasking the deceit in a general assembly.33

Public awareness in the Church will be aroused if more and more of such cases are brought out into the light for all to see.


The Catholic Church will eventually ordain women as priests. How long we will have to wait for this will depend on a number of factors: the emergence of new leaders, external circumstances such as the loss of membership and the lack of priests that may force the Church to re-consider its traditional stand, and the degree to which rank-and-file bishops, priests, religious and lay people are willing to challenge the system. But the Holy Spirit to should not be underestimated. It has already shown the way in other Christian Churches.

The Catholic Church has gone through crises before. Often the struggles and agonies of its committed members led to revolutionary changes that went even beyond people's hopes and visions. The Spirit wrests new beginnings from suffering and defeat. Old structures need to be knocked down for life to produce new shoots. For our campaign is not just our own, it is the never-ending struggle of the Holy Spirit herself who, in the words of St. Paul, groans in us as we, first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly waiting for our full identities to be set free. And we can be full of hope.

For the Spirit comes to help us in our weakness. When we cannot find the right words for our prayer, the Spirit herself expresses our plea in a way that could never be put into words. And God, who knows everything in our hearts, knows perfectly well what the Spirit means. For the pleas of the faithful expressed by the Spirit are according to the mind of God. 34

- John Wijngaards


  1.  The cartoons in this paper are from Kritische Trouw, R. Bunnik (ed.), Arnhem 2000, here re-printed with permission.
  2. Inter Insigniores, 15 October 1976, § 1-4; see also the 'Official Commentary on Inter Insigniores', § 1-12, Acta Apostolicae Sedis 69 (1977) 98-116.
  3. Ida Raming, The Exclusion of Women from the Priesthood: Divine Law or Sex Discrimination?, Metuchen 1976; Rosemary Radford Ruether, The Radical Kingdom. The Western Experience of Messianic Hope, New York 1970; Sexism and God-Talk. Toward a Feminist Theology, Boston 1983; Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women's Liberation, Boston 1973; Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, Der vergessene Partner, Düsseldorf 1964; In Memory of Her, New York 1983; Discipleship of Equals. A Critical Feminist Ecclesia-logy of Liberation, New York 1993; etc.
  4. Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, In Memory of Her: Feminist Theological Reconstruction of Christian Origins, New York 1983; Bread not Stone: the Challenge of Feminist Biblical Interpretation, Boston 1984; But She Said: Feminist Practices of Biblical Interpretation, Boston 1992; Karen JoTorjesen, When Women Were Priests, New York 1993; Luise Schottroff, Lydia's Impatient Sisters: A Feminist Social History of Early Christianity, Louisville 1995; Anne Jensen, God's Self-Confident Daughters: Early Christianity and the Liberation of Women, Louisville 1996; Ute E. Eisen, Amtsträgerinnen im frühen Christentum, Göttingen 1996; Luise Schottroff, Silvia Schroer and Marie-Therese Wacker, Feminist Interpretation: The Bible in Women's Perspective, Mineapolis 1998; etc.
  5. For instance, the Storia delle Donne in Occidente, Laterza, Rome 1991, five large volumes, now in many languages; Hulia Bolton Holloway et al. (ed.), Equally in God's Image - Women in the Middle Ages, New York 1990; Glenna Matthews, The Rise of Public Woman: Woman's Power and Woman's Place in the United States 1630-1970, New York 1992; Susan Hill Lindley, 'You Have Stept Out of Your Place', A History of Women and Religion in America, Louisville 1996.
  6. Ann Belford Ulanov, The Feminine in Jungian Psychology and Christian Theology, Evanston 1971; Receiving Woman: Studies in the Psychology and Theology of the Feminine, Philadelphia 1981; Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, Cambridge MA 1982; Charlene Spretnak (ed.), The Politics of Women's Spirituality, New York 1982; Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, The Divine Feminine: the Biblical Imagery of God as Female, New York 1983; Luce Irigaray, Speculum of the Other Woman, Ithaca 1983; Janet Martin Soskice, Metaphor and Religious Language, Oxford 1985; (ed.) After Eve - Women, Theology and the Christian Tradition, London 1990; Demeris S. Weir, Jung and Feminism: Liberating Archetypes, Boston 1987; Mary Grey, Redeeming the Dream. Feminism, Redemeption and Christian Tradition, London 1989; Tina Beattie, God's Mother, Eve's Advocate. A Gynocentric Refiguration of Marian Symbolism in Engagement with Luce Irigaray, Bristol 1999; etc.
  7. Gaudium et Spes, § 11.
  8. Gaudium et Spes, § 29.
  9. Marie-Thérèse Van Lunen Chenu, 'Human Rights in the Church: a non-right for women in the Church?' in Human Rights. The Christian contribution, July 1998.
  10. John Wijngaards, Did Christ Rule out Women Priests?, Great Wakering 1977, pp. 63-71; see also The Ordination of Women in the Catholic Church. Unmasking a Cuckoo's Egg Tradition, Darton, Longman & Todd, London 2001.
  11. Vatican II, Lumen Gentium § 27.
  12. G.E. Simpson and J.M.Yinger, Racial and Cultural Minorities. An Analysis of Prejudice and Discrimination, New York 1972, p. 24.
  13. M. Macgreil, Prejudice and Tolerance in Ireland, Dublin 1977, p. 9.
  14. J.W. van der Zanden, American Minority Relations, New York 1972, p. 22.
  15. Read, for instance, Joanna Bogle, Does the Church Oppress Women?, Catholic Truth Society, London 1999.
  16. E. M. Bogardus, Immigration and Race Attitudes, Heath 1928, pp. 13 - 29; see also M. Banton, 'Social Distance: a New Appreciation', The Sociological Review, December 1960.
  17. The Maria von Magdala group in Germany is actively preparing for women's diaconate. Contact: Angelika Fromm, Fritz Kohl Strasse 7, D 55122 Mainz, Germany.
  18. (The Netherlands) Vrouw en Kerk, Raad voor Kerk en Samenleving, Kaski 1987; 'Oog voor verschil en gelijkwaardigheid', Kerkelijke Dokumentatie 4 (1998) no 5, pp. 47-53; (USA) NCCB Committee on Women, 'From Words to Deeds: Continuing Reflections on the Role of Women in the Church', Origins 28 (1998) no 20.
  19. Letter of the Congregation for Doctrine to Bishops, Osservatore Romano 13 September 1983.
  20. This has been documented in detail for the Synod on the Family. See J. Grootaers and J. A. Selling, The 1980 Synod of Bishops On the Role of the Family, Louvain 1983, 375 pages. Similar manipulations took place at the Synods on Evangelisation, on the Laity, on Africa, on Asia, on Europe, to mention but a few (see The Tablet, correspondence 16 Oct - 20 Nov 1999).
  21. 'Women Religious in India respond to John Paul II', Worth (10 October 1994), Jegamatha Ashram, Ponmalaipatti, Tiruchirapalli 620 004, India.
  22. Archbishop Vincent Nichols of Birmingham, prompted by Rome, demanded that I undertake in writing not to raise the question of women priests. I refused to do so even though my topic was not directly related to women priests. See The Tablet, 24 June 2000, pp. 875-876.
  23. J.G.Vaillancourt, Papal Power. A Study of Vatican Control over Lay Catholic Elites, Berkeley 1980.
  24. B. Tierney, Origins of Papal Infallibility, Brill, Leiden 1972; A.B. Hasler, Wie der Papst unfehlbar wurde, Munich 1979; P. Chirico, Infallibility: The Cross roads of Doctrine, Michael Glazier, Wilmington 1983; J.M.R.Tillard, The Bishop of Rome, Michael Glazier, Wilmington 1983; P. Granfield, The Papacy in Transition, Gill, Dublin 1981; P. Granfield, The Limits of the Papacy: Authority and Autonomy in the Church, Crossroad, New York 1990; L.M.Bermejo, Infallibility on Trial: Church, Conciliarity and Communion, Christian Classics, Westminster 1992; H.Küng, Infallible? An Inquiry, Collins, London 1971; SCM, London 1994; P. Dentin, Les privilèges des papes devant l'écriture et l'histoire, Cerf, Paris 1995; P. Collins, Papal Power, Harper Collins, Australia 1997; M. Fiedler & L. Rabben (eds.), Rome has Spoken ..., Crossroad, New York 1998; E. Stourton, Absolute Truth, London 1998; J.Manning, Is the Pope Catholic?, Toronto 1999.
  25. Thomas Aquinas, Scriptum super IV libros Sententiarum dist. 38, q.1, sol. 1 ad 1; D. M. Prümmer, Manuale Theologiae Moralis, Freiburg 1936, vol. II, 'De Voto', pp. 326-348.
  26. A.D. Sakharov, Progress, Coexistence and Intellectual Freedom, Pelican 1968.
  27. For instance, G. Gutiérrez, 'Notes for a Theology of Liberation', Theological Studies 31 (1970) pp. 243-261; C. Torres, Revolutionary Priest, Pelican 1973.
  28. H. Gollwitzer, Veränderungen im Diesseits. Politische Predigten, Munich 1973.
  29. J.B.Metz, Unterbrechungen. Theologisch-politische Perspektive und Profile, Gütersloh 1981; R. van Eyden, 'Womenpriests: Keeping Mum or Speaking Out?', (2 November 1996); english text on
  30. E. McCarthy, 'Soline Vatinel, the Archbishop and Me', BASIC Newsletter (19 January 2000) pp. 26 - 31.
  31. In the diocese of Augsburg, Germany; see Diakonia 24 (May 1993) nr.3.
  32. Both are an absolute must for WO campaigners. WOC National Office, PO Box 2693, Fairfax, VA 22031, USA. Tel. + 1 - 703 - 352 1006. Email:
  33. The details of these machinations were narrated to me, in a personal discussion, by Fr. D. S. Amalorpavadass, one of the two Secretary Generals at the Synod. See The Tablet, 6 November 1999, pp. 1506-1507.
  34. Romans 8, 26-27.

Let the Truth Be Told

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Let the Truth be Told

  • The Organising Committee of the WOW 2001 Conference wish to make it clear that, in spite of some misleading press publicity, Bishop Pat Buckley did not attend the conference, and played no part in it whatsoever.

  • Notwithstanding statements to the contrary by a spokesperson in the Vatican and by others, we bear witness that Sr. Myra Poole and Sr. Joan Chittister were subjected to great personal pressure and stress in the attempt to force them to withdraw from the conference, and were given to understand by the Roman authorities that they were under threat of expulsion from their communities.

Post Conference Commentary: Soline Vatinel - Ireland

JUNE 29 - JULY 1, 2001

WOW 2001 Dublin: Some personal reflections in guise of appraisal
by Soline Vatinel
July 30, 2001


Soline Vatinel

Soline Vatinel

It is now one month since the Conference took place. What remains with me is a lasting sense of joy and of gratitude, because we were deeply blessed. I said at the close of the conference that, as organisers, it had exceeded our wildest dreams and I still believe it. In fact even more so now. This is because the conference was meant to be a celebration and it truly was: the photos show so many happy faces!

Many, before the conference, were wondering what was there to celebrate? The experience of women with a calling to the priesthood had been one filled with so much pain. The church climate had been so hostile and the rejection so crushing that many had lost hope. How could we gather to CELEBRATE women's call to a renewed priesthood? Wouldn't MOURNING be more appropriate? Wasn't meeting a waste of time, another futile exercise in venting one's pain and anger? It could only lead to greater frustration.... Etc. And bitter, angry and dejected people are not much fun to be around, to tell the truth! ...

Perhaps the real challenge was contained in that invitation to celebrate. Recently a journalist, reflecting on the conference and its aftermath, said to me: " You have started a revolution in the Church!  Time will tell, but what is certain is that to celebrate is truly a revolutionary activity .It stems from the Joy of the Risen Christ, a Joy that nothing and nobody can take away from us .A sign that love is stronger than death.

I would just like to relate a few of the comments made to me by some of the participants and which I think are significant.

One woman, a religious sister who is a hospital chaplain and who has a vocation to the priesthood, sent a lovely bouquet of flowers to thank us for organizing the conference. She explained what it had meant to her: " When I first came on Friday, I was afraid who might see me there. By Sunday, I didn't care any more, I was no longer afraid. "

Another woman said to me: " there was a meeting called for all the women who have a vocation to the priesthood and who were willing to acknowledge it publicly. The amazing thing is that when I got there I found the room was actually too small, so many were there, from so many different countries."

And another one, an Irish grand mother in her late seventies sent a thank you card with the words: "I think every woman left the conference with her head held high."

I believe that the great gift of the conference is that it banished fear. Fear, as we are so often reminded by Jesus in the Gospel, is the enemy of love. Unfortunately fear has been dominating our Church as coercion and punishment have been the rule. At the conference, courage shone brightly: I am thinking particularly of the courage of Sr Joan Chittister, her prioress ad sisters, and also Sr Myra Poole, who had been threatened with severe penalties if they attended. But also the courage of many others, less public, but very real. No longer victims of injustice and exclusion, we found our strength and our dignity.

So the silence was broken, the deadly silence born of fear. " What you have heard in the depth of your heart, proclaim on the rooftops.". A voice was given to the priestly call of women; in fact it was given many voices, in many different languages...

And it banished the shame and the stigma: For too long women with a vocation to the priesthood had had to hide it, to carry it as a guilty secret. Now it could be brought into the open, affirmed as a godly gift and rejoiced over!

Coming together from the Four Corners of the earth also broke down the sense of isolation, and the helplessness which goes with it. Women with a calling to the priesthood have so often been made to feel that they are the only one, that there is no support, that they have an individual problem ...At the conference all this was replaced by a wonderful sense of solidarity: Solidarity among women, but also very importantly solidarity among Christians of different denominations and between men and women.

For me the conference was a wonderful experience of being church, of being the Body of Christ. And there was a sense that while we had experienced all the pain of a crucifixion, we were now tasting the new life of the Resurrection.

The fruit of this new life are hope and energy, the DYNAMOS of the Spirit: this comes out repeatedly from all the messages we have been receiving since the conference. So many of the participants have gone back with fresh hearts for the journey ahead, emboldened and strengthened .The resolutions for action decided upon at the conference are already being implemented. The good news of the conference is spreading far and wide, bringing hope that change is possible. In fact that change IS already taking place.

NOW IS THE TIME was the rallying call of the conference. Ardent prayer and a discerning reading of the signs of the times had revealed to us that indeed now was the Kairos, the appointed time. We were summoned by the Risen Christ to gather in faith, love and hope. We were richly rewarded by the presence of our ever faithful God. And our mourning turned into dancing ... MAGNIFICAT!

As I have been reflecting and praying since the conference, two images have come to me to try and grasp the meaning of what we have experienced. One is that of Birth. This image came very strongly to me at the close of the conference and was echoed by another committee member. After a miracle pregnancy, several threatened miscarriages and painful labour pangs we had delivered new life! And then another image has been coming to me equally strongly: that of Pentecost. The presence of the Spirit was so tangible at the conference it left us in awe. We, who organised the conference, know that we did not make it happen. All our hard work was nothing in comparison with the gift we received.

A New Church being born? Deo Gratias.

- Soline Vatinel

Post Conference Commentary: Anna March - Tasmania

I can't leave. I can't stay, and remain silent. Therefore I must speak, and if necessary, act. I have to learn to stand in the fire, at the heart of an incongruence so deep it is schizoid. I practise lovingly standing my ground, fighting sacramentally. I think a lot about Gandhi and Martin Luther King and what they embodied. - Anna March

Read More

Press Release: Now is the Time: A Celebration of Women's Call to a Renewed Priesthood in the Catholic Church

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Now is the Time:
A Celebration of Women's Call to a Renewed Priesthood in the Catholic Church
Dublin, Ireland, 29th June to 1st July 2001

PRESS RELEASE issued 2 July 2001

  1. 370 participants from 26 countries and 6 continents gathered in Dublin for this conference titled 'NOW IS THE TIME - A Celebration of Women's call to a Renewed Priesthood in the Catholic Church'.

  2. The main speakers were

    • Mairead Corrigan Maguire, Nobel Peace Prize Winner from Belfast

    • Rose Hudson-Wilkin, Church of England Vicar from London

    • Joan Chittister, Benedictine Sister from Erie, PA., USA.

    • John Wijngaards, Theologian & Webmaster.

  3. Resolutions: 11 Resolutions for future actions to further women's ordination were voted on and approved by the Conference. One resolution, narrowly missing the 60% approval rate, was not approved. This resolution had called for Peter's Pence payment to Rome to be withheld and redirected to organisations supporting women's ordination. Attached to this release is a full list of all the resolutions which were approved, starting with a call to the Pope to revoke the ban on the discussion of women's ordination.

  4. Aruna Gnanadason, from the World Council of Churches, was to have been the key-note speaker on the Friday evening, but was forced to withdraw due to pressure from the Vatican.

  5. International Panel: Six representatives from countries with 'lesser heard voices' addressed the conference, sharing some of the realities of the position of women in both state and church.

    • Velisiwe Mary Mkhwanazi from South Africa

    • Theresa Trujillo from Mexico and the USA

    • Yury del Carmen Puello Orozco from Colombia & Brazil

    • Apollonia Lugemna from Uganda

    • Naoko Iyori from Japan

    • Kornélia Buday from Hungary

  6. Myra Poole who has been a Notre Dame sister for forty two years and who, for the past three years has been the International Coordinator for WOW (Women's Ordination Worldwide), was forbidden by the Vatican to attend this conference. She was told that if she attended this conference she would be expelled from her Order. After much prayer and reflection, she arrived at the Conference on Saturday afternoon, to great acclamation from all the participants.

  7. Joan Chittister of the Benedictine Order in Erie, Pensylvania, and honoured worldwide for her contributions to Spirituality and Theology, was likewise warned by the Vatican not to attend this conference. 135 sisters of the Benedictine Order signed letters of support for the monastic practice of personal responsibility and Joan's decision to attend. Joan insists that "the Benedictines do not adopt a hierarchical approach to obedience, but have a monastic charism that sees discernment and individual responsibility as the basis of an adult obedience." She received a huge standing ovation for her talk.

  8. Soline Vatinel, spokesperson for the WOW conference, declared that "it's success had exceeded our wildest dreams." The packed timetable included prayers, talks, discussions, drafting of resolutions. The conference concluded with a very moving and spiritual Liturgy of Thanksgiving.

  9. Copies of the talks given at the conference are available at

Further information contact Soline Vatinel at Tel +353-1-288 5520 and

Post Conference Pilgrimage to Glenalough

Women's Ordination Worldwide
First International Conference
Now is the Time: A Celebration of Women's Call to a Renewed Priesthood in the Catholic Church
Dublin, Ireland
June 29 - July 1, 2001


by Rita Connolly

Two coachloads of pilgrims set out for Glendalough on the Monday morning after the Conference.


There was a clear and cloudless blue sky and the countryside looked like a perfect rustic scene once outside the city - green fields and hills with sheep and cattle grazing peacefully; a perfect setting for a meditative afternoon. We duly arrived in Glendalough and the plan for the day was explained.

We met our two guides Sr. Genevieve Mooney and Sr. Mary Doyle who were going to lead our group on the meditative walk. After a very pleasant lunch at the Glendalough Hotel the first group set off and the second group was to follow soon after. I was to assist with the second group of pilgrims - checking that no one got lost or left behind etc. It soon became clear that most of the second group had in fact taken off with the first group, leaving a straggle of lost sheep with no guide! We hurried along to catch up. As our guides pointed out various items of interest on the way, a natural exchange of walking companions was facilitated so thoughts and experiences of other pilgrims were exchanged, reminding me of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, as we wended our way along the side of the lake. We heard the tale of St. Kevin befriending the monster of the lake - a possible new approach for dealing with our own personal monsters perhaps? Further along we were invited to pick a stone and cast it into the lake and with it our worries and difficulties. We ended our walk encircled by a stone wall, where we prayed an ancient Celtic prayer.

At this stage I for one, was very glad to hear that our bus was waiting to pick us up at this point. As we reassembled to take our places in the buses once more however, the tranquility of the afternoon came rather abruptly to an end; some people had to be at the airport at 6 p.m. and the time was now 4.30! Others who had opted for a meditative afternoon at the hotel could not be found when we called to collect them. Blood pressures rose almost as high as the Glendalough mountains surrounding us and some decidedly unmeditative exchanges were heard! However, I am happy to say that in spite of our difficulties - including luggage lost and thankfully found later - there were no lost pilgrims. I suddenly realised what a stressful job a shepherd/ess has - scarcely a moment's relaxation - and having to contend with wolves as well!

A word of tribute must be paid to our two coach drivers who gave valiant assistance in sorting out our problems and gallantly agreed to drop our pilgrims to city centre and beyond.

A memorable day indeed.

Summary of Conference: Diarmuid UaConaill

Women's Ordination Worldwide
1st International Conference

Now is the Time:
A Celebration of Women's Call to a Renewed Priesthood in the Catholic Church

Preliminary Summary Report by Diarmuid UaConaill

Our First International Conference was held in Dublin, Ireland, from 29 June to 1 July 2001. Attended by delegates from 26 countries on 6 continents, the event was voted an overwhelming success by those who participated. An impressive number of nuns and priests took part.

Although this conference focussed mainly on the issue of women's ordination in the Roman Catholic church, WOW is an ecumenical movement devoted to promoting women's ordination in all Christian churches; and the conference was attended by a small number of representatives of Anglican, Lutheran and other denominations. We were notified that the women priests of the Church of Ireland would wear purple stoles in support of our conference during services on Sunday 1st July.

The conference was opened formally by Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire, who spoke of the spiritual violence being done to Roman Catholics by their church's ban, not only on ordaining women but on discussing the issue, and the culture of fear that has been generated among so many of the clergy and laity.

Aruna Gnanadason of the World Council of Churches was to have given the Keynote Address; but Vatican pressure on the WCC forced her to withdraw. She sent us her paper in printed form.

In her place, Rev. Rose Hudson Wilkin, a priest of the Anglican communion, addressed us. As Soline Vatinel put it, Saint Thérèse sent us a Rose! Rose spoke of the pain as well as the joy in being a black woman priest, and of the road still to be travelled in the Church of England.

On Saturday morning Sister Joan Chittister, a Roman Catholic nun of the Benedictine order, spoke to us about the hard road of discipleship, the way of integrity that leads us to live on the edge, in the risky places, "where nice girls don't go". Joan had been threatened with discipline by Rome if she persisted in participating. 135 sisters of the Benedictine Order signed letters of support for the monastic practice of personal responsibility and Joan's decision to attend. Her presentation was greeted with an overwhelming standing ovation by the delegates.

The other main paper was presented by John Wijngaards, a theologian and priest of the Roman Catholic church who resigned his ministry in protest at Rome's stance on women's ordination. He delivered a detailed systematic treatise on the arguments for and against women's ordination, leavened with humour, and showing how and why he himself came to support the cause.

Towards the end of the Saturday afternoon session, an international panel, the "Lesser Heard Voices", brought us news and views on women's ordination and related issues from South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Uganda, Japan and Hungary. At the end of the presentations Sister Myra Poole came in to greet and thank the women who participated. Myra had chaired the Organising Committee of the conference, but was summoned to Rome and warned that she would be expelled from the order in which she has served for 42 years, if she participated in the event. She had the unqualified support of the rest of the committee in whatever she decided, but the choice was a lonely and a painful one. After days of struggle, she chose the hard road of discipleship and integrity, for the sake of all the other women threatened by Rome on this issue.

Papers apart, the process of the conference centred on two intertwined threads: the Liturgy and the Resolutions. Proposals for resolutions were invited from members of WOW beforehand, and we hoped through them to discern the spirit of the conference, and to point the way forward. At various stages the resolutions were debated, amended, rehashed, argued over, condensed, discussed again, and voted on; and eleven resolutions were adopted.

The conference began and ended with liturgy. The Thanksgiving liturgy on Sunday expressed in song, dance, symbolism, prayer and sharing, the joyful celebration of women's call to ordained ministry.

Of course it was not all work. On Saturday evening we had a festival dinner, with musical entertainment, dancing, and a wonderful sketch by a group of delegates in which Pope Joan and the Mothers of the Church discussed the issue of whether men could be validly ordained.

Not everyone at the conference was in favour of women's ordination. A small group of courageous women came to challenge and question the issues, but they were not disruptive in any way, and their views were respected.

There was pain in this conference, and righteous anger, and the naming of injustice and oppression; but the lasting memories are of joy, love, truth, and a wonderful sense of community.

Resolutions WOW Dublin International Conference 2001

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All of us, people of God, have gathered from twenty-six countries and six continents for the inaugural WOW ecumenical conference in Dublin, June 29 - July 1, 2001. As followers of Christ we answer the call to radical discipleship and seek justice so that all may participate in the sacrament of Orders. Conference members wholeheartedly celebrate the freedom of speech and the primacy of conscience proclaimed by the teachings of Vatican II. We consider any obstruction of these to constitute a violation of human rights and an obstacle to the Holy Spirit in guiding the churches into the fullness of truth.

Conference participants hold that vocations are not restricted by gender, race, marital status, sexuality, educational background or life opportunities.


1. That this conference calls on the Pope to revoke the ban on the discussion of women's ordination.

2. That this conference calls on each member organisation of WOW to pursue dialogue with local bishops, religious, priests and laity on the subject of women's ordination in the context of retrieving the discipleship of integrity.

3. That this conference calls on the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church to restore the diaconate to women as was the practice in the early church.

4. That this conference encourages women who feel called, to study for the diaconate and the priesthood and resolves to support the establishment of suitable training courses where they are not available to women at present.

5. That this conference resolves to promote the cause of women's ordination by drawing constant public attention to the issue, through regular demonstrations by each member organisation, by an annual world day of prayer for women's ordination on the 25th March and by a world conference within three to five years.

6. That this conference calls on ministers in all the churches to adapt the language used in liturgy to reflect the equal dignity of all Gods' people. Images of God need to reflect both the female and the male.

7. That this conference salutes Ludmila Javorova, our sister priest, and the women deacons ordained by courageous bishops in the underground Roman Catholic Church in Czechoslovakia and asks that the Vatican join us in recognising the validity of their orders.

8. That this conference proposes that WOW through its member groups create avenues for the financial support of those who lose their position as a result of their stand on the ordination of women.

9. That this conference calls on WOW through its member groups to encourage those women and men who have been punished for their support of women's ordination to tell their story publicly and expose the Vatican's actions.

10. That this conference proposes the setting up of a rapid response email system by WOW in order to support the networking of women's ordination groups.

11.  That this conference proposes that the purple stole/ribbon be adopted as the international symbol for women's ordination.

Dublin, July 1, 2001.

Keynote: Joan Chittister, osb: Discipleship for a Priestly People in a Priestless Period

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- Joan Chittister, OSB

Keynote Address
Women's Ordination Worldwide (WOW)
First International Conference
Dublin 2001

German Version

French Version

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB

Sister Joan Chittister, OSB

Three stories may explain these reflections on discipleship in an interim age best: The first is about a sweet old woman who had a unique - but somewhat dangerous - habit of making right hand turns from left hand lanes. They say the last time the guy in the cadillac she smashed into broadside, got out of his car, walked around the front, leaned over the driver's window and said, "Lady, just tell me, why didn't you signal?" And the old lady looked up at him and said, "Because, sonny, I always turn here."

The second story is from the Zen poet Basho who wrote: "I do not seek to follow in the footsteps of those of old; I seek the things they sought."

And the third is from ancient monastic literature: Once upon a time, the story goes, a minister traveled with great difficulty to a far away monastery because there was an old monastic there who had a reputation for asking very piercing spiritual questions. "Holy one," the minister said. "Give me a question that will renew my soul." "Ah, yes, then," the old monastic said, "your question is 'what do they need?'" The minister wrestled with the question for days but then, depressed, gave up and went back to the old monastic in disgust. "Holy one," the minister said, "I came here because I'm tired and depressed and dry. I didn't come here to talk about my ministry. I came here to talk about my spiritual life. Please give me another question." "Ah, well, of course. Now I see," the old monastic said, "In that case, the right question for you is not 'what do they need?' The right question for you is 'What do they really need?'"

That question haunts me. What do the people really need in a period when the sacraments are being lost in a sacramental church but all approaches to the question--even the admission that there is an admissible question about the nature and meaning of priesthood is being blocked, obstructed, denied, and suppressed?

"What do they really need?" becomes a haunting refrain in me for more reasons than the philosophical. Up at the top of a Mexican mountain, up beyond miles of rutted road and wet, flowing clay, I toured an Indian village that was visited by a priest only once a year. But that was years ago. Now the mountain is just as high but the priest is fifteen years older.

Five years ago I spoke in an American parish of 6000 families--one of those new western phenomenon known as 'mega-churches' that is served by three priests. There is no priest shortage there however, the priests want you to know, because the bishop has redefined the optimum ratio of priest to people from one to every 250 families to one priest to every 2000 families.

In diocese after diocese parishes are being merged, closed, turned into sacramental way stations, being served by retired priests or married male deacons, both of which are designed to keep the church male, whether it is ministering or not. The number of priests is declining: the number of Catholics is increasing; the number of lay ministers being certified is rising in every academic system despite the fact that their services are being restricted, rejected or made redundant in parish after parish than ever before.

And here in Pennsylvania there's a five year old girl who, when her parents answered her question about the absence of women priests in their parish with the flat explanation that "We don't have girl-priests in our church, darling," the little girl thought for a minute and then responded quite simply but sharply, "Then why do we go there?!"

Clearly, the church is changing even while it reasserts its changelessness. But static resistance is a far cry from the dynamism of the early church in which Prisca, and Lydia, and Thecla, and Phoebe and hundreds of women like them, opened house churches, walked as disciples of Paul, "constrained him," the scripture says, to serve a given region, instructed people in the faith and ministered to the fledgling Christian communities with no apology, no argument, no tricky theological shell games about whether they were ministering 'in persona Christi' or 'in nomine Christi'.

Clearly, both the question and the answer are clear: What do they really need? They need what they needed when the temple became more important than the Torah. They need what they needed when the faith was more a vision than an institution. They need what they have always needed: they need community, not patriarchal clericalism; they need the sacred, not the sexist; they need the human, not the homophobic. The people need more prophets of equality, not more pretenders to a priesthood of male privilege. They need discipleship, not canonical decrees.

So what is to be done at a time like this when what is being sought and what is possible are two different things? To what are we to give our energy when we are told no energy is wanted? The questions may sound new but the answer is an old one, an ancient one, a true one. The answer is discipleship. The fact is that we cannot possibly have a "renewed priesthood" unless we have a renewed discipleship in ourselves and around us - around us and in us as well. The temptation is to become weary in the apparently fruitless search for office. But the call is to become recommitted to the essential, the ancient, the authentic demands of discipleship. To renew priesthood, we must revive discipleship. If we seek the ordination that Jesus gives, we must pursue three things:

  1. we must understand the nature of discipleship;
  2. we must recognize the signs of true discipleship and
  3. we must be willing to give ourselves over to what discipleship demands now.

What is discipleship? Christian discipleship is by nature a very dangerous thing. It has put every person who ever accepted it at risk. It made every follower who ever took it seriously on alert for rejection, from Martin of Tours to John Henry Newman, from Mary Ward to Dorothy Day. Discipleship casts every fragile new Christian community in tension with the times in which it grows. In the early church to be a Christian community meant to defy Roman imperialism, to stretch Judaism itself, to counter pagan values with Christian ones. It demanded very concrete presence; it took great courage, unending fortitude and clear public posture. Real discipleship meant the rejection of real things: it meant the rejection of emperor worship, the foreswearing of animal sacrifice, the inclusion of Gentiles, the elimination of dietary laws, the disavowal of circumcision, the acceptance of women and the supplanting of law with love, of nationalism with universalism, of a chosen people with a global people - YOU! Then, the following of Christ was not an excursion into the intellectual, it was real and immediate and cosmic. It was not easy then and it will not be easy now.

The problem with Christian discipleship is that instead of simply requiring a kind of academic or ascetic exercise - the implication of most other kinds of 'discipleship' - Christian discipleship requires a kind of living that is sure, eventually, to tumble a person from the banquet tables of prestigious boards and the reviewing stands of presidents, and the processions of ecclesiastical knighthood to the most suspect margins of both church and society. To follow Jesus, in other words, is to follow the one who turns the world upside down, even the religious world. Real discipleship is a tipsy arrangement at the very least. People with high need for approval, social status, and public respectability need not apply.

Following Jesus is a circuitous route that leads always and everywhere to places where a 'nice' person would not go, to moments of integrity we would so much rather do without. The disciple carries a worldview that cries for fulfillment now. Christian discipleship is not preparation for the hereafter or an ecstatic distance from the present. Christian discipleship is the commitment to live a gospel life, a marginal life in this place, at this time whatever the cost. To follow Christ is to set about fashioning a world where the standards into which we have been formed become, too often, the very standards we must ultimately foreswear. Flag and fatherland, profit and power, chauvinism and sexism, clericalism and authoritarianism done in the name of Christ are not Christian virtues whatever the system that looks to them for legitimacy.

Christian discipleship is about living in this world the way that Jesus the Christ lived in his - touching lepers, raising donkeys from ditches on Sabbath days, questioning the unquestionable and - consorting with women! Discipleship implies a commitment to leave nets and homes, positions and securities, lordship and legalities to be now - in our own world - what the Christ was for his. The true disciple hears the poor, and ministers to anyone, to everyone, in this world who having been used up by the establishment are then abandoned to make their way alone, unnoticed in a patriarchal world, unwanted in a patriarchal world but mightily, mightily used by a patriarchal world that abuses power, to garner profits both immoral and unconscionable. Discipleship is prepared to fly in the face of a world bent only on maintaining its own ends whatever the cost. If discipleship is what you're here for, be not fooled! The price is a high one and history has recorded it faithfully. Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross and Joan of Arc were persecuted for opposing the hierarchy itself - and then later canonized by them. Discipleship cost Mary Ward her health, her reputation and even a Catholic burial. Discipleship cost Martin Luther King, Jr. his life. No doubt about it, the nature of discipleship is passion and risk.

But to understand the nature of discipleship is not enough. We must be marked by its mark. And what is the mark of true discipleship? True discipleship says the truth in hard times. To the true disciple the problem is clear: The church must not only preach the gospel, it must not obstruct it. It must be what it says. It must demonstrate what it teaches. It must be judged by its own standards. The church that silently colludes with the dispossession of the poor or the economic enslavement of the foreign or racial other in the name of patriotism or citizenship becomes just one more instrument of the state. The church that blesses oppressive governments in the name of obedience to an authority that denies the authority of conscience makes itself an oppressor as well. The church that goes mute in the face of massive militarization practiced in the name of national defense abandons the commitment to the God of love for the preservation of the civil religion. The church that preaches the equality of women but does nothing to demonstrate it within its own structures, that proclaims a theology of equality but insists on an ecclesiology of superiority is out of sync with its best self and dangerously close to repeating the theological errors that underlay centuries of church sanctioned slavery.

The pauperization of women in the name of the sanctity and the essentialism of motherhood flies in the face of the Jesus who overturned tables in the temple, contended with Pilate in the palace, chastised Peter to put away his sword and, despite the teaching of that day, cured the woman with the issue of blood and refused to allow his own apostles to silence the Samaritan women on whose account, Scripture tells us, "Thousands believed that day." Indeed, the life of Jesus shows us, the invisibility of women in the church threatens the very nature of the church itself.

Obviously, discipleship is not based on sexism. It's not based on cultural norms. It's not based on private piety. On the contrary. Discipleship pits the holy against the mundane. It pits the heart of Christ against the heartlessness of an eminently male-oriented, male-defined and male-controlled, world. And that is not the model Scripture gives us of true discipleship. To be a disciple in the model of Judith and Esther, of Deborah and Ruth, of Mary and Mary Magdalene means to find ourselves makers of a world where the weak confound the strong. The true disciple begins like the prophet Ruth to shape a world where the rich and the poor share the garden according to their needs. The true disciple sets out like the judge Deborah to forge a world where the last are made first and the first are last - starting with themselves.

The true disciple insists, as the commander Judith did, on a world where women do what heretofore has been acceptable only for men simply because men said so! To the disciple who follows in the shadow of Esther, as much the savior of her people as Moses was of his, the reign of God - the welcome of the outcast, the reverence of the other, the respect for creation - becomes a foreign land made home. "Come, follow me" becomes an anthem of public proclamation from which no one - no one - is excluded and for which no risk is too great. True discipleship, we know from the life of the Christ whom we follow, is not membership in a clerical social club called a church. That is not an ordination that the truly ordained can abide.

Discipleship is not an intellectual exercise or assent to a body of doctrine. True discipleship is an attitude of mind, a quality of soul, a way of living that is not political but which has serious political implications, and that may not be officially ecclesiastical but which, in the end, will change a church that is more ecclesiastical than communal. Real discipleship changes things because it simply cannot ignore things as they are. It refuses anything and everything that defies the will of God for humanity ... no matter how sensible, no matter how rational, no matter how common, no matter how obvious, no matter how historically patriarchal, no matter how often it has been called "The will of God" by those who purport to determine what that is or intend to impose on others what they say it is. The disciple takes public issue with the values of a world that advantages only those who are already advantaged. The true disciple takes aim at institutions that call themselves "freeing" but which keep half the people of the world in bondage. It takes umbrage at systems that are more bent on keeping improper people out of them than they are in welcoming all people into them. True discipleship takes the side always, always, always of the poor, the minority, the outcast, the reviled, the rejected, the other, despite the power of the rich and powerful - not because the poor and powerless are more virtuous than the rich and powerful but because the God of love wills for them, too, what the rich and powerful debate or refuse for them.

Discipleship cuts a reckless path through corporation types like Herod; through institution types like the pharisees, through system types like the money-changers, and through chauvinist types like apostles who want to send women away. Discipleship stands bare naked in the middle of the world's marketplace and, in the name of Jesus, cries aloud all the cries of the world until someone, somewhere hears and responds to the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low, the most outcast of the rejected. Anything else - all the pomp, all the gold lace and red silk, all the rituals in the world - the gospels attest, is certainly mediocre and surely bogus discipleship.

And therein lies the problem: it is one thing, then, for an individual to summon the courage it takes to stand alone in the eye of a storm called "The real world." It is another thing entirely to see the church itself be anything less than a true reflection of the living Christ. Why? Because the church of Jesus Christ may not be called to ordained priesthood as we know it now, but the church of Christ is always, undoubtedly, surely called to true discipleship. For the church - for you and me then, as well as the institution - not to meet what discipleship demands now is for the church to abandon the discipleship it demands the world to pursue. To see a church of Christ deny the poor and the outcast their due, institute the very systems in itself what it despises in society, is to see no church at all. It is at best religion reduced to one more social institution designed to comfort the comfortable but not to challenge the chains that bind most of humanity - and all of its women - to the cross. In this kind of church, the gospel has been long reduced to the catechism. In this kind of church, prophecy dies and justice whimpers and the truth becomes too dim for the searching heart to see.

Today, as never before in history, perhaps, the world and therefore the church within it, is being stretched to the breaking point by life situations that, if for no other reason than their immensity are shaking the globe to its foundations. New life questions are emerging with startling impact and relentless persistence. And the greatest of them all is the woman's question. Women are most of the poor, most of the refugees, most of the uneducated, most of the beaten, most of the rejected of the world. Even in the church where educated, dedicated, committed women are ignored even in the pronouns of the Mass!

Where is the presence of Jesus to the beaten woman, to the beggar woman, to the abandoned woman, to the woman alone, to the woman whose questions, cries and life experience have no place in the systems of the world and no place in the church either? Except of course, to be defined as a second kind of human nature, not quite as competent, not quite as valued, not quite as human, not quite as graced by God as men are?

The real question must be the third one. What does the theology of discipleship demand here? What does the theology of a priestly people imply here? Are women simply half a disciple of Christ? To be half commissioned, half noticed, and half valued? In the light of these situations, there are, consequently, questions in the Christian community today that cannot be massaged by footnotes nor obscured by jargon nor made palatable by the retreat to "faith." On the contrary, before these issues, the footnotes falter. Church language itself serves only to heighten the question and faith itself demands the question. The discipleship of women is the question that is not going to go away, however much they pray it will or legislate it into ecclesiastical obscurity. Indeed, the discipleship of the church in regard to women is the question that will, in the long run, prove the church itself. In the woman's question the church is facing one of its most serious challenges to discipleship since the emergence of the slavery question when we argued then, too, that slavery was the will of God for some people - but not us.

The major question facing Christians today, perhaps, is what does discipleship mean in a church that doesn't want women anywhere except in the pews. If discipleship is reduced to maleness, what does that do to the rest of the Christian dispensation? If only men can really live discipleship to the fullest, what is the use of a woman aspiring to the discipleship baptism implies, demands, demonstrates in the life of Jesus at all? What does it mean for the women themselves who are faced with rejection, devaluation, and a debatable theology based on the remnants of a bad biology theologized? What do we do when a church proclaims the equality of women but builds itself on structures that assure their inequality? What as well does the rejection of women at the highest levels of the church mean for men who claim to be enlightened but continue to support the very system that mocks half the human race? What does it mean for the church that claims to be a follower of the Jesus who healed on the Sabbath and raised women from the dead and contended with the teachers of the faith - mandatum or no mandatum, "definitive" documents or no definitive documents. And finally, what does it mean for a society badly in need of a cosmic worldview on the morning of a global age?

The answers are discouragingly clear on all counts. Christian discipleship is not simply in danger of being stunted. Discipleship has, in fact, become the enemy. Who we do not want to admit to full, official, legitimated discipleship - something the church itself teaches is required of us all - has become at least as problematic for the integrity of the church as the exclusion of women from those deliberations of the church that shape its theology and form its people. Women are beginning to wonder if discipleship has anything to do with them at all. And therein lies the contemporary question, the present challenge of discipleship. Some consider faithfulness to the gospel to mean doing what we have always done. Others find faithfulness only in being what we have always been. The distinction is crucial to our understanding of tradition. The distinction is also essential to the understanding of discipleship in the modern church. When "the tradition" becomes synonymous with "the system" and maintaining the system becomes more important than maintaining the spirit of the tradition, discipleship shrivels and becomes at best "obedience" or "fidelity" to the past but not deep-down commitment to the presence of the living Christ confronting the leprosies of the age.

Ancient society called the blind sinful, a female child useless, a menstruating woman unclean, all of them marginal to the system, condemned to the fringes of life, excluded from the center of the synagogue, barred from the heart of the temple. But Jesus takes each of them to himself, despite the laws, regardless of the culture, notwithstanding the disapproval of the spiritual notables of the area and fills them with himself and sends them as himself out to the highways and byways of the entire world. To be disciples of Jesus means that we must do the same. There are some things, it seems, that brook no rationalizing for the sake of institutional niceties. Discipleship infers, implies, requires no less than the confirming, ordaining love of Jesus for everyone, every-where regardless of who would dare to take upon themselves the audacious right to draw limits around the will of God for those we call unlovable. To define 'faith' as willingness to accept the unacceptable is faith bereft of Jesus.

Discipleship and faith are of a piece. To say that we believe that God loves the poor, judges in their behalf, wills their deliverance but do nothing ourselves to free the poor, to hear their pleas, lift their burdens, to act in their behalf is an empty faith indeed.. To say that God is love and not ourselves love as God loves may well be church but it is not Christianity. To preach a theology of equality, to say that all persons are equal in God's sight but at the same time maintain a theology of inequality, a spirituality of domination, that bars half the human race on the basis of gender from the fullness of faith, that says that women have no place in the dominion of the church and the development of doctrine - and all of this in the name of God is to live a lie. But if discipleship is the following of Jesus, beyond all boundaries, at all costs, for the bringing of the reign of God, for the establishment of right relationships, then to ground a woman's calling to follow Christ on her inability to look like Jesus obstructs the very thing the church is founded to do. It obstructs a woman's ability to follow Christ to the full, to give her life for the others, to bless and preach and sacrifice and build community "in his name" - as the documents on priesthood say that a priestly people must and it does it for the sake of religion in defiance of the gospel itself.

How can a church such as this call convincingly to the world in the name of justice to practice a justice it does not practice itself. How is it that the church can call other institutions to deal with women as full human beings made in the image of God when their humanity is precisely what the church itself holds against them in the name of God.

It is a philosophical question of immense proportions. It is the question which, like slavery, brings the church to the test. For the church to be present to the woman's question, to minister to it, to be disciple to it, the church must itself become converted to the issue, in fact, the church must become converted by the issue. Men who do not take the woman's issue seriously may be priests but they cannot possibly be disciples. They cannot possibly be 'Other Christs.' Not the Christ born of a woman. Not the Christ who commissioned women to preach him. Not the Christ who took faculties from a woman at Cana. Not the Christ who sent women to preach resurrection and redemption of the flesh to apostles who would not believe it then and do not believe it now. Not the Christ who sent the Holy Spirit on Mary the woman as well as on Peter the man. Not the Christ who announced his messiahship as clearly to the Samaritan woman as to the rock that shattered. If this is the Jesus whom we as Christians, as church, are to follow, then the discipleship of the church is now mightily in question.

Indeed, the poet Basho writes: "I do not seek to follow in the footsteps of those of old. I seek the things they sought." Discipleship depends on our bringing the will of God for humankind to the questions of this age as Jesus did to his. As long as tradition is used to mean following in the footsteps of our past rather than seeking to maintain the spirit of the Christ in the present, then it is unlikely that we will preserve more than the shell of the church.

The consciousness of the universalism of humanity across differences has become the thread that binds the world together in a global age. What was once a hierarchy of humankind is coming to be seen for what it is: the oppression of humankind. The colonization of women is coming to be seen as unacceptable now as the colonial oppression of Africa, the crusades against Turks, the enslavement of Blacks and the decimation of indigenous peoples in the name of God.

It is true that theological debates are raging everywhere; but it is also true that everywhere the Holy Spirit is breaking through - as the Holy Spirit did in Rome in the 60's. In Asia, Buddhist women are demanding ordination and the right to make the sacred mandalas. In India, women are beginning to do the sacred dances and light the sacred fires. In Judaism, women study Torah and now carry the scrolls and read the scriptures and lead the congregations. Only in the most backward, most legalistic, most primitive of cultures are women made invisible, made useless, made less than fully human, less than fully spiritual. The humanization of the human race is upon us. The only question for the church is whether the humanization of the human race will lead as well to the Christianization of the Christian church. Otherwise, discipleship will die and the integrity of the church with it.

We must take discipleship seriously or we shall leave the church of the future with functionaries but without disciples. We cannot renew priesthood without renewing discipleship - our own as well as others. The fact is that Christianity lives in Christians, not in books, not in documents called 'definitive' to hide the fact that they are at best time-bound, not in platitudes about "special vocations," not in old errors, dignified as "tradition." The new fact of life is that discipleship to women and the discipleship of women is key to the discipleship of the rest of the church

The questions are clear. The answer is obscure and uncertain but crucial to the future, of a church that claims to be eternal. Thomas Carlyle wrote, "Our main business is not to see what lies dimly in the distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand." A group such as this, you, at a time such as this - a priestly people in a priestless period - must keep the total vision, the final vision, the ultimate vision, the inevitable vision - cleanly in mind. Yes. But we must also keep the tasks of the present clearly in mind and the task of the present is not simply preparation for priestly ordination in a church intent on obstructing it, that either doubts - or fears - the power of the truth to persuade and so denies the right even to discuss this festering question of whether or not women can participate in the sacrament of orders. Clearly, preparation for ordination to the priesthood would be premature, at best, if not downright damaging to the Spirit itself in a climate such as this. No, the task of the present in a time such as this is to use every organization to which we belong to develop the theology of the church to a point of critical mass. The task now is to practice a dangerous discipleship. We need a group free of mandatums that will organize seminars, hold public debates in the style of the great medieval disputations that argued for and against the full humanity of indigenous peoples, hold teach-ins, sponsor publications, write books, post educational web sites, hold more and more gatherings like this one where women speak freely no matter what happens to anyone participating in them.. We must gather groups around the topics of the infallibility of infallibility and the role of the 'sensus fidelium' in the development of doctrine, and the question of the clear exclusion of women from the restoration of the permanent diaconate - an official manner of discipleship for women that has theology, history, ritual, liturgy and tradition firmly, fully and clearly on its side.

It is time to bring into the light of day the discussions that lurk behind every church door, in every seeking heart. If as Vatican II says, priesthood requires preaching, sacrifice and community building, then proclaiming the coming of a new church, sacrificing ourselves to bring it, and shaping a community new with the notion of a new kind of priest and permanent woman deacons may be the greatest priestly service of them all right now.

So, like the old lady, we must keep turning, turning, turning in the direction of discipleship - as women always have - but differently now. For as Basho says, we do not seek to follow in the footsteps of those of old. We seek the things they sought. We don't seek to do what they really need. We need to do much more than that. We need now to do what they really, really need. Why? Because as John XXIII says in 'Pacem in Terris', "Whenever people discover that they have rights, they have the responsibility to claim them." And because Proverbs teaches clearly, "If the people will lead, the leaders will eventually follow." Therefore, what must we do now as priestly people? We must take responsibility. We must take back the church. We must lead leaders to the fullness of Christian life!

- Joan Chittister, OSB

About Joan Chittister

Joan Chittister has been one of the Catholic Church’s key visionary voices and spiritual leaders for more than 30 years. A Benedictine Sister of Erie, Pennsylvania, Sister Joan is an international lecturer and award-winning author of more than 40 books. 

She is the founder and executive director of Benetvision, a resource and research center for contemporary spirituality located in Erie. Currently she serves as co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women, a partner organization of the UN, facilitating a worldwide network of peace-building women. She is also co-chair of the Network of Spiritual Progressives with Rabbi Michael Lerner and Cornel West. 

A regular columnist for the National Catholic Reporter, Sister Joan has received numerous awards and recognition for her work for justice, peace, and equality, especially for women in the Church and in society. 

Nine of her books have received awards from the Catholic Press Association, including a First Place Award in 2008 for Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and Its Meaning for You, and in 2009 for her book The Gift of Years: Growing Older Gracefully. She recently published The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life, part of an eight-volume series organized by Phyllis Tickle.

In 2007 and 2008 Sister Joan appeared with the Dalai Lama at the annual Emory (University) Summit of Religion, Conflict and Peacebuilding, and she appeared at the Seeds of Compassion conference in April 2008. In April 2009 she participated in an international conference, "Science and Spirituality," held in Cortona, Italy. Later that year she spoke at the 2009 Parliament of World Religions in Melbourne, Australia.

She has served as president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, an organization of the leaders/superiors of the over 67,000 Catholic religious women in the US; president of the Conference of American Benedictine Prioresses; and was prioress of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie for 12 years.

Sister Joan received her doctorate in speech communications theory from Penn State University and was an invited fellow and research associate at St. Edmund's College, Cambridge University.

From South Africa - Velisiwe Mary Mkhwanazi: Women's Ordination: We Are Church



Velisiwe Mary Mkhwanazi, South Africa

Launched August 9, 1996 in Umlazi & Durban, South Africa by Dina Cormick & Velisiwe Mkhwanazi. Our steering committee has remained constant (of 7): Marylyn Cason, Dina Cormick (newsletter), Rosemary Gravenor (treasurer), Thoko Makhanya, Velisiwe Mkhwanazi, Betsy Oehrle (email) & Cherryl Stone. We don't have a membership number tally as such, we send out 450 newsletters around the country. Our AGM usually gathers around thirty to forty supporters in Durban. Initially WOSA began an overt campaign for ordination with public debates & placard signs outside churches. The first debates were very well attended but dropped drastically when the hierarchy pronounced against us. So we soon discovered that Catholics here are too nervous & conservative to OPENLY & PUBLICLY support us. Since then we have a covert campaign with the newsletter! This has proven to be a far more effective campaign tool and our readership is growing.

Yes, it has been difficult to find active supporters ready to speak out or take part in public stands. In general, South African church people & especially Catholics are afraid to criticise or challenge the church leaders. Priests, and especially bishops, are revered no matter how they behave. A good example of this intimidation are the stories about priests raping the nuns etc. The sad truth about all the sex scandals recently exposed in the press is that for many of us in Africa it was not new news - and STILL people are too scared to discuss these problems, and it is STILL CONTINUING!

So we have a lot of very conservative Catholics who refuse to see the need for change, and many many others who now couldn't care less what happens, but still don't want to stick their necks out and complain. They go to church if there is something special like a funeral or wedding, but otherwise they pay little attention to what happens in the church. And then there are an increasing number who wonder why they stay "Catholic". They are angry and frustrated at the hypocrisy.

We have found that our most successful action has been the newsletter. We use the newsletter as a channel of information - much of the material comes from the internet which most of our readers do not have access to. We share news about what is happening in the rest of the world to encourage our people struggling to find hope in the activities of our international sisters and brothers. So the WOSA newsletter serves as a tool to keep the debate open, to challenge our Catholics to think independently, and to provide a source of information on Catholic views and news around the world. Through the generous funding of The Global Fund For Women (without whom we would not have survived), WOSA newsletters are distributed free twice a year to 450 supporters - including several of our unsupportive hierarchy! (We try to hand them out to anyone who expresses an interest, in the hope we might "convert" or at least open their minds!)  We are planning to increase production to 3 times a year. Our Annual get-together (AGM) is usually held around March 25 or Mass of Chrism. This year we had excellent press coverage for our stand outside Durban Emmanuel Cathedral before Mass of Chrism (see our display board). The publicity has also led to another round of vindictive personal attacks on several members of the steering committee -- but we remain determined not to be intimidated.

After the Sunday Tribune article, Cardinal Napier wrote letters to the Methodist and Anglican bishops asking for an apology. And unfortunately they complied for the sake of ecumenism -see news board. Bishop Purity told Dina that she would keep Napier's letter to show her grandchildren as a memento! There will be another press article in the Southern Cross which will hopefully engender a lot of response.

Note: as far back as 1995: 

A study of the relationship of catholic women to the institutional church, with specific focus on the question of women priests (a 1995 research project by Dina Cormick, assisted by Velisiwe Mkhwanazi)

The most important result of this survey has been to reveal that South African Catholic women want changes in the institutional church. It is significant that most of the women polled were in favour of women priests and married priests. Most of the Catholic women who completed the questionnaires asked for equal and full participation in all ministerial roles in the Church. Many of the Catholic women expressed extreme dissatisfaction at the present submissive role women in the Catholic Church are accustomed to endure.

In the very process of gathering data for the research topic, the researchers found they were providing the opportunity for many Catholic women to dare and criticise the church. This in turn led to opportunities of intensive discussion with Catholic women on the whole question of personal ethics and independent thinking within a patriarchal structure such as the Catholic Church. Women commented that no-one had ever asked these kinds of questions before; no-one had ever concerned themselves with the questions of fairness in church sexism.  Mkhwanazi, research assistant, became so conscientized listening to these reports that she willingly counseled the women who had unburdened themselves of their deep hurt. Some of the "shocking" statements concerned issues of pastoral authoritarianism and abuse that went beyond the focus of the survey, but were in fact relevant to the overall problem of the Catholic priesthood of today.

- Velisiwe Mary Mkhwanazi

About Velisiwe Mary Mkhwanazi:

A pioneer from the onset, Mary Mkhwanazi, sought to rise above her circumstances and challenge prevailing oppression. Born in 1932, in rural Mbongolwane, KwaZulu-Natal, Mary completed her primary school education with ease and moved on to attend high school, a rarity at a time when a standard two education was deemed sufficient.

In 1960 she moved to Durban. It was here, at her new workplace, that she realised the power of activism. Unhappy with the decrepit mattress she was given and aware of the abundance of adequate beds in her employer’s household, she demanded better treatment for herself and other employees. The incident made her realise that changes to her condition could be negotiated, but that such negotiation was dependent on her challenging her oppression in the first place.

It was through her fight for her own basic human rights as a domestic worker that she paved the way for others to also gain access to justice. In 1980 Mkhwanazi went on to lead the South African Domestic Workers’ Association (SADWA). SADWA’s activities eventually led to the establishment of the South African Domestic Workers’ Union (SADWU) in 1986. Their objective was met in 1997, when the formal recognition of domestic labourers as workers was legally guaranteed.

Now almost 82 years old, Mkhwanazi, has dedicated 50 years of her life to human rights and democracy. She has been honoured by the Steve Biko Foundation and the Legal Resources Centre for her extended commitment to liberty and equality. She is still an advisor and mentor to a list of professionals and also serves as a member of the ANC’s veteran’s league.

In 2009, The Legal Resources Centre | Securing Livelihoods Using the Law, a human rights NGO in South Africa, honoured Ms. Mkhwanazi as a woman of achievment and national hero. The LRC uses the law as an instrument of justice for the vulnerable and marginalised, including poor, homeless, and landless people and communities who suffer discrimination by reason of race, class, gender, disability or by reason of social, economic, and historical circumstances.

In 2013, she received The EThekwini Living Legend Award 

From Uganda - Appollonia Lugemwa: Should the Catholic Church Ordain Women Priests or Not?




I am sharing on this controversial topic, only from the perspective of what some Ugandan Catholic women say on this debate within the universal church.

How discussion on this debate has come about in Uganda:

1.     After several decades of massive violation of human rights in Uganda, a radical change came in 1986. The new administration greatly emphasised the knowledge and protection of human rights. Various NGOs came into existence to promote human rights. Among these, many are for the protection and promotion of women's rights. They give numerous sensitisation workshops for both educated and rural women. In these workshops, some ordinary women ask why the Catholic Church does not ordain women priests. One would have to fumble for a convincing answer.

2.     The Government of Uganda came up with a new Constitution (1995) about which the entire population was somehow involved in giving views. This Constitution includes under Article 34 specific Women Rights. Women are assured of full equality with men in all fields. The same section continues to declare null and void any practice, tradition, cultural custom or law which in any way undermines the equal dignity of women with men. Whenever the Constitution is being taught to people, some do ask whether the refusal by the Catholic Church to accept women priests is not a violation of this section? A similar question is put to Muslims for their support of polygamy, which undermines the basic equality of women with men! Again. when confronted with such question, it is hard to find the convincing answer.

3.     For the first time in our history, Uganda has a woman catholic as Vice President of the country, several women Ministers in Cabinet, more than 60 women in Parliament and women District Resident Commissioners who represent the President in Districts and women leaders at all levels of Government. Several women fought in the liberation struggle and some are Majors in the Army. Besides there is a policy of affirmative action to assist women 'catch up' with men in the areas of higher education and in Government and Civil Service. When Catholic Women see the entire opening of new opportunities for them which they never thought about before, they do ask why the Catholic Church cannot also open up for their equal competition with men.

6.     Since the coming of Christianity to Uganda in the later 1870s both the Anglicans and Catholics have been strongly competing with each other for excellence. Whatever good one Church does, the other also does: whether in building schools, hospitals, orphanage, community development, writing books, opening up new universities and so on. This healthy competition has enabled both churches to be strong so that none can fully outplay the other. Now since 15 years ago the Anglican church here allowed women priests. So many Anglican women have taken to the study of theology and become ordained priests. Some are parish priests and some have become Canons. But none as yet has been ordained bishops! When Catholic Women daily see these Anglican ordained women with their 'Roman' collars they begin to ask themselves why their church does not do the same. They fear the Catholic Church may now lose out in the healthy competition with the Anglican Church. Again this concern cannot be easily addressed by us without theological and church history background education.

7.     In some of our schools some very bright girls have begun posing questions such as this: 'Tell me madam why I should accept to be Confirmed in a church that discriminates against women, when there are other churches where I can be treated fully as equal to men? Some of these girls may one day enter the numerous new churches where they can be made full pastors and bishops.

8.     The phenomenon of many of these new churches and sects has led to new questions being asked. In Uganda one wife of a self-styled Archbishop was also 'ordained' bishop by the husband. One other lady is a Prophet and head of her founded church which is very popular in Mulago, Kampala. Many women have become preachers, pastors and missionaries within these newly established churches. These examples do pose questions which we should be helped to answer effectively.

9.     One other reason is that within our African traditional religions, women were never discriminated against. There were numerous female deities, female mediums or priests, female diviners and female medicine people. Men of all ranks paid respect to them. The discrimination of women in Christianity seems to have come from the Judeo - European culture but not from the African culture on this aspect.

10.    When the Catholic Church was first established, the first missionaries appointed many women catechists who did wonderful work. It is only when Congregations for the Religious Sisters were established that the recruitment of women catechists was for a long time stopped. It has only resurfaced after Vatican II but even then it is not much supported by many bishops and clergy.


The questions on which I would much appreciate a deeper explanation include the following

1.     Is the priestly ordination of women denied on basis of biblical teachinq and the fact that Jesus did not have a woman among the Twelve Apostles?

2.     Is it denied on basis of Patristic tradition, theological doctrine and teaching? If so, can this teaching be made available in simple language to us?

3.     Is it denied simply on basis of church tradition and discipline, in which way one may say, a day will come when it is permitted, when the church will think the conditions warrant it? This view will continue to give lots of hope to those asking catholic women.

4.     Can we as lay women know the reasons why some leaders in the church do not want this controversial issue to be widely debated and discussed?

5.     Knowing that issues of injustice such as slavery and slave trade and the discrimination of black people took such a long time to be condemned by the Catholic Church, is it possible to think that even the ordination of women to priesthood is a issue of injustice based on prejudice and the patriarchal control and vision of the Church?


Until ample explanations are given on the above question, it will be very difficult for Catholic women leaders to discuss comfortably the equality of catholic women in the Church. I await your enrichment on this matter.

- Appollonia Lugemwa

From Hungary - Kornélia Buday: The Question of Women's Ordination

The question of women's ordination in Hungary
by Kornélia Buday


Features of the ground 

Kornélia Buday from Hungary

Kornélia Buday from Hungary

Whenever you gaze at Hungarian folk dance you are able to recognize some particular habitual roles of men and women in history. Men have a wide variety of improvisations in their dance while the option for a style is much narrower for female dancers. Often women look at men - dancing in the middle - only from the background while men watch themselves being looked at and adored by women on the edge. Male dancers are playing the leading part in the dance, their movement seems to have greater importance in the performance than that of the bodily and spiritual involvement of women. This patriarchally built up hierarchy is quite evident in group dances. Part of the music brings people together into pair dances in which men as moving central points give dynamic impulses to their female counterparts who are actually determined to go round "their male centre". Music can initiate a solo dance for men (but never for a woman!) when one or more male dancers separated from the group of all come together to the middle of the dance floor to show their expertise and their responsible creativity in regard to their own bodies. They are dancing together but without any touch - this expresses a great autonomy  within the male dancing community. At the same time the female task is to be withdrawn into the background from where women are to fix their eyes on their male companions but sometimes they are also allowed to do some very simple movements - usually very few steps - in a circle, closed with handshakes into their own separate but never single-handed world.

The outcasts of this male-dominant society happened to be gathered into their own female communities where they are able to share their dreams and wounds. The female workshops of handicrafts offered a good atmosphere for women to leave their ancient female spiritual knowledge to the next coming generations of daughters. The heritage of typical female jobs as weaving and needlework suggests a greater equality and mutuality of women and men in the many miraculous symbols of hand-weaving made by Hungarian women.

In the background of the sacred sphere of life Hungarian female yearnings are expressed in even more characteristic features. In the 1970's - in the last minute before being silenced and dead for ever - thousands of ancient folk prayers - coming from the Hungarian pagan-early Christian era - had been explored and collected by ethnographers among dominantly Catholic rural Hungarian people (both women and men, but mainly women). These prayers have an enormous evidence of ancient matriarchal tribal belief in the so-called Happy Woman (Boldogasszony) - later, in Christianity identified with Mary, the mother of God - who "creates, heals, leads to eternal life, is the merciful - in contradiction to the dreadful Judge -, the good shepherd. She is the earth who had given birth to the sky." The manipulating identification of the Goddess with Mary, directed by Christian missionaries, led to interesting combinations of the two female images, although they remained always forbidden and claimed as pagan in the Catholic church - not accidentally. Mary has a much more active role in these prayers than would normally be expected from a woman and therefore she is an encouraging example for all women. Moreover there is an exchange between the roles of the apostles and Mary (Mary proclaims the good news, baptizes, brings the ointment and the Eucharist, says the mass) and even between the roles of Jesus and Mary (She is the one who sends the apostles to the world or who says: "Amen, amen, I tell you ..."; and both the blood of Christ and the tears of Mary can be found together and have great importance in the one cup offered at the altar). However in these ancient texts Mary is a real, embodied woman who has the monthly period, who gives suck, who is weaving for survival, who is sensible and therefore also political when she visits the wife of Pilate in the last minute before the crucifixion so that through this encounter of female worlds in the background of male-dominant hierarchies she will be able to save her son. This re-visioning and re-writing of the gospel of Matthew (see: Mt 27:19) shows a truly realistic devotion to human life in the simplicity of the countryside - far away from the official church teaching but very close to the experiences of all women.

Political requirements

a. The tradition of institutional Hungarian Christianity

By the way - church teaching. This year has been a special one for Hungary. All over the country there have been celebrations and remembrances of the millennium of the foundation of the Hungarian state. As it is said: our conversion to Western Christianity saved our country from annihilation. However at the commemoration service no one said a bad word or made any criticism about the inhuman methods and the aggressive approach of the first so-called "Christian builders" of the country. Therefore the rehabilitation of the very past and of the female power is left out of consideration.

b. The tradition of the communist era

The more recent past of Hungary seems to be more evident and easy to examine. As is well known, Hungary happened to belong to the communist block after the second world war. The flowery language of the communist regime promised equality for all. For women practically it meant a kind of liberation for getting jobs outside of their homes - equally to their husbands - but at the same time they had not been emancipated in their families and households. This manifold burden and oppression of women - instead of the promised paradise of liberation - might be a very reasonable motive why the question of emancipation even now does not rise at all or only in a very low voice in Hungarian female communities and this is why for example the words feminism or feminist research have only pejorative associations in the society.

3.     Women in the present Hungarian Catholic church

a.  Personal experiences

I had already been a teacher when I decided to study theology. My previously naïve images of the church had been slowly destroyed by confronting a very painful reality. Hearing the lifeless preaching and at the same time facing the suffering of the many outcasts of the church, which is supposed to be acting in the name of Jesus made me confused. The many divorced and re-married people forbidden to receive Eucharist, the married priests and their families full of guilt, the humble and devoted women who are doing their best basically allowed only as sacristan, as cleaner in the church or as teacher of religion in several schools but who are humiliated so often by priests behaving like kings, the molested victims of paedophilic religious people in single-sex-schools and the harmful mysteriousness around homosexuality, the laity seen as an infantile lower stage of human nature in the eyes of some clerics, women violated in many ways in their own families by their own husbands, motivated me to be more aware of what is going on around and within me. My mixed feelings of disappointment, anger, questions, criticism and readiness to fight led me to the theological faculty.

b.  Theology closed within an ivory tower

I recognized very soon after the first lectures that theological studies separated from the reality of everyday life would not solve my problems and would not answer my questions properly. I also understood that many of the students were not interested at all in their studies but only wanted to get their degrees. Often there had been a gap between the candidates for priesthood and the lay students. The seminarists pass their exams often without any big efforts - the very low number of priestly vocations made it necessary to welcome and keep in the seminary all the male applicants even if they are lacking any serious intention. After the final exam many of them, both lay and cleric simply leave the church. It is not difficult to lose your faith in an atmosphere of burnt out, cynical, pessimistic, sceptical professors. Till I got to Dublin to complete my theological studies, I had heard very little about liberation theology or about feminist theological research but rather more about women as the biggest temptation in lectures on the Old Testament given by a biblical scholar who was actually preoccupied unconsciously most of the time with stories of the bible regarding sexuality; or about wives as for instance Mrs. Elisabeth Cow or Mrs. Judy Hen and about their husbands as Mr. John Bull or Mr. Howard Cock from a lecturer giving examples during lectures on the canon law of marriage taught from 30-year-old notes surely with a massive lack of information of recent theological research.

3.     The ordination of women in Hungary

a.  The actuality of the question and the unripe condition of Hungary

I think it is no wonder that all those who are naturally disgusted by this ridiculous way of doing theology and - what is worse - by the sarcastic attitude to life as consequence, are simply not interested in priesthood, not even attracted to the church. Although most of the theological students are not against women's ordination, they show rather indifference to the whole topic and many of them simply want to be free from the system altogether. The past had taught us to view our destiny with resignation or passive resistance. It takes time to learn to take responsibility for and being involved actively in shaping our own realities both in society and in the church.

2.   The strategy of the future

Avoiding the feeling of being satisfied with humble female Catholic movements obedient to a male-dominant world that has often nothing progressive and life-giving to offer women, and avoiding a kind of female priesthood imitating the hierarchical structures of male clerics we need first of all courage to believe in creative power of the Spirit and to believe in a divine dream that is to be realized in our female selves.

With some of my colleagues we find it important to see the connections among the many taboos of the church and to recover our lost consciousness to deal with these issues also in the areas of liturgy and of the whole sacramental process. This plan is to be put into practice in the framework of an educational and spiritual centre - with your spiritual and intellectual support in the background - where the question of women's ordination - maybe in new forms - can come to the front but not separated from other hot topics of the church and theology. Therefore we need to work out new theological approaches through translating contemporary theological books, through re-visioning our female history as the story of our salvation, and through informing training sessions, research and open-minded (open-hearted) magazines treating real questions of the here and now. In these ways we will be able to offer new sources of support to searching believers and to show alternatives of new identities to women - and men - as opening up all the ministries for them, for us - so that both the blood of Christ and the tears of Mary can be found together and have great importance in the one cup offered at the altar by both women and men.

Kornélia Buday - doctoral student, Innsbrück/Budapest

About Dr. Kornélia Buday :

Sadly, Dr. Kornélia Buday died just a few short years after the Dublin Conference.  This tribute by  Dr. Angela Berlis of European Society of Women in Research tells us about Kornélia's life.

Obituary of Dr. Kornélia Buday
European Society of Women in Theological Research

On 21 July 2008 Dr. Kornélia Buday (b. 1971) died following a haemorrhage in the brain. Only a couple of weeks before, on 5 July, she had given birth to her son Buday Soma Vendel. Kornélia Buday’s death put an abrupt end to the life of a promising theologian and scholar of religion who promoted Feminist Theology in her own country and did much to improve links between East and West.

In 2003 Kornélia Buday, Ela Adamiak and Rebeka Anic jointly published the Journal “Theologische Frauenforschung in Mittel-Ost-Europa / Theological Women’s Studies in Central/Eastern Europe / Recherche théologique des femmes en Europe orientale et centrale.” In the same year, she completed her doctorate in Vienna, entitled “‘The Earth Has Given Birth to The Sky’ – Female Spirituality in the Hungarian Folk Religion“ (pub. 2004), for which she was awarded the “Marga Bührig Prize” in Switzerland in 2005. After this she was a guest lecturer in Budapest, Szeged and Bangalore. From 2006 to 2007 she worked at the Shamanism Archive of the Institute for Ethnology at the Károli Gáspár University, Budapest. From September 2007 onwards she had a full-time post as a university lecturer (ass. professor) in the Faculty of Humanities at the same university. In the winter semester 2007/2008 she held the Aigner Rollett Guest Professorship for Women’s and Gender Studies at the Karl-Franzens University Graz. She was an energetic and committed teacher at the Institute für Religious Studies in her current research area of gender and anthropology, shamanism and alternative healing methods and images of god and women in the religiously plural folk culture of Hungary. Kornélia Buday was working on her Habilitation  [lecturer’s thesis] entitled “Genderspezifische Zugänge zu alternativen Heilverfahren am Beispiel schamanastischer Heilungswege” (“Gender-specific access to alternative healing methods –shamanic healing as an example”).

Rita Perintfalvi sent the following message from Hungary: 

Kornélia Buday discovered the feminist way of thinking in Innsbruck when she started her doctorate there. During her time in Austria she brought together a group of Hungarian women theologians, thus starting the first Hungarian ESWTR group, which she led at that time. At the international ESWTR conference in Salzburg the young theologian offered to organise the first international ESWTR conference in Eastern Europe. In 2003 in the Netherlands the small Hungarian Section then decided to organise the next conference in Budapest. I first met Nelli in the year 2004, and at that time I joined the preparatory group. It was an incredible amount of work, and for two years we had meetings practically every weekend. Gender issues were something completely new in Hungarian theology. We did not receive any support from the Hungarian churches or society, just a lot of rejection and criticism. We were trailblazers with a difficult prophetic destiny.

I saw Nelli’s great enthusiasm and her commitment, which always remained unbroken despite the many organisational and financial difficulties. In my eyes she was a genuine heroine. It was thanks to her staying power and her energy that the first international ESWTR conference was able to take place in Budapest in 2005 with around one hundred and ten participants. Many of them will remember it. At this conference Nelli really wrote history, and not only the history of Hungarian feminist theology, but of the whole European Feminist Movement, which received a special Eastern European and Hungarian aspect through our conference.”

We are mourning Kornélia Buday. Many of us knew her, and experienced her and her commitment. May she rest in peace. We are mourning with her daughter Soma Vendel, who lost her mother so soon after her birth. We are mourning with all those who were close to Kornélia.

Utrecht, 15 August 2008

Prof. Dr. Angela Berlis

The European Society of Women in Theological Research (ESWTR) is a network of women involved in academic research in the areas of theology and religious studies. The Society hosts a European conference every two years to discuss relevant themes in feminist theology. Between conferences women meet at national or regional levels and continue to work together in subject groups. The ESWTR is the editing body of the annual Journal of the European Society of Women in Theological Research.

Publications of Kornélia Buday in Collections:

  • Szatmár street 26. - Temporary Home for Roma Families in Hungary. Budapest: Magyar Máltai Szeretetszolgálat, 2007 (in print).
  • Shamanhood Today. Herausgegeben zusammen mit Mihály Hoppál. Budapest: MTA NKI, 2007.
  • Building Bridges in a Multifaceted Europe. Religious Origins, Traditions, Contexts and Identities. Herausgegeben zusammen mit Sabine Bieberstein und Ursula Rapp. Leuven: Peeters, 2006.
  • 'The Earth Has Given Birth to The Sky' - Female Spirituality in the Hungarian Folk Religion. Bibliotheca Traditionis Europae 4. Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2004.
  • Theologische Frauenforschung in Mittel- und Osteuropa. Herausgegeben zusammen mit Ela Adamiac und Rebeka Anic. Leuven: Peeters, 2003.

From Japan - Sr. Naoko Iyori: The Question of Women's Ordinationri

From Japan: Sr. Naoko Iyori
Contribution to International Forum 

Women's Ordination Worldwide
First International Conference
Dublin 2001

Sister Naoko Iyori, Japan

Sister Naoko Iyori, Japan

Japan is a highly male dominated society and maybe our church is more so. We can not even mention "Women's Ordination" publicly. The women occupy 60% of the catholic population and without us our church can not survive. Yet often the women are not allowed to take active participation in decision making nor in ministry. We are second class members.

Some have left the church already because of existing sexism. Others are struggling. But there are also some signs of hope. I have come across a priest who says that the Spirit does not work among men, while the Spirit is so alive and active within women. Also among lay persons there are those who see the need of women priests.

Last year in December we held the Women International Wartime Tribunal in Tokyo. The people listened to the victims of the Japanese military participating in their anger, pain and aspiration for justice. It is the same in the church. We can hear the cries of the wounded and the suffering. They are looking for the tender, compassionate and tolerant face of God the Mother. That is why they need women priests. To realise this, it is important to form solidarity and work in sisterhood.

~ Naoko Iyori

Sr. Naoko Iyori

  • A History, and Diploma from Pastoral Institute of Pontifical University of Salamanca, Spain
  • Retired lecturer at Dept. of Sociology at various Universities in Japan
  • Lecturer at Institutes of On-going Religious Formation and of Lay Missionary Formation.

Sr Iyori was visiting research associate at the Centre for Religion, Culture and Gender in the Dept. of Religions and Theology at Manchester University, UK (1998 - 1999).  She has worked with the Japanese Council for Justice and Peace since 1980 as well as with Asia Partnership for Human Development, a Catholic International Development Organization (1989 - 1998).

She collaborated with UN Human Rights Committee and with HABITAT for the cause of Asian women and children (1988 - 1996).

She works for the reconciliation and recovery of justice of the women in Asia and Pacific Area coerced into army prostitution during WW II.


From Germany - Magdalena Bogner - Greetings from President of kfd

Greetings from Magdalena Bogner - President
Katholische Frauengemeinschaft Deutschlands (kfd)

Women's Ordination Worldwide
First International Conference
Dublin 2001

Magdalena Bogner, President of Katholische Frauengemeinschaft Deutschlands (kfd),

Magdalena Bogner, President of Katholische Frauengemeinschaft Deutschlands (kfd),

Greetings from Dusseldorf to the First International WOW Conference Dublin 2001:

The Katholische Frauengemeinschaft Deutschlands (kfd) - the largest community of women in Germany comprising more than 700 000 members - is convinced, together with many other women and men of the fact that women full participate in the complete mission of Jesus and the realization of his evangile. For a long time our organisation has supported the equal participation of women in structures of decision-making as well as in all services and ministries of Church. Consequently it is expressed in the Leitlinien '99, the outlines '99, the latest explanation concerning work of the organisation:

"The Catholic women's organisation of Germany (kfd) supports networks expressing support of the ordination of women in all the common aims".

Therefore we consider to be an important task of the Church to discover the charisma of women and their vocation into a service within church in all spheres of martyria, diakonia and liturgia, so that women entitled by ordination are able to work for the salvation of men and women in our time.

Even today God endows his Church with a large amount of vocation towards a priestly ministry which is necessary for our time. The credibility and future of the Church, however, are endangered more than ever if the church does not realize or even refuse these vocations only because women are concerned.

We are happy about the engagement of WOW aiming at the inclusion of women into a renewed priesthood in the catholic church and we wish the conference in Dublin the reviving and strengthening presence of the divine power so that God's kingdom might grow more and more.

With sisterly greetings from the 
Katholische Frauengemeinschaft Deutschlands (kfd)

Magdalena Bogner
President of the kfd 
June 2001