Post Conference Commentary: Anna March - Tasmania

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

"Resistance to injustice is a sacred duty" - Mahatma Gandhi.

Dear friends, 

I've been profoundly moved and encouraged by the actions of Christine Vladimiroff and the Benedictine women. The beginning of the revolution?  I think I may have lived my way to another piece of the question/ the answer. I enclose (with permission) an article that was first published here in June. It feels as if it's time to stand up and be counted .I'd be happy for it to be put on the web.  Thank you for being.

- Anna March

I often wonder what might fire Catholics to rebel. At what point would we go to Pharaoh and say, "Let my people go"? Or, like Gandhi, simply sit down in the road and say, "No"?

How can we liberate anyone when we ourselves are not free? How can we speak credibly about social justice when the Church so often behaves like the oppressive regimes whose policies it critiques and whose redemption it rightfully prays for?

The Church encompasses both what I most love, and what gives me most pain.

On the one hand, the sacramental beauty, the waters of life, the pearl beyond price. On the other, the sin of sexism institutionally affirmed: scripture which can sanction racial hatred, religious intolerance, endemic violence and war: the Eucharist misused as a tool of political control. Sometimes just going to Mass can feel like colluding in intolerable injustice.

I passionately share Andrew Harvey's vision of "a Church stripped of all the patriarchal body and sex-hatred and wholly unChristlike intolerance and love of authority that have deformed it for millennia."

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.

The Church's ultimate weapon is the Eucharist. It withholds communion from those of us it fears or disapproves of. It gives itself the right to excommunicate, to unhousel. During my journey into the Church - a cross between a pilgrimage and trench warfare - I was given an unexpected and powerful tool: the knowledge that I in fact couldn't be excommunicated. Several months before I was finally baptised and confirmed four years ago, I chose at a time of personal anguish to break all the rules, to go to a church where I wasn't known and take communion. There was a period of months when the Eucharist was the only anchor I had, the eye of the hurricane. Then that safety too was stripped away. I was reported for "illegally" receiving communion. I then had to think most seriously about what I would do if I were publicly refused the Eucharist. The very thought was violation. And there I was, back with Gandhi: "The first principle of non-violence is non-cooperation with anything humiliating." I hoped I would have the courage to not collude, to refuse to be refused, to continue to stand - kneel - weep in peaceful protest at the altar for hours or days or weeks, if that was what I felt was required of me.

Then I was given a gift that still takes my breath away. A stranger, a cradle Catholic who heard my story, said, "If you were with me at the altar, and I received the Eucharist and you were refused, I would share my Host with you." The hands and feet of Christ.....

The power the Church has over us is that if we step too far out of line, we can be excommunicated.

But it doesn't. And we can't be.

~ Anna March

Harvey, Andrew. The essential mystics. The soul's journey into truth, ed. Andrew Harvey. Harper Collins; San Francisco, 1996.

Anna March is a writer and conservationist. She lives in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

This article appeared first in The Mix and is reprinted with permission.