Sunday, September 26, 2010

Women Priests

          Today is Sunday Without Women day, a boycott of Catholic masses in protest of women's treatment in the church, and there are stories everywhere about women priests. The New York Times tells the story of Maria Vittoria Longhitano, who was ordained by the Old Catholic Church, which broke away from the Roman Catholic Church in the nineteenth century. The Swiss bishop who ordained her said for Italians unaccustomed to seeing women in priestly garb, Mother Vittoria’s ordination “had a great echo; it was a small earthquake.” (Mother Vittoria is Longhitano's new priestly name.) The Women's Ordination Conference reports that about 100 women have been ordained by bishops since 2002; of course their ordinations are not recognized by the official Roman church. Catholic teaching excommunicates anyone involved in the ordination of a woman.
          The Times pictures Mother Vittoria in traditional priestly garb
          Alta Jacko, an 81-year-old Chicago priest, was told she could not attend services in her Catholic church wearing her Roman collar and is no longer allowed to be a lector, merely reading out loud at church, because she was excommunicated.  
          Time Magazine also shows pictures of women in clerical garb and labels its story Robes for Women. The picture shows Nancy Corran and Jane Via. Corran was ordained by parishioners rather than a bishop in San Diego in August, and Via was the country's first woman Catholic priest. 
          Reflecting the facts of these stories, in a National Catholic Reporter article, Rosemary Radford Ruether, the dean of Catholic feminist theologians, reports a dispute among feminists about how to conduct ordinations. One group is ordained by a bishop--the same way men are usually ordained--and then claims they are part of the apostolic succession of the church, just as the men are. The second group looks to the local community for its ordination and is ordained in a collective action of their faith community.
           The theology behind the two groups is different. The community ordination group goes back to very early Christian practices, while the bishop group takes the church's own beliefs about ordination and applies them to women. 
          Ruether argues that both groups can find common theological ground but doesn't address what would be most effective in changing women's role in the church. Withhold funds? Wear a green armband? Boycott mass? A surprising story out of Chicago says that a lot of male priests are helping women prepare to become priests, although they are doing their best to keep their identities hidden so that they don't get excommunicated and lose their jobs.
          One great thing about the American civil rights movements is the constant disagreement about tactics that inevitably arises. Take gay rights to the courts or wait for the legislatures? Have the president abolish Don't Ask Don't Tell or wait for Congress? It will be interesting to see what tactic is most persuasive in establishing future Sundays With Women. 

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