October 27, 2018
Sometimes we need to change the conversation, shifting from wayward bishops and abusive clergy. They will get what they deserve. We need to speak as well about positive issues and movements in today’s church. Life goes on and there are indeed signs of new life.
Right now I look to courageous women for signs of new life. This week’s editorial from the National Catholic Reporter says it well: “Sidelined for too long, women aren’t going away. Perhaps the utter scandal to which an all-male clerical culture has subjected the church will finally force a change.”
For me one of the most encouraging movements in contemporary church ministry is the prophetic “Roman Catholic Womenpriests” movement: RCWP. Prophetic movements always shake-up institutional managers; and sometimes that is a good thing. The prophetic leaders of course, especially those who condone women’s ordination, often incur excommunication…..In every institution it often takes time for top management to acknowledge and appreciate the change makers. The historical Jesus discovered this in his early thirties.
RCWP began with the ordination the “Danube Seven” in 2002. The Danube Seven are a group of seven women from Germany, Austria and the United States who were ordained as priests on a ship cruising the Danube river on 29 June 2002. It was an historic moment. A year later, two of the original group were ordained bishops. Today there are a several women bishops and the worldwide RCWP membership is 264, with 138 members for the USA, of whom 6 are also quite active internationally.
Nancy, a friend of mine, is a woman bishop; and I asked her for some reflections on the movement. “Roman Catholic Womenpriests take as our model the worker priests,” she said. “Many of us have other occupations since we are not salaried from our respective parishes/house churches. These include: lawyers, professors, hospital chaplains, librarians, spiritual directors, accountants, physician’s assistant, inner city social workers, nurses, retreat directors, etc. Many of our women hold masters and doctorate degrees not only in theology and Sacred Scripture but many other fields as well. Our vision is a new model of ordained ministry in a renewed Roman Catholic Church.”
A new model for ordained ministry is just what we need. It doesn’t need to be created. It exists already.
I find Nancy’s observations contemporary, realistic, and very encouraging. For example, she observes: “The mission of RCWP is to prepare, ordain, and support qualified women from all states of life who are committed to an inclusive Church. Our values include equality, justice, collegiality, accountability, and prophetic obedience. Our model of governance is communitarian based, which encourages empowerment and generous service. We continue to reject all forms of hierarchy and domination. (This is a continued call to each of us since we all have experienced this type of authority most of our lives). We are called to the priesthood by the people of God and the Holy Spirit working in us.”
Unfortunately some old guard RC bishops, at home, abroad, and particularly in Rome, still consider the ordination of women a “grave crime” as offensive as, or even worse than, the scandal of priests who sexually abuse children. This will change, however, because the winds of change are blowing through the church and gathering more energy.
Looking historically at change in the Catholic tradition, we see a three stage development: (1) When a big change starts, the change is condemned. (2) Later, if the change continues to develop and prosper, it is officially “tolerated” and often as “an experiment.” Finally, (3) once the change is fully established and flourishing, it is labeled “good and really a part of our tradition.”
The RCWP movement stresses a ministry of inclusive participation. It clearly speaks and beckons to contemporary believers, searching for new and fresh vitality in our Christian tradition. It is growing now in the United States and in Canada, South America, Europe, and South Africa.
As Nancy observed in a recent email: “There is an energy and passion to move the RC Church forward in its inclusion of all peoples.”