Women who are former Catholics have been increasingly moving into the ranks of mainline Protestant clergy, although the journey is difficult and they tend to carry some of their Catholic background and mind-set into their new roles.
The influx of ex-Catholic women into the Protestant ministry has been underreported by the press and underresearched by academia, but an article in the Boston Globe (Feb. 4) suggests that the trend may have an impact in mainline churches. Although no figures are provided, the prohibition against women priests in Catholicism has propelled a number of women into Protestant churches, spanning the theological spectrum from Unitarian to Baptist. The journey to the ministry for these women is often “long, unexpected and emotional,” writes Michael Paulson.
Although most women interviewed in the article reported feeling a call to the ministry early in life, they only considered that possibility after they had left the Catholic Church and started attending Protestant congregations. The reasons for leaving involved the church’s stance on birth control, abortion, papal authority and the hierarchy, homosexuality and the ordination of women.
Most reported living in a “spiritual wilderness” after leaving Catholicism, not attending any church before they found a denomination in which they felt at home. But these Protestant women also report missing elements of Catholicism, such as the weekly Eucharist and the richness of Catholic sacraments. Some still kept reminders of the faith with them, such as statues on their desks, or make gestures such as the sign of the cross.