Frustrated with the refusal of the Vatican to discuss the ordination of women, a growing number of women are taking matters into their own hands and ordaining themselves as priests, and in the process are drawing disaffected and marginal Catholics to their ministries.
The National Catholic Reporter (Dec. 7) notes that the organization sponsoring such ordinations, Roman Catholic Womenpriests, “has grown exponentially since it began just five years ago with the ordination of the Danube 7 (seven women ordained on a boat in the Danube River).” With its leading edge in North America, there are now about 50 priests, including six men, who have been ordained through the organization, with another 100 or so in training for ordination.
In many cases, the women who have come forward to be ordained were active in the leadership of mainstream Catholic structures, and their action has brought them swift censure and expulsion from their positions by the hierarchy (although the Vatican has not responded to this issue). These women, who are mostly in their 60s, were encouraged to take such actions by developments such as the decision by the Greek Orthodox Church to ordain women as deacons, and the decision of a few bishops (active and inactive) to support the movement.
In fact, the leader of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, Patricia Fresen, a South African nun and theologian, claims to have been recently consecrated as a bishop by three active Catholic bishops in Europe; as might be expected, their identities are a closely guarded secret. Fresen said that support of the women priests from Catholic clergy and laity is more likely to come from Europe than the U.S. Because many of these ordinations have taken place on boats—partly to put participants outside of the jurisdictions of local bishops—there have not been many conflicts.
But that is changing as the ordinations move to land and churches (and synagogues) of other denominations. In some cases, the congregations hosting the ordinations were pressured by their denomination not to hold the events because of concerns about ecumenical relations with the Catholic Church. Patricia Schaeffer reports that so far the women priests are attracting (usually to home-based services) those who also feel excluded from or disenchanted with the church—fellow feminists, gays and lesbians, pro-choice people, and divorced and remarried Catholics.
(National Catholic Reporter, 115 Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111.)