New book charts women priests movement for human rights in religion

Lys Anzia – WNN Reviews

Our Lady of Sorrows from c. 1455 triptych
Archetypal Gothic artwork of Our Lady of Sorrows from a triptych by the Master of the Stauffenberg Altarpiece, Alsace c. 1455. Image: Vincent Desjardins

(WNN) U.S.: “Abundant evidence exists that many women were ordained and served as deacons and priests in the early church,” says practicing Roman Catholic Gretchen Kloten Minney, who is also a humanitarian and North American author of the new book, “Called – Women Hear the Voice of the Divine.”

As the revolutions of the Arab Spring change the political landscape of the Middle East, another important transformative revolution is building inside one of our major world religions.

So what’s at stake?  The issue covers women’s treatment in religion, modern day Roman Catholicism and its identity with priesthood.

Publicly interpreted with an attitude of bias against gender, the Office of the Sancta Sedes (The Holy See) and  the Vatican City State located in Rome are now causing numerous women who want to move up inside the Church to face limitation, discrimination and religious exclusion. Women who become priests in the ‘break-away’ religious movement have faced excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church but this hasn’t stopped them.

“Roman Catholic Womenpriests reject the penalty of excommunication issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith on May 29, 2008 stating that the women priests and the bishops who ordain them would be excommunicated latae sententiae,” says a formal statement by Roman Catholic Womenpriests.

Not all supporters of this movement are women. One Roman Catholic priest who has been speaking out for human rights and women’s rights in religion, and who is now also facing excommunication from the Church, is 2010 Nobel Peace Prize nominee Fr. Roy Bourgeois. “I cannot possibly speak out about injustice in society and at the same time be silent about this injustice in my church,” says Fr. Bourgeois.

Called - Women Hear the Voice of the Divine by Gretchen Kloten Minney
"Called - Women Hear the Voice of the Divine" by Gretchen Kloten Minney follows the experience of 15 women who become priests in a growing religious movement for 'break-away' Roman Catholics. Image: GKM

It might be surprising that the Hartford Institute for Religion Research has documented through 2010, that Roman Catholic membership is actually up, but showing less than 1 percent (.57 percent), reaching 68,503,456 global members. But other statistics from Georgetown University data center, CARA (Center for Applies Research in the Apostolate), show a marked decline in the number of Roman Catholic priests and nuns inside the United States. Priests dropped from 42,839 in 2005 to 39,466 in 2011. Catholic nuns also showed declining numbers from 68,634 in 2005 to 55,944 in 2011.

The key in understanding this movement comes through the answer to this question: Why is the Vatican blocking women from becoming priests?

The reasons span a liturgy of political and cultural bias. In July 2010, the Vatican doctrinal office, an office of only 50 people officially called the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that is also in charge of tribunals that go back in time as far as the inquisition, placed the “attempted ordination of a woman” as one of the most “grave (serious) crimes.”

Near it on the crimes list was the sexual abuse of children by priests, a trouble that has been tormenting the Vatican for years now. Soon after the statement on women’s ordination was released, the Vatican attempted to soften the blow of the policy list by conveying the crimes did not all “belong in one basket.”

“I believe there is no difference between male spiritual calling and female spiritual calling,” continued Minney. “As early as the 1st Century in the continent of Asia Minor women have been leaders (deacons) of church communities. Abundant evidence exists that many women were ordained and served as deacons and priests in the early church,” Minney added.

“All of the faithful have the right, sometimes even the duty, to make their opinions known on matters concerning the good of the Church…,” said Pope John Paul II in an instructional letter released by the offices of the Congregation for the Clergy, 4 August 2002.

“The changes in Western society that have allowed women to occupy spaces previously reserved only to men — changes that are influencing other cultures in the world — have provoked a revolution in the configuration of gender roles, also placing before the Catholic church the question of enlarging the role of women. It brings up a problem of equality on which the Christian tradition has been quite clear since its origins, sparking an authentic revolution in the clashes over ways of conceiving sexual differences,” said Italian journalist and religious historian Lucetta Scaraffia for the Papal newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on International Women’s Day March 2010.

Mapping a wide and diverse group of women that include academicians, former Roman Catholic sisters (nuns), theologians, women’s rights activists and religious scholars, the women who ‘answer the calling’ to become a priest have one thing in common — a stubbornness to relate to spirituality in an expression that is equal to men.

“Few men serving as parish priests in the Catholic Church will ever have the kind of experience to aid and guide them in their ministry that Kae Madden has,” says Minney in her book Called – Women Hear the Voice of the Divine.

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