Women's Ordination Worldwide (WOW)
“I believe that the most serious violation of human rights on earth is the abuse of women and girls.” --President Jimmy Carter
President Carter and Rosalyn Carter left their church of 70 years—the Southern Baptist Convention—due to its teaching that women are inferior to men and cannot have a role to play in the leadership of the SBC. Women are forbidden to be a SBC pastor, deacon or chaplain in the military.
Kelly Ann Brown Foundation was invited to attend the Women’s Ordination Worldwide (WOW) weekend conference in Philadelphia that took place September 18-20, 2015, and was scheduled just prior to the U.S. visit by Pope Francis. WOW is a “global advocacy network that works to affirm women as fully human.” The Catholic Church participates in the continued discrimination of women around the world by denying their full equality in the Church. Katherine Hannula Hill and I attended on behalf of KABF.
This was WOW’s third conference in fifteen years. Five hundred women and men from around the globe met to discuss issues of gender equality and the rights of all including, the LGBTI community.
The description by the conference leaders impressed me:
"Our conference attendees represent all sectors and demographic groups in our movement from around the globe, including young and seasoned activists, activists of color, straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer participants, theologians and students, women who are ordained, women waiting for Canon 1024 to be overturned, and those who believe solely on the priesthood of the baptized. We have varying abilities and disabilities, body shapes and body expressions: all are welcome. In short, WOW is a gathering of faithful feminists working to create a just Catholic Church and world where all are truly equal and welcomed. We invite everyone to do what you are able to make sure you and those around you feel safe and accepted—inclusive language helps create that open environment." For equality, Kate McElwee and Erin Saiz Hanna, Co-Executive Directors, Women’s Ordination Conference.
The first day of the conference included the screening of the award-winning documentary Radical Grace and talk by the filmmaker Rebecca Parrish. Radical Grace is about the crackdown by the Vatican on the social work focus of nuns, and follows three fearless nuns as they risk their place in the church to follow a higher calling: social justice.
Father Roy Bourgeois is on the advisory board of the Women’s Ordination Conference. Still retaining the title of “priest” despite being excommunicated by the Vatican, Father Roy feels only God can un-ordain him, since God called him to the priesthood. He was also on a panel with two other former priests and one practicing priest. Tony Flannery, Roy Bourgeois, and Paul Collins were all priests who were “dismissed, excommunicated, or forced to resign based on their support for women’s ordination,” according to the newspaper National Catholic Reporter.
After asking the audience to join him in prayer and invoking the Holy Spirit to guide him, Fr. McClure, still a practicing priest, spoke in favor of women’s ordination on Saturday afternoon. Just two days later, Archbishop Cordileone of San Francisco “silenced” Fr. McClure for attending the conference and speaking out for equality. He can no longer say mass at The Holy Redeemer Church, the San Francisco parish that he presided over in the heart of the Castro neighborhood. That community lost him as their priest. With lightning speed, Archbishop Cordileone has yet again acted without integrity. His popularity in San Francisco is dismal due to his demands that Catholic schoolteachers and staff sign his “morality” clauses against same-sex marriage, against homosexuality, abortion, contraceptives and artificial insemination. The teachers have hired lawyers to resist. That fight is ongoing.
The first night of the conference included an awards ceremony given to “feminists working for justice and an inclusive church leadership.” The awards were named for Sr. Theresa Kane and entitled the “Theresa Kane Woman of Vision and Courage Awards.” This was not a name known to me, so I listened in earnest about the praise bestowed on this woman who is seen as one of the earliest voices asking for women’s ordination and equal rights within the Catholic Church. In 1979, Sr. Kane was president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Pope John Paul II was visiting the U.S., so Sr. Kane asked him to open all church ministries to women.
“We have heard the powerful message of our church addressing the dignity and reverence of all persons,” Kane told Pope John Paul II. “As women, we have pondered these words. The church must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries.”
Sister Kane prepared a letter for Pope Francis’ visit, which you can read here.
Over the weekend a panel of interfaith women took the stage. Sr. Maureen Fiedler moderated the panel. She has a public radio show entitled “Interfaith Voices.” Christina Rees is a writer and member of the General Synod of the Church of England that has seen some progress made with the recent ordination of women bishops in that church. Ms. Rees was on the panel along with Rabbi Rebecca Alpert, who teaches at Temple University with Asra Nomani. Ms. Nomani is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam. She is a writer/activist and advocates for men and women to worship together. She founded the Muslim Women’s Freedom Tour. Ms. Nomani’s attempt to sit in the front row at her mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia made the front page of the New York Times. Her actions have been condemned as a violation of Islam. Patricia Fresen, a Catholic nun expelled from her order following her ordination as a Catholic woman priest, along with Kate Kelly, a Mormon woman and attorney excommunicated from her church for starting the LDS Ordain Women Movement completed the panel. All panelists were in hot water for advocating for women’s rights within their faith communities. Together they made up a panel of courageous feminists with a simple message of equality.
Kate Kelly left Utah for a bit, only to return to Salt Lake City now as a famous excommunicant, civil rights lawyer and employee for Planned Parenthood in Salt Lake. Ms. Kelly stated, "Fortunately, men do not control my happiness, nor do they control my connection to God. I am proud of what I have done. I am proud of the women and men who have taken a stand with me in this struggle for gender justice. We will continue to act with integrity and courage. Mormon women and their legitimate concerns cannot be swept under the rug or summarily dismissed.”
It was exciting to hear all the speakers, but especially wonderful to hear and later meet Patricia Fresen from South Africa. I remembered how compelling I found her when I watched the documentary, Pink Smoke Over the Vatican. Ms. Fresen has a long list of accomplishments. She was a Dominican nun for 40 years, and taught male seminarians studying for the priesthood for decades. She talked about being raised in the system of apartheid in South Africa. She didn’t notice or grasp the system fully until she became a Dominican nun and found herself studying, praying, and in community on an equal basis with nuns who happened to be women of color. It dawned on her quite dramatically, then, that apartheid was evil. She and her fellow nuns integrated their elementary school and were jailed for it, but they kept on and never went back to the system of racial separateness.
Patricia Fresen was ordained a priest in 2003. It is important to understand that the women becoming priests had to be ordained by Roman Catholic male bishops because only a bishop can ordain a priest. The bishops have remained anonymous, but it is their courageous acts of disobedience of the Catholic doctrine that allowed the first women to become Roman Catholic women priests. The bishops based their decisions on their newfound beliefs that women are called by God to the priesthood and therefore must be ordained. These same bishops asked Patricia Fresen to become a bishop and she now is. Now she can ordain women called to the priesthood.
Patricia Fresen was one of the recipients of the “Sister Kane Women of Vision and Courage Award.” She seemed clearly humbled and moved by the weekend and her award. When Ms. Fresen was excommunicated, she was literally kicked out of her home. She could no longer be a nun and live in her community of 40 years with her fellow nuns, the women she called friends, mentors and family. They also took her car. Left homeless, carless, and penniless, a friend from Germany took her in and she lives in Germany to this day. Ms. Fresen confessed that she at times felt like the Jesus portrayed in the show Jesus Christ Superstar. “Then I was inspired,” sings Jesus. “Now I’m sad and tired.” I could only imagine how difficult it would be to overcome such a profound betrayal by the Church.
Speaking of betrayal, Father Roy, and all the other devoted Catholics excommunicated for speaking out in favor of women’s inclusiveness and women’s rights, along with full rights for the LGBTI community is mind-boggling in light of the coddling, hand-holding and endless sympathy for the pedophile priests. Bishops have gone so far as to shelter and protect and continue to allow pedophile priests to serve as priests and minister to children with full knowledge that the priests are pedophiles. A process to do anything to bring these criminals to justice has mostly not occurred. And although Pope Francis has many hopeful things to say, especially about climate change, (it’s man-made) and respect for, concern of, and advocacy for the poor, he is stuck in a patriarchal gear when it comes to women. And his record on pedophiles has yet to look much different than his predecessors.
New York Times columnist, Maureen Dowd, wrote on September 27, 2015 about Pope Francis:
"His magnetic, magnanimous personality is making the church, so stained by the vile sex abuse scandal, more attractive to people—even though the Vatican stubbornly clings to its archaic practice of treating women as a lower caste. Pope Francis would be the perfect pontiff—if he lived in the 19th century. But how, in 2015, can he continue to condone the idea that women should have no voice in church decisions?"
Read the entire article here.
Ms. Dowd ends the piece with:
“If only the pope could apply this Golden Rule: Do unto women as you would have them do unto you.”
It was wonderful to step out of all the “wrongs” of the Church and spend a weekend with people committed to equality, justice, honesty and integrity: women and men truly living their beliefs in a spirituality based on LOVE.
Debra K. Hannula
KABF Board Chair
September 29, 2015