Campaigners calling for women priests are meeting in Rome this week where they have launched a poster campaign drawing attention to their cause and they will participate in their first ever official public demonstration.
Women’s Ordination Worldwide, which this year marks its 20th anniversary, wants to re-open dialogue in the Church in spite of Pope John Paul II’s ruling that the matter of female priests should not be discussed.
Despite the ruling, since 2002, around 150 women have been “ordained” and all of them have been excommunicated as a result.
Yesterday evening two of them had an unprecedented meeting with an official from the Vatican Secretariat of State who agreed to give a petition to the Pope calling for the excommunications to be lifted, and who, according to the women, listened to “our heartfelt plea for women priests in our Church”.
Female ordination is prohibited in the Catholic Church on the grounds that Christ chose only male disciples and only a male priest can act “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ).
Fr Tony Flannery, the Irish Redemptorist priest who was suspended from public ministry by the Vatican due, in part, to his views in favour of female ordination, said the ‘in persona Christi’ argument was like suggesting the “earth is flat”.
Speaking during a panel discussion at the Casa Internazionale delle donne Fr Flannery stressed that women were able to represent the person of Christ.
Also speaking during the discussion today was Dr Marinella Perroni, a theologian at the Pontifical Athenaeum Sant'Anselmo (an educational institute of the Catholic Church) in Rome, who told the gathering that John Paul II’s edict had led to a “paralysis” and meant some professors had been denounced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith for raising the topic.
She said that ordaining women could lead to “loss of unity” in the Church, but that it was equally unacceptable to have a “discipleship at two speeds”, where men have ministerial authority and women are not properly recognised.
The conference in Rome suggests a renewed confidence in discussing female ordination. Campaigners have been encouraged by Pope Francis’s recent remarks that he wanted to set up a commission to explore the question of women deacons.
For the first time the group has been given official permission to hold a public demonstration in the gardens of Castel Sant’Angelo on Friday, the day that the Pope celebrates a jubilee mass for priests in St Peter’s Square. Members of the women’s ordination group have also been given tickets to attend the Mass.
The pictures on the posters being put around Rome this week include 70 female ‘priests’ from the United States and Colombia photographed by Italian artist Giulia Bianchi as part of an ongoing project.
The gathering this week was organised by Kate McElwee, who is the first woman’s ordination campaigner to be permanently based in Rome.