Monday, August 04, 2008

"We Are All the Rock"

The following interview with my friend, Roman Catholic Womanpriest, Judith McKloskey (pictured, at right, with me at her August 2007 ordination in Minneapolis), will be published in the forthcoming August 2008 issue of The Progressive Catholic Voice.


“We Are All the Rock”
An interview with Roman Catholic Womanpriest,
Judith McKloskey

By Michael J. Bayly
The Progressive Catholic Voice
August 2008

Michael Bayly: Can you explain what exactly the Vatican recently said about women who have been ordained as Catholic priests and deacons?

Judith McKloskey: On May 29, 2008, (ironically, the eve of the 577th anniversary of St. Joan of Arc being burned at the stake) the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (formerly named the Congregation for the Defense of the Faith) issued a General Decree.

The translated text follows.

Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith General Decree

Regarding the crime of attempting
sacred ordination of a woman

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, to protect the nature and validity of the sacrament of holy orders, in virtue of the special faculty conferred to it by the supreme authority of the Church (see canon 30, Canon Law), in the Ordinary Session of December 19, 2007, has decreed:

Remaining firm on what has been established by canon 1378 of the Canon Law, both he who has attempted to confer holy orders on a woman, and the woman who has attempted to receive the said sacrament, incurs in latae sententiae excommunication, reserved to the Apostolic See.

If he who has attempted to confer holy orders on a woman or if the woman who has attempted to receive holy orders, is a member of the faithful subject to the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches, remaining firm on what has been established by canon 1443 of the same Code, they will be punished with major excommunication, whose remission remains reserved to the Apostolic See (see canon 1423, Canon Law of the Eastern Churches).

The current decree will come into immediate force from the moment of publication in the 'Osservatore Romano' and is absolute and universal.

The Decree is signed by William Cardinal Levada, Prefect, and Angelo Amata, SDB, Titular Archbishop of Sila.

An accompanying article by Catholic News Agency, mentioned several recent ceremonies (referred to as “attempted ordinations”), including the November 11, 2007, ordinations in St. Louis of Rose Marie Hudson and Elsie McGrath and the May 4, 2008, ceremony involving Kathy Redig of Winona, Minnesota.

In latae sententiae” is a type of excommunication which church officials say occurs automatically upon certain actions. It has been interpreted historically to mean that persons are not permitted to receive the sacraments nor to hold public leadership positions in the church. In many cases, this type of excommunication can be lifted locally. But in these cases, church officials say, only the Apostolic See can receive these persons back into the Church. This particular decree, in official language, is “absolute,” “universal,” and “immediately effective.”

Michael Bayly: How has this personally affected you? What’s been the response of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement?

Judith McKloskey: From my childhood I remember a poem Edwin Markham wrote:

He drew a circle that shut me out.
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in.

My immediate response was deep sadness that the top authorities in our church have chosen to issue this decree. Instead of spending energy and resources addressing the major issues facing our church and world, they are hurling verbal lightning bolts at a few mostly-retirement-aged women and men. A healthier way to “protect the faith and unity of the Church” is to bring policies and practices more in line with the values Jesus lived for. Church authorities could be dedicated to protecting the young from abuse, insuring equal treatment of women and the poor in our world, and addressing global environmental degradation. Church authorities could re-establish access to the sacraments as its top internal priority. Persons could be called forth for sacramental ministry based on their gifts, not their gender or marital status.

Soon after my initial reaction, I began to see the decree as an affirmation that church officials are now taking the Roman Catholic Womenpriests initiative seriously.

If church authorities would engage in dialog rather than in pronouncements, they could find ways to incorporate our efforts into the larger church. We do not intend to form a schismatic church. We are asking our church to expand its imagination in service of its mission.

I am not surprised that the Vatican has issued this decree, just disappointed. When I took this public step, I knew there would be consequences, some of which would not be pleasant. God calls me to follow in faith, even when that means risking the wrath of church officials. My ordination is valid; it was performed by a bishop who was consecrated by three bishops in active ministry in the Roman Catholic church. I reject the phrase “crime of attempting sacred ordination of a woman.” Pedophilia is a crime; covering up pedophilia is a crime; stealing from the church is a crime. Responding to a call from the depths of one conscience is not a crime.

Personally, the excommunication decree has affected me mostly as a time and energy drain. Thinking about it takes energy and time I prefer to spend serving the needs of the persons and communities who contact me. I cannot count the number of Catholics who have expressed to me their delight in and gratitude for the fact that women are now serving as deacons and priests within Catholic communities. I often hear: “It’s long overdue!” and “Your courage brings me hope for the future of our church.” At the seven ordinations in which I have fully participated, the tears in the eyes of those assembled, the cheers and the ovations greeting the newly ordained stand for me as lighthouses on the difficult and foggy days. I continue to receive communion with a clear conscience. Far from “gambling with my soul” (to use the phrase of one conservative commentator), I am in joyful peace. Each day affirms my choice to respond publicly to a call I first heard in early childhood.

The Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement rejects the penalty of excommunication. We consider ourselves loyal members of the RC church. We stand in the prophetic tradition of holy disobedience to what we believe is an unjust canon law – canon 1024 – which reserves ordination to men. We believe canon 849, that baptism [not gender] is the gateway to the sacraments. Recent scholarship affirms that women were ordained in the first 1,200 years of our Church’s history. We are reclaiming that history. Roman Catholic Womenpriests offers a model of a renewed priesthood in a community of equals. And yes, some people and some church leaders find that very threatening.

Michael Bayly: Can you talk briefly about the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement? When did it start? What are its aims? How prevalent is it?

Judith McKloskey: The Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) movement began in Austria and Germany in the late 1990’s, when some Catholic women convened to study theology. They, in effect, developed a seminary program. Upon the completion of their studies, they eventually located several bishops who agreed to ordain some of them. On June 29, 2002, seven women were ordained priests by validly ordained male bishops. The ceremony took place on a ship on the Danube River, between two countries. These seven women were formally excommunicated. The next year two of these women were consecrated bishops. There are now five bishops, including one from California. These women were consecrated as bishops so that they will ordain women to the transitional diaconate, then to the priesthood.

RCWP is an international initiative. Its mission is to spiritually prepare, ordain, and support women and men from all states of life, who are theologically qualified, who are committed to an inclusive model of church, and who are called by the Holy Spirit and their communities to minister to the People of God.

Growth in Europe is slow; their circumstances are greatly different from those in the U.S. and Canada. RCWP has grown quickly here in North America. The first ordination in North American took place in 2005 on a ship on the St. Lawrence Seaway, between the U.S. and Canada. The first ordination in the U.S. was in 2006 in Pittsburgh. Because of the rapid growth, regions were formed. In 2007, there were seven ordination ceremonies in North America; as of July, there have been five ordinations in 2008 in North America. Two or three more ordinations for 2008 have been scheduled.

In addition to the public ordinations, there have been some what we call “catacomb ordinations.” These are for women and men whose public ordinations would most likely result in loss of livelihood, because they work within Roman Catholic churches and organizations.

As of July 20, 2008, six years after the first U.S. woman, Dagmar Celeste, was ordained a priest through RCWP, there are 30 priests in RCWP and 11 deacons in the U.S. In Minnesota, as of this date we have three priests: Regina Nicolosi of Red Wing, Kathy Redig of Winona, and myself, Judith McKloskey, of Eden Prairie. Mary Smith of Long Lake is now a deacon. Other women are in RCWP’s formation program; still others are discerning their calls.

(NOTE: A book about RCWP, entitled Women Find A Way, has recently been published. Information about it can be found here. Another good source of information is the official RCWP website, which can be viewed here.)

Above: Bishop Patricia Fresen (center) with newly
ordained womenpriests,
Rev. Judith McKloskey and
Rev. Alice Marie Iaquint
– Minneapolis, August 12, 2007.

Michael Bayly: Monsignor Angelo Amato of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently declared that: “The church does not feel authorized to change the will of its founder Jesus Christ,” an apparent reference to Christ having chosen only men as his apostles. How do you respond to such a contention?

Judith McKloskey: When I first read, back in 1994, that church officials said the church didn’t have the authority to ordain women, I laughed. Think about it. When have you EVER heard Roman Catholic church leaders say they lack authority to do anything? When it serves one’s purposes, it is easy to hide behind the skirts of history.

The contention that the church cannot ordain women because Jesus did not ordain them is illogical. First, Jesus did not ordain anyone to the priesthood as it has evolved over time. Second, Jesus chose mostly married Jewish men as disciples. Jesus did not ordain any Caucasian, celibate men. But then, this entire discussion is not about logic, nor has it ever been. As Rev. Nancy Taylor said after the recent RCWP ordinations in Boston, “Prejudice in liturgical clothing is still prejudice.”

As far as interpreting the will of Jesus and speaking for Jesus, anyone claiming that ability would be wise to be cautious. At most we can hope to spend our lives in humble discernment of what we believe is God’s voice in our world. God is God; we humans are not.

Michael Bayly: What drew you to be ordained? What sustains you during these difficult times? What keeps you hopeful?

Judith McKloskey: My path to sacramental ministry has been a spiritual river in my life since early childhood. Where could the yearning go? In 4th grade I was told girls couldn’t even serve at the altar, much less become priests. The river went underground for years, because priesthood was a forbidden dream for women in the Roman Catholic church. Little did I know, God was using all the experiences of my life to prepare me. Outside of and within my Roman Catholicism, the formation continued. On January 9, 1994, I responded fully, clearly and consciously to this call to sacramental service. Every day of my life since then I have lived as priest, to the best of my ability. After continued theological studies and completing the RCWP formation program, I was ordained to the diaconate in October, 2006.

On August 12, 2007, to my great joy, I was publicly ordained to the priesthood here in Minneapolis, along with Alice Iaquinta from the Milwaukee area. Ordained to the diaconate that day were Kathy Redig of Winona, and Ree Hudson and Elsie McGrath of the St. Louis area.

What sustains me is prayer and spiritual practice, mine and that of the many persons who are kind enough to keep me in their prayers and thoughts. My family and friends bring me strength and the perspective of humor. What also sustains me and brightens the occasional down days is God’s people. Sensus fidelium is a phrase used to indicate that a doctrine or belief is fully valid because it is accepted, or received, by the people. I believe that God’s love includes all of us. When the official church leaders speak from a narrow perspective, I remember the many people who have contacted me to offer support and affirmation and gratitude.

My business card includes the phrase “celebrating sacraments and rituals with faith communities.” At baptisms, weddings, anointings, reconciliations, attendance at ordinations, and at the bedsides of those chronically ill or near the threshold of death, I have been privileged to witness the sacred events of people’s lives. Throughout this first year I have been invited to celebrate Eucharist with diverse communities. It is an honor to discern with and facilitate the community prayer of a particular group of people with their God. This mission and these shining moments in time are what keep me going.

Here is one example. One day recently I celebrated Eucharist with a group of people at someone’s family farm. After morning prayer the next day, a community leader invited me to be seated in the center of the circle of people gathered. They’d all heard about the excommunication decree, he said, and found it ridiculous. But they figured it would help me to hear so from them. They surrounded me in the circle, touched me, and many prayed aloud about their gratitude that I had been ordained to serve them as priest. Two spoke of receiving joy and serenity from me. As tears flowed down every face I saw, I remembered that very morning, walking across a field and finding myself standing upon a large flat boulder, hidden among the stalks of waist high grain. The words “you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church” came to me and I realized it was the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul. The words are for all of us. We are all the rock upon which Jesus builds – all of us baptized Christians, serving God and each other and our world to the best of our abilities. In this I place my hope!

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Roman Catholic Womenpriests Ordained in Minneapolis
Thoughts on Ordination, Intellectual Dishonesty, and the Holy Spirit of which the Prophet Joel Speaks
Could Christ Have Been a Woman?
Responding to Excommunication
The Discussion Continues
Revealing a Hidden History
Crisis? What Crisis?
Reflections on The Da Vinci Code Controversy
Thoughts on The Da Vinci Code
Mary of Magdala

Recommended Off-site Links:
Why Ordain Women? - The Australian Ordination of Catholic Women.
Roman Catholic Womenpriests
Women-Church Convergence
Women’s Ordination Conference
“Some Women Seeking Ordination Won’t Wait for Church’s OK” - National Catholic Reporter, January 27, 2006.
“The Defiant Deacon” - Minnesota Women’s Press, December 2005.

Recommended Blogs:
God is Not 3 Guys
Bridget Mary’s Blog


Anonymous said...

A couple comments:

First, echoing Gammaliel (sic?), if the admission of women to holy orders is God's will, then no person or institution can stop it. If the admission of women to holy orders is not God's will, then no person or institution can perpetuate it. So, we will see over time if this particular, unilateral change is in fact part of God's will for the Church.

Second, this statement "Pedophilia is a crime; covering up pedophilia is a crime; stealing from the church is a crime" bugs me. Not because its not true - it is absolutely true. And not because the leadership of the Church - and not just the male hierarchy - bears responsibility for these crimes. Just to be completely clear, the only ones lacking culpability are the victims of such heinous abuse.

But what bugs me is the implicit assertion that if only, if only, if only we had a Church that:

* admitted women to orders
* admitted the married to orders
* allowed any 2 people to marry
* left birth control, divorce & remarriage to the internal forum

et cetera, yadda, yadda

that pedophilia, covering up pedophilia and stealing would not occur or would occur less. I am sorry to that 10 minutes of searching Google will clearly illustrate these same problems in all the mainline Protestant denominations, none of which are marred by Roman intransigence.

In fact, sorry to say, in my diocese there have been 4 instances of theft-by-deception in amounts over $100K in the last 3 years. Of those 4:

* 2 perpetrators were priests
* 1 was a woman religious
* 1 was a laywomen

Another instance, at a local Lutheran church, was by a layman. None of these cases involved any sexual impropriety, or any issues with children, as far as the local newspaper reported those stores.

I'm no mental health professional, but I think the issue is gambling addiction, and the replacement of some addictions with other ones. That and an on-going lack of internal and external managerial and financial controls, but I digress.

My point is an "exclusive" church is not necessarily the cause of these problems. An "inclusive" church is not necessarily the remedy for those problems, either.

Anonymous said...


"these same problems in all the mainline Protestant"

should read:

"these same problems [occur] in all the mainline Protestant"


"as far as the local newspaper reported those stores."

should read:

as far as the local newspaper reported those [stories.]