Thursday, July 28, 2005
On July 25, in Ottawa, Canada, a group of nine women in ceremonial robes walked in a procession through a crowd made up of friends, family, reporters and the curious. The day was hot, and as the women approached the harbor where a boat was to take them onto the St. Lawrence Seaway, there was a delay. The large ship that was to take the nine women and about 300 others out into international waters so that the women could undergo a forbidden ceremony was not there. According to Dana Reynolds, who was one of the nine waiting to be illicitly ordained into the Roman Catholic Church, the wait was symbolic.
“We waited a long time in the hot sun,” Reynolds says. “It was like women working for ordination. We waited and waited [for the chance to become ordained,] and then finally some of us decided to just get on the boat. We got on it.”
And after all that waiting, Reynolds, who is from Carmel, got ordained as a deacon by three female bishops from Europe in a ceremony that she describes as “incredibly powerful and moving.”
“People were really excited,” she says. “There was kind of an electricity in the group. I felt as if we were all participating together in history.”
Reynolds is a 58-year-old wife and mother, a volunteer chaplain for Hospice of the Central Coast, a self-proclaimed “spiritual mentor” who works with mostly women and performs weddings, and perhaps most importantly, is a member of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is a complicated relationship that she has with her church. Reynolds wants recognition from the church for a concept that it does not condone: women as priests. She wants the church to shift and stretch and bend in ways it, or at least the Vatican, has said it will not do. But she does not want to leave it. She, and other women who are working to become deacons and priests in the Catholic Church, say it is their calling to test the church, and yet not give up on it.
“I’m a Catholic, and I’m doing this as both a political and spiritual act,” Reynolds says. “I’m called to this because I feel it’s time for change and healing in the church, and the feminine can help bring that in. The church is out of balance and it’s very important for the feminine to be a part of the church rather than leaving and starting something new. It’s worth staying and working from the inside out to bring change. There is so much richness and heritage in the church.”
Reynolds was joined in Canada by another local woman, Victoria Rue of Watsonville. Rue had already been ordained a deacon in 2004—this time she was becoming a priest. The woman bishop who ordained Rue a deacon was among a group of seven women who, in 2002, were first ordained priests on a boat on the Danube river by two male Roman Catholic bishops. The woman was later ordained a bishop in secret by three male bishops.
Rue, who is also 58, was raised Roman Catholic, has a doctorate in theology and a Master of Divinity, and teaches religious studies at San Jose State University. She, like Reynolds, also works as a volunteer hospice chaplain, and has a “house church” where women come monthly to worship. Rue spent a year in a convent in the late ‘60s, then decided, “It wasn’t for me.”
“I have felt, most of my life, called to the priesthood and have been looking for ways to express that,” she says.
Rue and Reynolds are members of a group called Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The group says that there is archeological evidence of women as priests and bishops. “That was taken away from us,” Reynolds says. “This is about reclaiming and breathing new life and healing through the church through the feminine.”
Rue is emphatic in stating that the group is not trying to break away from the church.
“We are not trying to create a new church or a schism,” she says. “We consider ourselves to be Roman Catholic.”
When pressed to explain why she would want to be a priest in a church that doesn’t want her to be one, she argues that at a grassroots level, people do want and need women priests.
“There is a huge problem of there not being enough priests to go around, and women are ready to be priests,” she says. “The majority of Catholics in the US who have been polled say they want women as priests. So why are we waiting? We’re not waiting, that’s the point.”
Kevin Drabinski, director of communications for the Diocese of Monterey, agrees that the church is experiencing a shortage of priests. He also says that the topic of ordination of women and priests being allowed to be married has come up for “a number of years.”
But Drabinski states that while women are “necessary and irreplaceable” in the church, their roles are to be limited to departments such as education programs and parish administration.
“The official position of the church has not changed,” Drabinski says. “By tradition, only men have been ordained into the priesthood. There is a hunger for spirituality and the church has to answer that. But it is unlikely that women will be ordained in the near future.”
Both Reynolds and Rue demur at first when asked directly for positions on topics like birth control and abortion.
“I guess my stance is there is a lot that has to happen between individuals and God and it is not my place to judge. I don’t have immediate answers for that,” Reynolds says. “I believe the first step is to allow women into the church and to begin these conversations. Women need to be allowed to have a voice and with that the celibacy law needs to go. People need to be able to be fully human. Definitely we should allow birth control. Other things need to change.”
Rue says that adding women into the church naturally creates change.
“You can’t just ordain women into priesthood and stir in like a recipe,” she says. “When you begin to ordain women, the theology will change. We can become inclusive so we don’t only refer to God as he or father, but she or mother, or we say wind, or we say river of love. We start to use many different names for God.
“As far as I’m concerned, we are calling the church to its future,” she continues. “By that I mean we want to create a church that is more inclusive of divorced Catholics and gay and lesbian people and that celebrates the body. For centuries the church has had a body negative approach and women’s bodies were looked at as an occasion for sin. We know that is not a case—our bodies are to be celebrated as an incarnation of the holy.”
Reynolds says whatever movement is created will be done with the intention of peace.
“What we are doing is radical,” she says. “I know that, but I want to do that with love and peace. We are living in a critical, crucial time. For the church to stay locked in a position it has held for 2000 years is just not prudent. The ordination, for me, was the consecration of my life for serving God, but it was also a political statement that we’ve waited, we’ve protested, we’ve done a lot of work over the years to get the Vatican to open its doors to women but it’s not going to happen. We have chosen to break an unjust law. We are going forward.”<>FOR MORE INFORMATION ON THE WOMENPRIESTS MOVEMENT, GO TO WWW.ROMANCATHOLICWOMENPRIESTS.ORG.>