London | Sunday July 9, 2006
Women on a mission to storm the gates of Rome Females are swelling the ranks of Anglican clergy, but in the Catholic church, many won't wait for the Vatican to find its feminine side - they're taking the crozier into their own hands
Scroll down to read also: Anglicans' first lady threatens church unityIt feels so good to be discussing this,' Victoria Rue tells me, the note of mischief clear in her Californian drawl. 'Officially the Vatican has decreed that Catholics can't even talk about women priests, let alone ordain them, but here we are doing it.'
In her white alb with the decorated stole that is the trademark of the priesthood hanging round her neck, Rue, professor of religion at San Jose State University, California, looks and sounds every inch a Catholic cleric.
In July 2005, she was ordained as one of the world's first Catholic women priests. On Saturday she is in Britain to say mass in Leeds with members of Britain's 300-strong Catholic Women's Ordination movement. The service will take place in an Anglican church because, in the eyes of the Vatican, Rue, 59, is not a priest. It has responded to the ordinations of a handful of American, German, Austrian and South African women with threats of excommunication.
Rue's visit comes at what many see as a crucial moment in women's struggle to achieve equality before God. In America, the Episcopal (Anglican) Church has just elected its first woman leader - Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, 52, a marine biologist and former pilot who beat six men for the job. Meanwhile, in Britain the Church of England's General Synod voted yesterday on allowing women to become bishops. Many see it as the next logical step after women were admitted to its priesthood in 1994. A recent report by the think-tank Demos highlighted the fact that 50 per cent of those now entering Britain's Anglican seminaries are women. But these women's advancement has opened up powerful divisions among the faithful.
The pressure for women to be given something more to do in church than flower-arranging is building from both within Catholicism - 70 more American women are preparing for ordination as Catholic priests, 120 in total worldwide - and from outside because of the example of what is happening in Anglicanism.
The figures contained in the Demos report on the rapid rise of women priests in the C of E have taken many by surprise. To reach parity with men in terms of numbers in just a dozen years is remarkable. In other professions, it has taken women generations.
'Initially, there were a number of women waiting in the wings who had had a vocation for years but had not been able to follow it,' says the Rev Angela Tilby, vice-principal of Westcott House Theological Training College in Cambridge. 'But that first wave should have passed. What I see today in the students I train are two sorts of women - recent graduates with a calling and women in midlife looking for a second life track. Because women still often take responsibility for bringing up children, I think they have more flexibility than men, who are locked into careers, and so can embark on something new.'
The move to allow women bishops - specifically excluded in 1994 but permitted elsewhere in the worldwide Anglican communion - is important, Tilby believes. 'The ecology of our church feels wrong without them. A Church of England bishop who had initially been opposed to women priests said to me recently that we needed women bishops because he no longer trusted resolutions coming out of the House of Bishops in the General Synod because as a group the bishops were so unrepresentative of the clergy.'
She hopes that women will not experience the same 'glass ceiling' found in other professions, but feels that women are often not as 'testosterone-driven' as men and therefore may not want to give up parish life for the bishop's palace.
The appointment of women bishops in the C of E will, when it happens, only exacerbate the divisions in the worldwide Anglican communion. Some Anglican churches in Africa, for example, are utterly opposed to seeing women in positions of authority. They reacted with predictable horror to the election of Jefferts Schori. However, among those who campaign on women's ministry, the American vote has caused jubilation.
Christina Rees, chair of Women and the Church and a member of the General Synod, regards Schori's election as public confirmation of her belief that the tide has at last turned in women's favour. 'As primate of the Episcopal Church, she has the status of an archbishop and that means that at every meeting of the senior figures of the churches in years to come there will finally be a woman at the table. It is often said that change in the church is a process not an event, but in future they will pick out this event as a key moment.'
Rees believes a more profound change is afoot. 'We are witnessing a belated coming together of secular understanding of women and theological understanding of women. We are now seeing words usually used in the secular sphere such as equality, justice and discrimination creeping back into the church's language and practice after a long absence.'
Victoria Rue tried life as a nun in the late Sixties but then turned her back on the church to work in the theatre. A trip to Central America in the Eighties brought her back into contact with Catholicism. Seeing it operating alongside the poor in the slums of Nicaragua inspired her to take up studying theology. At college she met her partner, Kathryn Poethig.
Rue was back as a regular mass-attender but felt excluded by her gender and her sexual orientation from more traditional forms of Catholic liturgy. She began taking part in and leading an unofficial 'women's mass' in Oakland, California. That experience confirmed her vocation and eventually led her to seek 'ordination' last year.
The ceremony took place aboard a boat in the St Lawrence River in Canada. Using a floating church meant that those who took part were outside the jurisdiction of any local archbishop. The moment of consecration was, Rue recalls, extraordinary. 'Every cell in my body rearranged itself. At once I was connected to all parts of myself. Something totally new was happening to me. The presence of the Holy Spirit was palpable.' She refers to the Spirit as 'she'.
Rue - she doesn't use the title Father because it sounds too patriarchal - now celebrates mass twice a week on San Jose university campus. She still receives a regular dose of hate mail from traditionalist Catholics who regard her as the Devil incarnate, but does not let it deflect her. Sometimes it rebounds to her advantage.
'The local bishop sent a letter to Catholics saying I was an invalid priest. That was wonderful publicity. A crowd turned up to see me. A lot of them have stayed on. Once they experience us, they know there is nothing to fear. Poll after poll of American Catholics shows that a majority wants women priests. The Vatican is refusing to listen right now but how much longer it can go on doing that, I don't know.'
Schori's election has, Rue believes, given 'huge moral and symbolic encouragement' to Catholic women wanting to be priests. That Jefferts Schori grew up a Catholic but had to join the Anglican Church to answer God's call to the priesthood lends her example particular piquancy. But before we start preparing for a female Pope (there was one, Joan, legend has it, in the 9th century, but she pretended to be a man), it is worth listening to the official teaching of the Catholic Church. 'In the name of liberation from male domination women must not appropriate to themselves male characteristics contrary to their own feminine originality. There is a well-founded fear that if they take this path they will deform and lose what constitutes this essential richness.' These were John Paul II's words, addressed in part to aspirant women priests, in his 1988 teaching document 'On The Dignity and the Vocation of Women'.
But Rome has been forced on to the defensive by the large numbers of women now studying theology and realising that Catholicism does not really have a decent argument against women's ordination. According to the Vatican, the issue is that women were not at the Last Supper. However, since we have no real evidence who was at the Last Supper, this can scarcely be regarded as a knockout blow.
There is, moreover, plenty of evidence from gravestone inscriptions that there were women priests in southern Italy and Sicily between 150 and 550AD. Nearer to our own times, a group of Czech women, fearing that their church would be destroyed in the late Sixties as the communist authorities imprisoned and killed male Catholic priests, were ordained by their bishop in secret and faithfully served the underground church.
Katharine Salmon from Leeds is a member of Catholic Women's Ordination (CWO) and organiser of Rue's mass. She also has a vocation and, like many members, has undertaken a two-year part-time course in women's ministry, geared to the Catholic priesthood, at York St John College. 'I had been for 13 years a lay member of a Catholic religious order, the Little Sisters of the Poor,' Salmon says. 'I had also acted as co-ordinator of the lay membership, but once my wish to become a priest was known I was told by the order that my "irregular theology" no longer made me a fit person to be involved with them.'
Salmon was forced to resign. Her experience mirrors that of many other women in the movement. Those who hold official jobs in the church - in Catholic schools, diocesan offices or as lay chaplains in prisons and hospitals - have been forced to keep their link with CWO and their vocations secret for fear of being sacked. One, who asked not to be named, described it as 'a kind of crucifixion'.
On Saturday, Rue will try to put some balm on the wounds. As she stands on the altar, she will be a walking, talking reproach to the foolishness of a group of men who believe that they can simply order those who disagree with them to be silent and fall into line with a teaching that has almost no theological or historical basis. Inspired by the changes afoot in Anglicanism, Catholic women with a vocation are no longer in the mood to put up and shut up.
Question of faithCristina Odone, former editor of the Catholic Herald
I would never want to be ordained, but it is for practical, not theological reasons. The priesthood seems to me often a shielded, academic, ivory tower environment that smacks of disengagement. Now, being a woman Pope, that's a different issue.
Ann Widdecombe MP
Women cannot be Catholic priests. They cannot be part of the apostolic succession because Christ did not choose a single woman as an apostle.You might as well ask me when Martians will start appearing at the end of my garden.
Joanna Monckton, member of the Church of England's General Synod
I am convinced that the movement towards women priests is all to do with contemporary fashion. Women should not be in positions of authority over men.
Sydney Morning Herald -- Tuesday June 20, 2006
Anglicans' first lady threatens church unityJonathan Petre in Columbus, Ohio
Ms Jefferts Schori … liberal [Photo: AP]
A WOMAN has been elected as the first female leader of the US Anglican church in a historic but divisive development that could hasten the break-up of the worldwide denomination.
The Bishop of Nevada, the Right Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, who has liberal views on homosexuality, is the first woman primate in Anglican history. Her role as Presiding Bishop is the equivalent to that of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Shouts of joy from pro-women campaigners greeted her surprise election by fellow bishops at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church on Sunday.
Conservatives predicted Ms Jefferts Schori, 52, would lead the church further along its liberal path on issues such as homosexuality, and her election will dismay traditionalists opposed to women priests.
The only other countries to have women bishops are New Zealand and Canada.
A leading traditionalist, the Bishop of Fort Worth, the Right Reverend Jack Iker, said: "She will be the only woman among 38 primates and the majority of them do not even recognise women bishops. This is going to be very difficult for the Archbishop of Canterbury."
"It will be a great adventure," Ms Jefferts Schori said.
Asked whether she was chosen to "send a message" to the wider Anglican community upset with the US church, she told reporters, "God welcomes all. Those who agree and disagree."
She promised to reconcile with those in the US church who are upset with its direction after she is installed at a ceremony in Washington's National Cathedral in November.
Her election followed a warning from a senior Church of England bishop that efforts to prevent a schism in worldwide Anglicanism were futile as it was now "two religions".
In an interview with London's The Daily Telegraph, the Bishop of Rochester, the Right Reverend Michael Nazir-Ali, said compromise between liberals and conservatives was no longer possible.
He increased the pressure on the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, to take firm action against the liberal American leadership.
"Sometimes you have to recognise that there are two irreconcilable positions and you have to choose between them," Mr Nazir-Ali said. "The right choice is in line with the Bible and the church's teaching down the ages, not some new-fangled religion we have invented to respond to the 21st century."
The Pakistan-born evangelical has the ear of conservative leaders in Africa and Asia and his comments at the convention, in Columbus, Ohio, will be a blow to Dr Williams, who has tried to hold the warring factions together.
But they will be welcomed by those who fear Dr Williams will do anything to avoid expelling the liberal Americans from the worldwide communion. Mr Nazir-Ali suggested the US church was beyond the pale, irrespective of how it voted on resolutions designed to test whether it was prepared to dilute its liberal agenda.
He said an unconnected decision by its House of Bishops on Friday to back civil if not religious marriages for gay couples was so significant it made issues such as gay bishops "an interesting footnote".
The church has been given until the convention ends tomorrow to toe the conservative line on homosexuality or face expulsion.
It has been asked to express regret for defying the official policy of the 75-million strong communion by consecrating Gene Robinson as the first openly gay bishop in 2003. It has also been asked to impose a moratorium on public blessings of same-sex "marriages".
But Mr Nazir-Ali said that, whatever the outcome, the Americans had already become detached from the roots of Anglicanism.
Telegraph, London; Reuters
.Katharine Jefferts Schori holds degrees in biology and oceanography.
.She taught religious studies at Oregon State University before ordination in 1994.
.She is a trained and active pilot.
.She is married and has one child.
The Rev Vivienne Faull, Anglican Dean of Leicester
It is about the transforming power of God being made available through an individual to others. I believe because I'm a woman, I enlarge the range of people doing that. I believe that God created both man and woman in his image.