Shattering the Stained Glass Ceiling: an experiential account of marginalization and criminalization in the Roman Catholic Church
by Marie Bouclin
Shatter the Stained Glass Ceiling Tour*
new catholic times sensus fidelium public lecture
Toronto | September 1, 2010
I am tempted to challenge Fr Roy (Bourgeois)’s title for this lecture series. My experience of the ceiling in the Roman Catholic Church is one of solid marble - imported from Italy. Seriously, if I had to give a title to a talk on the excommunication of ordained women in our church, which marginalizes and criminalizes us, it would be something like “We just don’t speak the same language.” I’ll explain that if time allows.
As I jotted down notes to tell you my experience of marginalization and criminalization within the Church, I came to the realization that three discourses have had their impact on my life (Theology/Spirituality, Social Justice, and Church Law), and certainly on my journey to priesthood. So what I will share with you is a chronology of events which marked turning points in my life, and the lessons I learned from them.
I was born in a small town in Northern Ontario to a French-Canadian Roman Catholic mother and an Anglo-Canadian Protestant father; I was educated by French Canadian nuns who instilled in us a religion of fear, self-abasement and redemption through personal abnegation. At age 18, I entered the convent because a) I wanted to earn the approval of my parents by being the best I could be, and that would be, according to the Sisters, a consecrated virgin; b) I wanted to earn the approval of God by dedicating my life to the service of the church; and c) I hoped to validate my existence by spending a life of prayer and dedication which would somehow bring about the conversion of my father to Catholicism. (He was a Freemason, therefore, according to my teachers, going straight to damnation).
After 7 years as a woman religious, and having lived through the paradigm shift for Catholicism that was the Second Vatican Council, I left the convent. First, I knew I was not cut out for celibacy, but I had learned that ALL believers are called to love God with their whole heart and mind and soul, not just priests and nuns. All human begins are created in the image of likeness of God, that in Christ, there “was neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female”, in other words, there should be no discrimination on the basis of race, socio-economic status, or sex. That also meant that no calling or vocation is more important than another, but all have a place in the reality we call the Body of Christ. So, I returned to University to become qualified as a high school teacher, met a charming young dental student, whom I married. We were gifted with three wonderful children, and my husband of 42 years and I have also been blessed with 2 beautiful grandchildren. In the 10 years I was by choice a stay-at-home mother, I did Bible Study, joined a Catholic Charismatic prayer group, played the organ at Mass most Sundays, volunteered with Birthright to help pregnant teenagers, and was a member of the local core group of Amnesty International. While I defended the human rights of the unborn and of prisoners of conscience, I must admit I was not interested in the wave of feminist liberation of the 1960`s and 70`s. I was satisfied that I was keeping the Great commandments by cultivating my personal prayer life and practising the ethics of social justice promoted by my Catholic faith. Once my kids were all in school, I returned to University and became a free-lance translator and interpreter.
In 1987, I was hired by our diocesan bishop as translator for the diocese, secretary for the diocesan synod he was undertaking, and personal secretary for the new auxiliary bishop. I saw this as a fulfilment of my life as a Catholic woman, which was to serve God and God’s people by working for “the Church”.
In 1992, my suitability for church employment was questioned because I had been reported in the local press as saying, in a workshop on women`s human rights, that the church discriminated against women. I was pressured to resign from my position. The lessons I learned from that experience of being dismissed without apparent cause and the 5 years of working with the local hierarchy were that:
- women are expected to work much harder for less pay that even lay men get;
- there is no freedom of speech, i.e. no expression of doubt, dissent or questioning is tolerated;
- there is no job security - a woman can be dismissed, without cause, on the whim of a priest or bishop;
- women have no input, no decision-making power even in areas that concern them: not only are doctrinal and moral decisions are made by men vested with clerical power, but so are the more practical decisions about the institutional workplace
- sexual harassment is rampant.
I wondered where the Social Justice Teaching of the Church was in all of this...
Unable to work in what I came to see as a “poisoned work atmosphere for women” I returned to free-lance translating and one of the great loves of my life, the study of theology. The words a close friend had muttered to me in 1972 came back to me. “You are not a feminist, but then you have never lost your job just because you`re a woman.” It seems I had paid my dues.
In 1996, about the time I was considering a subject for my Master’s thesis, a friend of mine called to tell me she had been sexually abused by our pastor. She knew two other women who were also victims of this priest. Over the course of the next 2 years, I met 18 women who had been victims of either clergy sexual abuse or had been dismissed without cause. I made an appointment with my bishop to ask him who was ministering to these women. His response was, “Marie, all those women want is money.” In 6 words he made it very clear that there would be no justice, and certainly no healing process for women coming from church leaders.
So, in 1998, I presented my thesis which was titled, La codépendance des femmes en Église; comment se relever d’un abus de pouvoir. My aim was to answer the question, “How do we help women heal the spiritual wounds caused by the abuse of power by clergy?” I learned in the process - and stories of clergy abuse of nuns and young girls were emerging from all over the world - that as long as women were not allowed to represent Christ in an official, sacramentally recognized way, not only would the spiritual needs of women not be met, but women, especially poor and vulnerable women would continue to be exploited, raped, and even murdered with impunity.
I published my thesis in 2000 under the title Pour vivre debout, femmes et pouvoir dans l’Église, in which I claim that for justice to be served, and for abused women to find healing, the Church needs women priests. My arguments rest on the experience of women and the research and publications of feminist theologians and Scripture scholars. The English of the version of the book, Seeking Wholeness was only published in 2006, and that was on the condition that I take out the chapters dealing with women`s ordination. That was no problem, to be honest, there were all kinds of stories of injustices against women I could tell. And I did want women to hear the stories of other women so their own story would be validated. There were plenty of books out there making a case of women`s ordination.
In 2000 I followed a seminar on dealing with allegations of clergy misconduct with Rev. Dr. Marie Fortune of the FaithTrust Institute, then called the Centre for the Prevention of Family and Sexual Violence. Her opening words were, “It was not until women were ordained in the Protestant churches that the problems of sexual abuse by clergy and family violence began to be treated seriously.” It was at that point that I decided to become actively involved in the women`s ordination movement. It was time to put my faith - research, reflexion, and prayer - into to concrete action to bring about change.
In 2002 I was invited, as delegate for Canada`s Catholic Network for Women`s Equality, to attend the first ordination of 7 RC women on the Danube. Although these women were ordained by a RC bishop, the ordinations were considered illegal (contra legem = against the law) and invalid under Canon Law. The women were all excommunicated - the harshest punishment imposed by the church. I was also Canada`s delegate to the annual steering committee meeting of Women`s Ordination Worldwide. WOW’s main objective is to change Canon 1024 which reads “Only a baptized man can validly receive sacred ordination”. By changing one word: man to person, thus opening Holy Orders to women, we hoped to put the Roman Catholic institutional church on a path towards the full inclusion of women, but also initiate a reform of the priesthood as it now exists. In that sense, WOW is an important part of a larger movement for church reform.
In 2004, as Coordinator of Women`s Ordination Worldwide, I met African feminist theologian Patricia Fresen. She had been ordained by 2 women from the Danube movement, now bishops. Patricia was convinced that, much as apartheid ended in South Africa because people refused to obey the unjust apartheid laws, so Church law (Canon 1024) would be changed if some bishops just disregarded it and ordained women. Because she was ordained outside the law, Dr Fresen was dismissed from her religious community after 45 years of service and from her teaching position in a Catholic university; she now lives in exile in Germany. During a visit Patricia invited me to be ordained to minister to women who had been abused by clergy, and so I was ordained to the priesthood in 2007. That week I received an email from my pastor saying that, on the bishop`s order, I would not be allowed to receive communion at Sunday Mass.
On May 29, 2009, the Vatican newspaper Osservatore Romano published a notification that all women who attempted ordination are excommunicated latae sententiae - meaning automatically. Our group of Canadian Roman Catholic Womenpriests were gathered in Victoria at the time for the ordination of our 3rd and 4th priests - a divorced woman from Calgary and a married man from Vancouver. All we could say was, “This is an unfair punishment for breaking an unjust law” and recommit to offering a new model of priesthood, based on servant leadership, that is a non-clericalist, non-violent, and radically inclusive from of ministry which believes, teaches and practises a religion of compassion, justice and peace.
By now I hope you’ve come to the conclusion that one of the problems in the religious institution I belong to is that ordained Catholic women - simply do not speak the same language as our current leadership.
*There are three broad discourses within all religions and consequently within our church today. First, there is the METAPHYSICAL, which includes the study and applications of Philosphy, Theology, Sacred Scriptures, and Spirituality, seeking answers to the questions: Where do we come from? Where are we going? Who and What is God? Can we enter into a relationship with the Divine? What does that relationship look like? It is out of this metaphysical quest that come not only a religious belief system, but also the sacramental or symbolic and ritual (or public expression) of the Catholic church. Personal religious devotion, mysticism and meditation practices, as well as centuries of sacred music, art, and literature are also part of this metaphysical discourse.
Secondly, there is the ETHICAL discourse, which includes the study and application of Christian Ethics and Moral Behaviour based on the teachings of Sacred Scripture, more specifically the New Testament, the Church’s Traditional Moral Theology and the Social Teaching of the Church. It is the Christian moral/ethical imperative discourse that has given us, over the centuries, people who were moved to found hospitals for the sick and dying, schools, social agencies, movements for prison reform, and for all kinds of humanitarian works because they took the Gospel message to heart.
Basically, these two discourses, the metaphysical and the ethical, can be summarized in the words of Jesus, the Jewish prophet from Nazareth: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets ”. Yes, Jesus refers to the Law.
Religions hold a third discourse, which is LEGAL. In Roman Catholicism, that means the study and application of Canon Law which defines the rules and norms of actions to maintain in place the Roman Catholic church’s hierarchical structure and particularly the sacred power of priests to administer the sacraments and “achieve order in the ecclesiastical society”(Introduction to the 1983 Code of Canon Law). The criminalization of women`s ordination is part of a legal construct which is called the Roman Catholic Church. *
Our discourse, as I said at the beginning, is grounded in the metaphysical and ethical discourse of Jesus of Nazareth, Jewish Wisdom and the experience of Early Christian communities - understood through the lense of our current culture and theological scholarship. The highly centralized hierarchy of the RCC seems to be trapped in the illusion of self-proclaimed inerrancy and the rule of man-made laws. Criminalized and marginalized as we may be, we womenpriests enjoy a much greater measure of freedom in the quest for knowledge and a relationship with the Divine. For me, this is a source of serenity, joy, and inner peace. But that does not mean that justice for women in the church has been served.
Shatter the Stained Glass Ceiling Tour
new catholic times sensus fidelium public lecture
Join Roy Bourgeois, Maryknoll priest, SOA Watch founder, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and Marie Bouclin Roman Catholic Womanpriest , as they speak in Toronto as part of the “Shatter the Stained Glass Ceiling Tour.” Join us and participate in breaking the silence on women’s ordination.
Sunday October 24th 2010
252 Bloor Street West Toronto
There is a parking lot directly under the building which is accessed from Prince Arthur, the first street north of Bloor, and a municipal lot on Bedford just north of Bloor Street. OISE is on top of the St. George subway station and can be accessed directly from there
A Roman Catholic priest faces excommunication for his public support of women’s ordination through the Roman Catholic Womenpriests movement. The priest is Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the Americas (SOA) Watch who is known internationally for his work to end U.S. government-funded combat training of Latin American militaries. Last November, he decided to risk his 36 years of priesthood to end sexism in the Church.
Marie Evans Bouclin, a former nun and high school teacher, was ordained a deacon in August 2006, and was ordained to the priesthood in May 2007 in Toronto. Marie worked as a free-lance translator in religion and ethics for over twenty years., is serving a second term on the national work group of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE) and was coordinator of Women’s Ordination Worldwide from 2002 to 2006. She is the author of Seeking Wholeness: Women dealing with abuse of power in the Catholic Church (Liturgical Press, 2006).
The Toronto event will host the Premiere of the film,
Pink Smoke Over The Vatican
A Film by Jules Hart
“Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” is a documentary film about a group of impassioned women who have stepped forward to challenge the Vatican. They have been labeled heretics, heroines, radicals, visionaries, feminists and fanatics. By whatever name, this unique group of religious women have chosen at great personal risk to live out their spiritual calling through the forbidden path of ordination. The film follows candidates for priesthood as they confront their inner doubts and anxieties while at the same time challenging the centuries-old established order of one of the most powerful institutions in history.
This film is topical, unique, and controversial. The papacy has reached a time of crisis and the controversy over women’s role, and their place in the Church, must be addressed if the Vatican is to have any relevance in the 21st century. These women feel a spiritual calling to be priests and they are tired of waiting. They have chosen to take hold of their destinies and, in so doing, the destiny of the Roman Catholic Church.
The voices of these women must be heard.
Pink Smoke Over The Vatican has been chosen as an official selection of the Hot Springs 19th Documentary Film Festival in October!
Pink Smoke Over The Vatican has also received 2 awards at the Action on Film International Film Festival: Best Female Filmmaker and Best Faith-based Film!