Supporters of women priests call Church hierarchy 'morally bankrupt'
By Art Babych, Catholic News Service
August 10, 2005
OTTAWA (CNS) -- Speakers at a Canadian conference on ordaining women as Catholic priests attacked the hierarchy of the Catholic Church as being hypocritical and "morally bankrupt."
Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, a professor at Harvard Divinity School, described the Catholic hierarchy as "morally bankrupt" for its stand against the use of condoms, women's reproductive freedom and homosexuality.
She was the July 22 keynote speaker at the international Women's Ordination Worldwide conference, which was held in Ottawa July 22-24 and drew nearly 500 people from 20 countries.
In a statement about the conference, Archbishop Marcel Gervais of Ottawa said it was being held "completely outside the realm of our faith."
In her remarks, Schussler Fiorenza took particular aim at the U.S. bishops who, she said, lost their "last shred of religious moral credibility in the last election when bishops made candidates' position against women's reproductive life the key issue of Catholic identity."
The bishops did not care about "those on death row or the millions of children who are born daily into dehumanizing poverty and starvation, or who are killed by American bombs and occupation," she said.
"We have come together here to celebrate our common struggles for a just church and to renew our vision for a world free from oppression," Schussler Fiorenza said. "We come from near and from far to be church."
U.S. feminist theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether spoke of a vision of the church as a community liberated from patriarchy.
"A church which claims to be the sacrament of liberation for society while itself embodying the worst pattern of oppression internally compounds sinful distortion with hypocrisy and is simply unbelievable," she said.
Constructing a church of liberation from patriarchy requires dismantling clericalism, she said.
Ruether, professor emeritus at the Pacific School of Religion at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif., also told the conference delegates that the Eucharist should be a symbol of participation in authentic life.
"Yet, it has become the sacramental symbol most radically alienated from the people and transformed into a clerical power tool," she said.
"Excommunication, or denial of the Eucharist, is the prime tool by which one punishes those who resist clerical control," she said.
Several of the women attending the conference had been excommunicated after being "ordained" to the priesthood contrary to church law. Among them were women who were ordained in a 2002 ceremony held on the Danube River on the German-Austrian border and were excommunicated by the Vatican.
Four more women were to be "ordained" as priests aboard a boat on the St. Lawrence River near Gananoque, Ontario, following the conference. Two of the women involved in the 2002 ceremony, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger of Austria and Gisela Forster of Germany, were to perform the ceremony.
Archbishop Gervais had ordered his clergy and administrators not to discuss the ordination of the women in advance of the women's ordination conference.
"I would count on all of you to refrain from offering any public statements, or public prayers -- for or against -- in connection with it as the gathering is taking place completely outside the realm of our faith," the archbishop said.
The event's objectives "are clearly in opposition to the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church," he said in a letter.
In a 1998 apostolic letter, Pope John Paul II reinforced the limits on dissent in the church, saying Catholics must fully accept church teachings even on such issues as women's ordination.
Conference coordinator Marie Bouclin said that the hierarchy's "attempt to shut down any discussion on women priests is a reaction that does not manifest confidence in their arguments."
"It's too bad they don't take this as an opportunity to celebrate the great contribution of women in all the churches," she said.
Former Ottawa Mayor Marion Dewar, a Catholic, spoke about the archbishop's letter in her address to conference delegates.
"Imagine our bishop saying 'You can't talk about that this weekend -- those women have nothing to do with our church,'" she said. "Sorry fellows, but I'm going to be there."
On Parliament Hill hours before the conference began, delegates hugged and greeted other participants as they arrived from Washington, D.C., on a "Witness Wagon" bus tour that included religious centers and memorial sites honoring women as prophetic leaders.
Also at the gathering -- held at the monument to Canada's "Famous Five" women's suffrage activists -- were a handful of peaceful demonstrators opposed to the ordination of women priests. Among them was Diane Watts, a Catholic and the national president of Women for Life, Faith and Family, who carried a placard stating "Feminist Priesthood Not for Catholics."
Watts said she did not think those attending the conference "understand the gravity of the situation."
Ida Raming, one of seven women ordained during the Danube River ceremony, told reporters that church law stating that only baptized men can be validly ordained "is unjust, is anti-feminist, has nothing to do with Jesus," and that was why the women ordained in 2002 acted against it.
"We seven priests were excommunicated at once," she said. "They don't have the right because we are still members of the Roman Catholic Church, we pay our church taxes."
In Germany, the government collects a mandatory church tax from declared members of every denomination. That money then goes to the respective churches.
"We want only to reform the church, not to destroy it," Raming said.
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Contributing to this story was Deborah Gyapong in Ottawa. August 10/05.