WOW! Women’s ordination network now worldwide (Women’s Ordination Worldwide!)
by Maureen Fiedler
National Catholic Reporter | 13 September 1996
The July 1996 European Women’s Synod of 1,000 women from 48 nations, with the aid of US observers from the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), founded WOW to develop an international network. It will be coordinated by the WOC and will hold its own convocation in 1997 or 1998.
It was evening in Gmunden, a lovely town in the foothills of the Austrian Alps. We were gathered in an upper room. I was one of about 50 women representing at least 10 countries on five continents: Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Peru, Spain, South Africa, South Korea and the United States.
The atmosphere was electric with anticipation. We were there to give birth to a shared dream: the formation of an international coalition to work for the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic church.
For years critics of the women’s ordination movement have charged that this issue is ‘just a US fixation’. The rest of the world wasn’t interested, this theory claimed. Frances B. O’Connor’s book, Like Bread their Voices Rise, which surveyed women in many lands on issues of women’s equality in the church, provided initial evidence that this contention is just plain wrong. What happened in Gmunden puts it to rest forever.
This special caucus was called spontaneously in the midst of a weeklong European Women’s Synod in July 1996. The synod was an interfaith gathering of more than 1,000 women from 48 countries who came together to talk about justice in the politics, economic life and ecclesial structures as well as spirituality and personal development.
Those of us from the United States attended as observers, although we felt welcome as full participants. Several of us, representing the Women’s Ordination Conference, came with the hope of forming such a network. We had long known about WOC-like groups in other countries but we had no regular contact, no face-to-face meetings, no opportunities to strategize together. As we laid our plans on this side of the Atlantic, we were not sure how our ideas would be received.
But the Spirit was alive and active cross culturally. Anytime a synod speaker in the regular sessions alluded to the ordination of women or criticised the Vatican’s treatment of women, applause was sustained and enthusiastic. Women’s ordination was the hot topic of the week.
A workshop led by Sister of Notre Dame Myra Poole and Valerie Stroud of Catholic Women’s Ordination in Great Britain drew women from many countries. Animated conversation described the state of the question in various countries. It was also quickly evident that the same debates that enliven our movement in the United States are universal: how to change patriarchal structures as we seek ordination so that women are not co-opted into the present system. At that workshop, the evening caucus to form an international network was arranged.
When the meeting began, the upper room had standing room only. By mutual agreement, Silvia Cancio of the WOC board chaired the meeting. The group quickly affirmed its desire to form a coalition for a threefold purpose: providing mutual support, sharing information and developing international strategies.
One problem remained: What to call it? After several suggestions fell flat, theologian Sheila Briggs of the University of Southern California spoke up. ‘Why not call it WOW?’ she asked. ‘Women’s Ordination Worldwide?’
The room broke into wild, sustained applause. WOW is a word that cuts across linguistic barriers. It is easily understood in German, Dutch, Spanish, French and Czech as well as English. WOW had been born! Animated conversations began to buzz with possible strategies, statements, international symbols and actions.
An international steering committee was formed to expand the network and plan a strategy convocation in 1997 or 1998. WOC was invited by the others to coordinate the network for the first two years.
As all this transpired, I gave thanks for the work of Cardinal Joseph first. His statements trying to put this issue to rest have boomeranged beautifully to enliven the movement worldwide. All I can say is WOW!
Loretto Sr. Maureen Fiedler is coordinator of Catholics Speak Out, coordinator of We Are Church Referendum Campaign and a member of the board of Women’s Ordination Conference.
COPYRIGHT 1996 National Catholic Reporter