“Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of Our ministry of confirming the brethren. We declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.” – Pope John Paul II on 22 May 1994
While attending the 2015 World Parliament of Religions in Salt Lake City, a clergyman said to me, “I pray someday our church will wake-up and emerge into modern society and ordain women.” The clergyman wasn’t Roman Catholic, but Seventh-day Adventist. While many mainline denominations have ordained women for more than 50 years, the Seventh-day Adventists form part of a block of Christian groups that do not. Those include Roman Catholics, Southern Baptists, the Orthodox Church in America and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Adventist minister I was speaking with went on to say that the official position of the church was taken at their 60th General Conference Session held last summer in San Antonio. Delegates voted not to allow regional church bodies to ordain women. Tense discussions throughout the Session featured dozens of delegates voicing opinions for and against the question: “Is it acceptable for division executive committees, as they may deem it appropriate in their territories, to make provision for the ordination of women to the gospel ministry?” The vote was 1,381 against ordination to 977 in favor for reginal committees being allowed to ordain women. The Adventist minister believed that the negative vote for women ordination was largely influenced by delegates from Africa and South America who often have more conservative views on women’s ordination than Adventists in other regions.
The Adventist Clergyman told me that President Ted N .C. Wilson, leader of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, sided with a “no” vote and was re-elected to a second five-year term earlier in the meeting, and that he asked for calm before and after the vote. After the vote, President Wilson implored the delegates with this message, “We have today a spiritual opportunity to refocus our attention on mission and turn our eyes away from this subject. I appeal to all of us in this church to put away differences of opinion. You may guard an opinion but let’s be careful how we express it and move ahead.” President Wilson’s urging for members to guard their opinions is in sharp contrast to the unflinching certainty of Pope John Paul’s rule that all doubt was removed about women ordination. A survey last spring by the Pew Research Center found 59 percent of practicing American Catholics favor female ordination. My visit with the Adventist clergyman soon ended and it made me muse about the events that were happening at the ongoing Parliament and how they signaled what was taking place with the evolution of religion and women ordination.
My decision to go to the 2015 World Parliament of Religions was made after Bishop Mark Elliott Newman suggested that clergy of our jurisdiction consider attending the event in Utah last October. It was projected that over 10,000 people of faith from all over the world would gather in Salt Lake City to be a part of an international interfaith movement. My application for Press Credentials was granted and the Media Room at the Salt Palace Convention Center was my first stop after registration. I was greeted at the door by the Parliament Media Representative and he was slightly surprised when I introduced my wife. He reacted with two familiar questions, “You’re married? Aren’t you a Catholic Priest?” My customary response, “I’m an Independent Catholic Priest. Our priests can marry and we also ordain women.” The last point about women ordination typically elicits more reaction than the first one about priestly celibacy. However, the response that I caught that afternoon in the Media Room surprised me. A woman standing next to me suddenly declared, “I’m an ordained Roman Catholic Woman Priest.”
Janice Sevre-Duszynska quickly introduced herself and then she handed me a flyer that had the following announcement: “Clare Julian Carbone, a former nun and hospice chaplain, will be ordained Sunday at First United Methodist Church in Salt Lake City. Bridget Mary Meehan of Sarasota, Florida, First Bishop of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, will preside.” I promptly asked Janice if I could attend and video tape the ordination and was delighted that she agreed to clear the way to make it possible.
At the ordination, Bishop Bridget Mary’s stirring homily captured the essence of the Gospel woman who anointed the feet Jesus and served him along with the disciples. With deep conviction and consecration Bishop Bridget Mary professed, “Our Roman Catholic Women Priests Movement makes the connections that poverty, violence and abuse of women in the world is related to sexism in the church. Like the anointing woman, we are breaking through centuries of Vatican opposition to women priests by disobeying an unjust church law that discriminates against women. Like the anointing woman, women priests anoint the Body of Christ who suffers, dies and rises in women and men in our churches and world today. We are offering sacraments to everyone especially those who are broken and on the margins of church, such as gays, lesbians, transgender, the divorced and remarried and women who feel abandoned by their church’s exclusion.” Bishop Meehan and the participants of Clare Julian’s ordination acknowledged that the church would excommunicate them for their actions.
In an email sent to a reporter of the Salt Lake Tribune who attended the ordination, Susan Dennin, communications director for the Salt Lake City diocese, said the Catholic Church does not consider the ordination valid and does not condone it. “The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City had no prior knowledge of this event and is sad that it is taking place, putting a blemish on the gathering of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. The church considers what it calls “attempted ordinations” a sin against the church’s sacrament of holy orders, and regards participants as automatically excommunicated.”
A Mormon woman also attended Clare Julian’s ordination and she later blogged, “Excommunication from her faith did not sever Clare Julian from Faith or from our Lord Jesus. I began to consider, what if excommunication draws me closer to God and divine love? What if being excommunicated is not to be feared as spiritual death, but welcomed as a consequence of doing what is right and letting the consequence follow? Maybe for LDS women excommunication is the fast track to authentic living in the light of Christ. Maybe it is the fast track to exaltation.” Her thought reminded me what Bishop Bridget Mary ingeniously reasoned in Clare Julian’s ordination homily, “One could argue that, when Pope Benedict XV1 canonized two excommunicated nuns, Mother Theodore Guerin and Mother Mary MacKillop, he made excommunication the new fast track to canonization! So our motto could be “excommunicated today, canonized tomorrow.”
Despite Pope John Paul’s certainty of his Church’s standpoint about women ordination, much doubt remains in the Roman Church, as well as the other Christian churches who follow their example on denying women ordination. Saint Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” (1 Corinthians 11:11-12 NIV) At her ordination, Clare Julian Carbone had no doubt when she expressed her focus as a Woman Priest, “The entrenched patriarchal criticism towards us is there, but like Mary and the other women who anoint Jesus, our anointing expresses our love. We live into Christ’s call for us to be “One”. Nothing else really matters.”