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Female Catholic Priests: Muddied Organizational Waters

The Kansas City Star is reporting that Georgia Walker — a woman — became a Roman Catholic priest last Saturday. The stories of women becoming ordained within the Roman Catholic church circulate every few years. These services take place outside of Catholic churches, usually officiated by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.

This, of course, goes beyond the stated rules of Roman Catholic Church that require that priests be male.

Articles about these stories tend to focus on issues of inclusion of women in leadership and Jesus’ example of general inclusion. However, stories like this implicitly highlight increasing individualization within the Catholic Church. While Georgia Walker recognizes she will likely be excommunicated because of her ordination, she openly stated before the ordination service that, “we are not leaving the Catholic Church; we are leading the church to a new model.”

The Catholic Church no longer holds tight reins on how people — particularly Americans — experience religion. American Catholics see how Protestants are able to choose the beliefs they adhere to, and feel more empowered to follow suit. The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests are advocating a new model of the Catholic Church, one that includes women as central figures.

While the Association of Roman Catholic Priests are obviously attempting to motivate change within the Catholic Church, they likely have an uphill battle. What does it mean to suggest that change within the Catholic Church can come from below? This is an organization where changes come from above — the Pope has ultimate authority, with support from the Curia and his Cardinals. What does it mean for that organization to have an offshoot group like the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests who still claim adherence to the faith but don’t adhere to the stated rules (and have been officially excommunicated)? It’s hard for diffuse organizations to maintain tight organizational control. Ex-communication is the most the organization can do to these female priests, but the female priests fail to recognize the ex-communication and maintain a community that supports and encourages their participation in their expression of Catholicism. It muddies already muddied waters within a large and disjointed organization.

 

Ellen Childs
About the Author
Dr. Ellen Childs holds a Ph.D. in sociology from University of Notre Dame. She is Website Director at StudyingCongregations.org