Catholics protest church’s refusal to recognize women’s ordination

By Heather McGraw

While some Catholic women have taken on ministerial roles in their church, the Vatican is holding strong to its law that only allows men to be ordained.

Protest vigils were held on April 19 as part of a week-long nationwide movement by Catholics who oppose the church’s stance on the issue of women’s ordination. Many of the protests took place outside cathedrals in different cities performing Chrism masses, a ceremony where male priests gather to bless the holy oils used for Easter services.

Chrism masses are good opportunities to showcase the inequality since every male priest attends, said Nicole Sotelo, director of communications for Call to Action, a national Catholic movement that focuses on justice and equality in the church. She said that makes it easy to notice the lack of women ministers.

One reason for the nationwide protest vigils was to show support for Father Roy Bourgeois, a priest from Georgia who spoke out on behalf of women’s ordination in 2008. In March 2011, Bourgeois received a letter from his church leadership telling him to either recant his stance or be forced out of the Catholic priesthood.

Reverend Barbara Zeman, who received her master’s degree in theology from Loyola University Chicago, said she attended the protest vigil to show her gratitude for Bourgeois, and she plans to dedicate the rest of her life to make sure justice is served.

“This is a cause that is bigger than all of us because it’s a cause that speaks to a deep sin within the church and that is sexism,” Zeman said.

Refusing to allow women to realize their calling in the church is against Jesus’ true message, according to Zeman. She said the Vatican law, which limits ordination rights to men who have been baptized, is unjust, and the way to change an unjust law is to disobey it.

“We don’t want to live in a church that has no dialogue, no discussion and no way of voicing a difference of understanding and opinion,” she said.

For some, the issue of ordaining women has to do with a struggle for power and the male-dominated hierarchy of the church.

“When you’re running the Vatican and running Rome and you have these big churches that you get to lead, it’s hard to give up that power,” said Laura Singer, board president of the Women’s Ordination Conference, a national organization.

Singer said as a young woman with gifts and talents, it angers her that the church refuses to let her fully serve based solely on her gender.

But Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the issue of ordaining women is not a matter of equality because the number of women in leadership roles in the church is comparable to some federal institutions.

“Following the church’s long-standing tradition and the fact that Jesus did not include women among the Apostles, the Catholic Church does not feel it can ordain women to the priesthood,” Walsh said.

If ordination is removed from the conversation, according to Walsh, women actually hold a large percentage of leadership roles in the church, including chancellors and superintendents of schools.

However, Sotelo said women in the church deserve the chance to regain those ministerial roles they had in the first 1,000 years of its history.

“We’re trying to help the church get back to its roots, which were with gender equality,” Sotelo said.