Rome changing its tune on female ordination?

Jun 4, 2016 | 11 comments

ordain catholic women

Fr Tony Flannery supporting women’s ordination in Rome

In the immediate aftermath of Pope Francis’ decision to re-examine the question of ordaining women to the office of deacon,  Women’s Ordination Worldwide – an organisation aiming at the ordination of women to the priesthood itself – held its first permitted meeting in Rome in early June, 2016.

WOW organizers had a permit for their demonstration, making it, they say, the first legal demonstration for the group in Rome.  According to The Tablet, WOW leaders were also received respectfully by a Vatican official.

Click here for the full NCR report on the WOW meeting in Rome.

Click here for The Tablet report on a meeting between WOW leaders and a Vatican official.


  1. Martin Murray

    There will be no real progress in the Catholic Church until this ridiculous prohibition on the ordination of women is abolished. We need women in leadership. We need them in the pulpits and we need their inherent pastoral wisdom. We need these at all levels and corners of church life.

    We need to open ordination to women as it is required for positions of leadership and decision making. Its either that or abandon the clerical system altogether, but I don’t see that happening. This is why a major reform of our understanding of priesthood is of equal importance at this time. Urgency is required on both these matters.

    Good to see Fr Tony Flannery involved and able to say “I am becoming increasingly convinced that the inequality of women is becoming a major issue and a major challenge facing the Catholic church, and, unless addressed, [the Church] will continue becoming more sidelined and little more than a sect”. And responding to Pope Francis’ recent announcement that he would create a commission to study the history of female deacons in the Catholic church, he makes good sense when saying “If women eventually are ordained as deacons, he said, parishioners will no longer distinguish between males and females performing liturgies on the altar. “They wouldn’t see a significant difference. I think it would be a big step forward.”

  2. soconaill

    I agree completely about the need to equalise the dignity of women in the church, but I honestly feel that a higher priority now needs to be given to the dignity and mission conferred by BAPTISM on all baptised men and women.

    Might Pope Francis’ emphasis on the need to overcome clericalism, and to empower lay people in the church, lead him to fear that a male ordained clergy augmented by a female ordained clergy could in fact delay the defeat of clericalism?

    Since most men are currently disempowered in the church by the monopolisation of initiative by a male ordained minority, why should we suppose that ALL women will be empowered simply by the ordination of a small female minority?

    Are ALL women thinking that way?

    • Martin Murray

      You make a very good point Sean. However it could equally be asked that if lay people were really empowered by being officially allowed into the decision making structures of the church at ALL levels and not just consulted on the sidelines, would this lead to the fear of the diminishing or rendering redundant of the clerical dimension of the church? If so I would conclude that Baptism would never be allowed to eclipse Holy Orders in anything other than theory.

      As things stand, we need to open ordination to women as it is required for positions of leadership, decision making and preaching, not to mention the protection of minors and vulnerable adults. Along with that and I think in line with your thinking, a major reform of our understanding of priesthood is of equal and massive importance at this time.

      Urgency is required on both these matters.

      • Martin Murray

        It has been pointed out by many people that Anglicanism has of course some considerable experience in finding a workable balance in a clerical/lay system of church governance. Sadly however there are many in our Catholic family who would suffer anything rather than admit to having anything to learn from Protestantism.

      • soconaill

        ‘Leadership in / of the Church’? How are we to see this operating in a complex developed society, remembering that it is the specific role of all the baptised to ‘consecrate the world to God’ through, especially, the ‘living out’ of Catholic social teaching?

        It was not the ‘structures’ dominated by clergy that led the church in the matter of child protection, but those parents (male and female) who unilaterally thrust the issue into the public domain, as well as gifted activists like Marie Collins, and even alienated media critics such as Mary Raftery. Marie and Mary did not need to be admitted into clerical church structures to do what they did – so why should we see female ordination as the only route to female leadership and initiative in ‘the church’?

        Similarly, the entire range of Catholic social principles can and should be actuated by lay men and women leading in exactly the same way – e.g. in ‘simply living’ experiments aimed at actuating the thrust of Laudato Si’. Isn’t that what Lumen Gentium envisaged when it spoke of the need for all the baptised to be free to exercise initiative?

        Of course we need over-arching ‘structures’ to recognise such lay leadership roles – but surely that can be accomplished without expanding clerical structures to ‘admit’ lay people to a leadership they can already exercise outside of those?

        The same applies to lay leadership in the political sphere. It is surely time to stop thinking of ‘the church’ as essentially coterminous with sacramental ministry. That is exactly the mistake made by a recent Irish Times headline: “Priest claims Irish Catholic Church ‘beyond point of redemption’.” (I am quite sure that Tony Flannery was referring only to the male-only clerical system as ‘beyond redemption.)

        We direly need to be far more inclusive in our use of that term ‘the Catholic Church’. It already includes ALL of the baptised, including all women. They don’t, and mustn’t, need to be ordained to take that on board.

      • soconaill

        See also: ‘Commentary: It’s time to consign clericalism to the past, where it belongs’ by Jack Valero:

        Valero writes: ‘For Vatican II and for Pope Francis, the “hour of the laity” is all about the public activity of lay people, not the internal functioning of the Church or holding quasi-clerical roles.’

        • Teresa Mee

          Sean says, “It is surely time to stop thinking of ‘the church’ as essentially coterminous with sacramental ministry”.

          However, Sean, the exclusive agent of sacramental ministry is the ordained priest and let’s face it, that’s where the clerical power lies.
          It’s very strongly evident in the current form of the Mass as the priest celebrates it in Ireland, at a table by himself. He alone communicates reflection on the word of God in the readings. If there’s no priest available the community cannot celebrate Eucharist – Communal Thanksgiving, Christ present among us in the Breaking and sharing of Bread and sending us forth.

          I believe what’s needed to start bringing about change at this stage is for us to develop a strategy for action, beyond words. Any suggestions?

  3. soconaill

    ‘A strategy for action’, Teresa?

    How about:

    1 Develop a vision of the ‘sacramental community’ as missionary also – i.e. outwardly focused on ‘community building’ as well as ‘sacramental’.

    (This vision will imply both an equality of male and female and an equality of ‘clergy’ and ‘laity’.)

    2 Seek opportunities for sharing and developing this vision within our own spheres of action.

    3 Seek opportunities for liturgical expression of this vision, as well as ‘agape’ expression in an ecumenical context. (The simple shared meal.)

    4 Share experiences of these experiments, refining the vision as necessary.

    • Teresa Mee

      I have been talking with someone on this Sean, and we’re coming up with a closely parallel framework for action, not yet fully developed.

  4. Martin Harran

    Sorry for coming into this so late but I’ve just found the discussion.

    I think female ordination would be totally counterproductive, our present model of clericalism is in its dying days and it is long past its sell-by-date anyway. Why on earth should we do anything that would help prop it up?

    None of us know what model the Church will be following twenty years from now but the one thing we do know is that it will be very different from what we have today; whatever it is, I hope and believe that it will be one where the relevancy of gender – and, indeed, sexual orientation – will be things of the past.

    Our efforts and energy should be going into trying to influence the evolution of that new model, not things that will prolong the passing on of the present one.

    • soconaill

      I am inclined to agree with you here also, Martin. For me the critical task of the moment is to develop as lay people our own role in the church – and this is not helped by all of the current focus and hand-wringing on the decline of clerical manpower.

      Only vibrant Catholic communities, in which all of the baptised – male and female – are fully responding to the vocation conferred by their Baptism, will be capable of renewing the clerical ministry – and only clergy who fully understand that lay vocation can serve that future church.

      I fear that I catch more than a hint of clericalism in the notion that female ordination should have a higher priority than that.


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