Roman Catholic Rebels
Santa Barbara Women Priests Defy Vatican Law
After working for the Roman Catholic Los Angeles Archdiocese for more than 20 years, Patricia Sandall’s call to the priesthood came gradually. She considered being ordained as a Protestant minister, but could not bring herself to convert to another religious tradition.
“I [am] Roman Catholic to the bone,” said Sandall. “I could not leave my church.”
But there alone was the problem. The Catholic Church levies its ultimate penalty, excommunication, on women who attempt to become priests.
Right here in Santa Barbara, many devout women —including Catholic nuns, teachers, and professors — have acted against what they believe is unjust sexism by becoming a part of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) movement.
Sandall’s calling was fulfilled on June 19 when she was ordained a priest at the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes. More than 200 enthusiastic people turned up to support her. Now as a priest, she will be serving on the pastoral staff at the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes while also being involved in RCWP administration.
Sandall became the second Santa Barbara woman to be ordained through RCWP and will be joined by a third on September 12 with the ordination of a former nun, Jeannette Love. Love has been part of a Renewal Team that was trained — as decreed by Vatican II — to work within the community to help sisters transition to a more open community life. Love and her team had asked for liberties reportedly granted to them in Vatican II, but their requests were denied by the Superior General from Rome and Provincial Council. They were told to abide or leave.
Gradually, each sister moved out on her own to continue to search out God’s will. After serving at the Catholic Apostolic Church of Antioch (not under Rome), Love began to explore her call within the RCWP community.
“As I prepare for my ordination in September” said Love, “I feel that I stand in solidarity with many women who, down through the ages, were treated with injustice by the church and whose call to priesthood was never realized.”
Sister Arlene Ellis, a retired nun not affiliated with the RCWP who was active within the ministry of the official Roman Catholic Church for 46 years, supported the women’s quest, saying, “I believe that there are women who are called to priesthood, and some of these women are Roman Catholics. In order to be true to that call, they must find another avenue for them to fulfill the yearning.”
For both Sandall and Love, it took years of questioning, searching, and deep internal grief to face a call that could not be fulfilled within the institutional church. Because Rome is steadfast in its decision, it has lost the service of women teachers, professors, nuns, and spiritual directors who have dedicated a great deal of their lives to the institution. “Our call is to the church as the people of God rather than the call to the hierarchy,” said Suzanne Dunn, pastor of the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes.
While these women have not been officially excommunicated, they have been deeply moved by the excommunication of RCWP’s founders and the church’s definitive punishment of those who support, ordain, or become women priests. They do not fear the threat of excommunication, but instead reject the Roman church’s declarative penalty.
The women of RCWP have not only found the Catholic administration to be unjust in its consideration of women’s call to the priesthood, but they also strongly oppose the Church’s Canon Law 1024. The man-made law, which RCWP members hold to be discriminatory, states that, “only a baptized male validly receives sacred ordination.”
“We are challenging this unjust law and want the entire Roman Catholic Church to do the same,” said Sandall.
Despite the church’s current position, these women say they will continue to stand strong in order to give service to their call and to their faith. They remain firm with the conviction that Christ came to redeem every person because in his divinity he transcended gender for all of humanity. They say they still love the Catholic Church and love it enough to stand for the justice they believe it deserves. “We as women won’t go away,” said Sandall, “and neither will the spirit.”
The Catholic Church of the Beatitudes holds a weekly mass at 5:30 p.m. on Saturdays in the First Congregational Church, 2101 State Street. For additional info, visit beatitudes-sb.org
My comment (made in reference to a hostile commentator praying for the demise of "the dinosaur 60's generation":
Very inspiring news and reminds me of the comments of Hans Kung recently, paraphrased in the Progressive Catholic Voice:
"The (Roman Catholic) institution we know will die soon, to be replaced by communities following the gospel of Jesus, with informal liturgies and a sacramentality related to life in community...What he sees emerging is a spirituality related to the human condition and stages of life, to replace institutionalized rigidity."
What we are witnessing is the mystery of Resurrection, of death and rebirth. Blessings on these women for so courageously showing us the way forward. It is the rigid institutional structure of the church which is the dinosaur, but thanks to the winds of the Spirit, new life is brewing.