A few years ago, I stood outside Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul talking to Regina Bannan of the Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference (SPWOC).
A steady rain has just ended, so the fifteen or so (mostly) women protestors who celebrate their version of the Mass (think major liturgical innovation) outside the cathedral every Holy Thursday and Ordination Day (when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia ordains men to the priesthood) are huddled near the entrance of a coffee shop comparing notes.
Some of the parcipants are wearing collapsible rain hats that somehow remind me of old Katherine Hepburn movies.
The small turnout was a public embarrassment, enough to make me feel a little sorry for the protesters. I felt this despite the fact that whenever women ascend to great heights in Protestant denominations, the denomination in question soon became reflective of the secular culture in terms of equity and all things progressive.
We’ve seen this in the Episcopal Church with its growing stable of women priests and bishops that usually comes gift-wrapped with the “obligatory” baggage of theological innovation and political progressivism.
This baggage is essentially the reversal of centuries old orthodoxies.
For some reason, the infusion of the feminine into places of power in Christianity almost always heralds change, innovation, and a turn towards the radical.
This is manifested in many ways, be it BLM banners draped over church doors or around altars, or language purges directed at scared scripture that gives us gender neutral forms of address, such as phrases like Mother God or Goddess. It also comes with the belief that ‘the patriarchy’ is evil because it has caused women nothing but pain over the centuries.
This tendency to deconstruct, innovate and radicalize has become a hallmark of women feminist clergy.
The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP), to which Bannan belongs, has been “ordaining” Catholic women to the “priesthood” since 2020 – when 7 women were “ordained” to the priesthood by a rogue (anonymous) Roman Catholic bishop.
In their liturgies—or “Masses”—which can be viewed on You Tube, one can see the reshaping of prayers and the rewriting of traditional ritual that may involve holding hands in a circle (invoking a WICCA-like atmosphere), as well as the incorporation of peace and social justice litanies that could have been written by the DNC.
A photograph of a famous 2012 case involving a 92-year old Jesuit priest who celebrated “Mass” with a woman “priest” in Georgia shows an altar table draped in a white sheet littered with slogans like “Lay Empowerment,” “End Racism,” and “Open Communion.” This is the modus operandi of feminist clergy: social justice as a form of religious dogma as well as looking to non-Christian traditions to formulate a new (feminist) theology.
According to Bannan, counting the number of people who showed up in the rain to support ARCWP as indicative of the lack of support for women priests would be a misnomer since at least two thirds of Catholics believe that women should be ordained.
Two thirds seems to be a hefty majority, so much so that I wondered why some of the hundreds of people packed inside the cathedral celebrating the traditional ordination of six men weren’t out supporting the protesters.
I asked Bannan about this apparent disconnect.
“I think it’s because of the condemnations from the Vatican,” she said.
“If you are going to be somebody out in your parish supporting women’s ordination, you may engender some difficulty. This happened in the distant past when a choir director was laid off partially because she was a very active member of our group.”
Yet opposition in the Church to women’s ordination is significant despite the two thirds vote of confidence from the faithful.
Writing in The New Oxford Review, Anne Barbeau Gardiner argues that,
“While some feminists have argued that Jesus was conforming to cultural expectations in choosing only men as His Apostles. On the contrary, Jesus’ way of acting did not conform to the ‘religious and cultural norms of first century Judaism. He taught women openly, had them in His company and disregarded the ritual-purity laws. Therefore, He could have chosen women, but freely chose not to.”
Additionally, Metropolitan Hilareon Alfeyev, a theologian and bishop in the Russian Orthodox Church, explains,
“…If the priesthood for women had been possible it would have been introduced at the earliest stage of the Church’s existence. But this did not happen. Up to the present day the Church has maintained the same order as was set by the Apostles.
“The fact that women became equal to men in many spheres of human life, including politics, has nothing to do with the church order. In order to introduce female priesthood we need a new Revelation as powerful as the Revelation of the New Testament, and the creation of a New Testament Church. Since such a Revelation has not happened, we cannot make any radical changes to the established church order.”
At some point during the ARCWP demonstration, Bannan handed me a red pamphlet containing the words from the casual table liturgy that was just celebrated by a woman.
These words stood out: “We re-commit ourselves to proclaim your Gospel of Liberation and Equality, for we are all created in your most amazing image.”
This is certainly not a prayer I would hear in my Russian Orthodox parish of Saint Michael the Archangel in Northern Liberties, despite the fact that feminist, progressive ideology has even made inroads into Orthodoxy in the form of feminist-led church councils, a popular blog called Public Orthodoxy, a Facebook group called Progressive Orthodoxy, as well as in the work of progressive Orthodox theologians connected with (the Jesuit) Fordham University in New York.
In Orthodoxy, the work of French Orthodox theologian Elisabeth Behr-Sigel (1907– 2005) has become the ‘go to’ reference for affirming women in the priesthood. Since 2005, a number of (now deceased) male Orthodox theologians have registered their support for Behr-Siegel’s position, including Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, Kallistos Ware and John Zizioulas.
Orthodoxy then, with this fresh injection of feminist thought, is merely a couple of light years behind the Roman Catholic Church. The future will reveal whether the Orthodox Church– the Church that prides itself on being the bedrock of unchanging tradition– will change in order to meet the demands of the secular world.
Feminism in the Orthodox Church is clearly seen in the call for women deacons, even though this is based on the mistaken notion that there were deacons in early Eastern Christianity. While there were women who were sometimes referred to as “deaconesses” in the Eastern Church, they did not serve at the Liturgy and had no liturgical function whatsoever, but rather concentrated on women’s modesty issues during Baptism rituals.
Yet today’s Orthodox feminists like to pretend that the so-called deaconesses of old participated in liturgical rites.
Bannan envisions a future Catholic Church in which every manner of liturgy, traditional, innovative, feminist or Novus Ordo, would be given its due under the Big Tent of Universal Catholicism.
The phrase, “the big tent of universal Catholicism” falls flat on its face when one considers the anti-Traditional politics of the present papal administration.
Consider ARCWP’s newsletter, EqualwRites, which is billed as a Catholic Feminist newsletter for women and men.
The overall tone of EqualwRites tends to be strident and political. A few years ago one could find many hostile references to former President Trump within its pages.
One column written after the worst of the pandemic by woman priest activist, Eileen Difranco, described a visit to the Philadelphia Archdiocesan administration building.
“The clerics even go without masks in the administration building. Two members of SEPAWOC were shocked when they were received at the archdiocesan office by a maskless Archbishop (Archbishop Nelson Perez) and his maskless secretary. In late January, the Archbishop removed the Jesuit pastor of Old St. Joseph’s Parish for having the common sense and loving kindness to refuse to open his church during a pandemic which has killed over 450,000 post-natal souls.”
Two things stand out here:
1. For better or worse, a church needs to be open during a pandemic, not closed.2. Archbishop Perez is to be commended for his dismissal of the pastor of Old Saint Joseph’s.
As for the columnist’s shock that unmasked clerics in the Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul were “telling people to remove their masks as they approach the altar to receive communion,” I’ve only one thing to say: If you want Dixie cups, go to a Rita’s Water Ice stand.
Another edition of EqualwRites condemns a number of male Catholic saints such as Padre Pio, Jerome, John Vianney, John Paul II and Augustine.
But special feminist vindictive is reserved for Augustine.
“…A man who used and abused many women for sex until he got religion and discovered that women were even too revolting for that. That man was Augustine and the myth was original sin, a made-up sin so pernicious that it permeated all of humanity and spread through the sexual relations he once could not live without. He, the great Augustine, could not be responsible for his sex addiction. It was those darn women who caused men, who were otherwise holy, to sin through lust.”
And here’s this same woman priest on abortion:
“The language of suffering has been written into the language of the anti abortion movement with the help of churchmen.”
Bannan told me she was optimistic about the future of women’s ordination.
“I think there are many people in the Church who believe in women’s equality, and I believe that some change is inevitable. It may not happen in my lifetime, but it might. But this is definitely a correct movement inspired by the Holy Spirit, I believe, so I think it will happen.
Bannan, at least, said “Holy Spirit” whereas most feminists including those who call themselves Christians tend to say “Spirit,” which of course can refer to any spirit—the spirit of Baphomet, Bael, Beelzebub, Aleister Crowley, or those strange WICCA circles where the women priests hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.”
During the first sessions of the Roman Catholic Synod on Synodalty, liberal nuns wholeheartedly embraced the cause of a female diaconate, with some even seeking the elimination of titles reserved for clergy, such as “your eminence” or “your excellency,” which they saw as promoting clericalism and the patriarchy.
As for Pope Francis, he wants more female theologians and recently made his views known regarding this when addressing a theological conference in Rome.
“There is something I don’t like about you, if you excuse my honesty,” he said to the 30-plus theologians in the room where there were also only five women.
“We need to move forward on this! Women have a way of reflecting on theology that is different from us men,” he added.
‘Mother Goddess’ is certainly different. And so is a Pachamama thrown in for good measure.