On Wednesday, at the end of the block from St. Matthew Cathedral in Washington — where reporters were waiting to be admitted four hours before the scheduled start of the midday prayer service with Pope Francis — were about 20 members of the Women’s Ordination Conference, urging Pope Francis to ordain women as priests — until the Secret Service told them to move across the street.
There’s no telling whether the pope ever saw the protesters, who were wielding signs, banners and guitars in support of women’s ordination. Other news accounts said those hoping to see Pope Francis arrive at the cathedral, which he did shortly before noon, were having a tough enough time even getting a glimpse of the pontiff.
But the pro-women’s ordination folks chose the best possible venue. They had a captive audience of reporters, as it took the Secret Service longer than initially thought to get its security protocols in place to herd journalists through. And while support for women’s ordination has increased among the laity despite St. John Paul II’s 1994 apostolic letter “Ordinatio Sacerdotalis” — in which he reaffirmed church teaching that the church “has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women” — the real audience that needs convincing is an audience of one — the pope.
Roy Bourgeois, a former Maryknoll priest automatically excommunicated in 2008 for not recanting his public support of ordaining women, told me he believes he’d still be a priest in good standing if Francis had been pope at the time he went public with his support.
Jane Via, who was ordained as a priest in 2006 what would be considered an attempted ordination, told me she and a priest from the Diocese of San Diego established their own “parish” which had 60-100 worshippers each Sunday.
Via said she believes women will be licitly ordained in the Roman Catholic Church. “Not in my lifetime, but I think it’s inevitable,” she said.
“I could no longer worship in the canonical church with integrity,” she said. Asked why she chose this route rather than join a denomination that ordained women to the clergy, she said, “If everyone like me leaves the church, the church would never change. . .. The more important reason is that ordination is the symbol of the second-class citizenship for women in the church. The church’s theology becomes the society’s excuse to discriminate against women.”
Since he became pope, Francis has said on more than one occasion that the issue of women priests is “closed.”