In spite of a clear policy that women’s ordination is not to be considered, and those entertaining the idea face stiff sanctions, there are still regular acts of defiance by Roman Catholic clergy who support the idea.
The New York Times points out today on the front page that there have been recent incidents in the US where more than 150 priests signed a letter in support of a fellow priest who participated directly in a woman’s ordination into the priesthood. In Austria 300 priests and deacons have supported a manifesto in support of woman’s ordination. And in Australia the National Council of priests came out in strong support of a bishop who was removed for simply speaking about the possibility of woman’s ordination as possible response to the rising crisis caused by a lack of priests.
“While these disparate acts hardly amount to a clerical uprising and are unlikely to result in change, church scholars note that for the first time in years, groups of priests in several countries are standing with those who are challenging the church to rethink the all-male celibate priesthood.
The Vatican has declared that the issue of women’s ordination is not open for discussion. But priests are on the front line of the clergy shortage — stretched thin and serving multiple parishes — and in part, this is what is driving some of them to speak.
“They are saying, ‘We don’t have enough priests, we’re closing down parishes,’ ” said David J. O’Brien, who holds an endowed chair in faith and culture at the University of Dayton, a Marianist Catholic college. “It’s a sign that the pastoral needs are sufficiently grave now that priests are speaking up and saying, ‘Wait a minute, you can’t just ignore the pastoral consequences of the things you do and say at the top.’ ””
None of these small signs of defiance have gone unnoticed by the Vatican. There are ongoing investigations in Australia and likely in the US into the actions of the clergy in question. And it has been the policy that anyone participating in a service that ordains women into the Roman Catholic priesthood faces almost immediate excommunication.
And yet the push back continues.