A Review on the Catholic Women Priests Ordination Movement
by Balbina Lee Mi-young
Church Reform Movement
It is quite natural for most people in Korea to be surprised to know that the history of the Catholic women priests movement dates back to the 2nd Vatican Council, because the movement itself is a strange subject to them. According to Christine (Christine Mayr Lumetzberger, one of the founders of WOW in spring of 2006 on ‘Catholic Women Priests Campaign’), two German women theologians Ida Raming and Iris Müller6) requested the council to discuss the women priests issue, together with other issues, such as priest bachelorhood and other pastoral issues. Though the actions for the rights of women in church, together with the liberation of women trend, were implemented before the council, it shows this issue was discussed for the reform of church from the nature of the council which had important mission of ‘aggiornamento’ ( A process of modernization of the policies and institutions of the Roman Catholic Church, initiated by the Second Vatican Council (1962–5))
Movements within Catholic Church
People who feel awkward about women priests or, on the contrary, who are sad about the criticism about them suggest that they go to other denominations where women priests are formalized or create a new denomination. Women priests, however, are denying to go out of Catholic church, saying “We are the church.” What they really want is the reform of Catholicism, not any new religion. In fact, many women activists, including Mary Daly, has already left the patriarchal church, and some people who were pursuing a new femininity spirituality movement suggested a new religion like ‘goddess religion’. But these ‘outer’ movements are
being evaluated as not contributing toward the change of the Catholic church. The Catholic church is not listening to these ‘outer’ claims. Now, however, the Catholic church is responding to these internal challenges, although mostly excommunicating or sending same letters repeatedly, explaining why women priests are not allowed. The Catholic church may seem to become more conservative through these denial responses. But those opportunities to
response allows the church to examine this issue. It is easy to go out of the church, escaping from the difficulty. In fact, it is more difficult to stay in church with these criticisms and objections, and their love for the Catholic church enable them to make efforts to change the church.
Can women priesthood really change the church?
Though the movement is pursuing an alternative priesthood and equal participation in the church hierarchy, can women ordination alone bring about a big change in church? Of course, it can bring some changes symbolically. For the basic church reform, however, various methods should be applied. In the case of Korea, aside the Western circumstances, women priests in other denomination have nothing special. In Korea, there have been women pastors from long ago, and women priests are starting to appear in the Anglican Church of Korea. Actually, however, women pastors and priests are experiencing difficulties in general due to those believers who think them unreliable.9) Some women pastors are wearing Roman collars10) everyday to show their priesthood, and sometimes show authoritarianism like other men priests. Is there any certainty that these situations will not be repeated in the Catholic church? It’s difficult to expect changes to take place overnight in Korea from the viewpoint that when female religious are giving the Eucharist during a Mass, there are still many believers who move to the line of a male priest. Without the epoch-making change of thinking on women, women priests itself cannot bring about church reform.
How ordinary believers can share the same sentiment on the movement?
A Catholic laywomen who attended the lecture by Christine said it was difficult for her to accept Christine as a ‘woman bishop’ after being excommunicated from the Vatican and added she wondered how Christine could explain her movement and disposition to the faithful. Although she was a member of a catholic women’s group, she admitted that she was confused about the women priests issue and was shocked by it. How will other ordinary believers who do not have the consciousness about women think about the issue? Also a female pastor Han Guk-Yeom indicated that the women priests continuing on with their priesthood would make the faithful confused by doing so even after being excommunicated from the church authority.
Catholic church believers, more than any other denominations, have traditional values that priesthood is from apostles and that universality is important. Thus they think any trial that the Vatican denies is heresy or an action to split the church. Those who criticize the existing women priests movement are stigmatizing that the movement is trying to split the church only by the facts that they were excommunicated by the Vatican and being ordained by other branches than orthodox Catholic, through raising the orthodox issue. Also the issue itself can be a dispute that could lead to the church split with the deep-rooted prejudice on women.
Actually some Anglican Church bishops, priests and believers converted to Catholic because they could not accept women priests ordinations when the first women were being ordained in the Anglican Church. At the American Protestant Episcopal Church which selected a woman bishop as its head, some parishes even requested to be governed by the Anglican Church in England. The condition that priests should be men is prevailing, not just for the church law. The women priests movement should be a movement to change church families thoughts and values, as well as appealing to the church. It is true that the movement can not persist only by uniting with some sympathizers, and without the support of church families.