By Dana Difilippo
Philadelphia Daily News.
TO EXCOMMUNICATED “Bishop” Bridget Mary Meehan, ordaining women as priests is a backed-by-the-Bible no-brainer.
Bible verses preaching gender equality abound, she said. Look at Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female, for you are all one in Jesus Christ.”
So she’ll be in the front rows when “Gender, Gospel and Global Justice” — a three-day international conference dedicated to female ordination and hosted by Women’s Ordination Worldwide — kicks off in Philadelphia on Sept. 18.
And on Sept. 24, Meehan, a bishop with the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests — a group rejected by the Roman Catholic Church — will personally ordain three women as bishops at Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat in Wallingford, Delaware County.
The Vatican has repeatedly rejected female ordination, excommunicating Meehan and women who have been ordained by groups such as hers.
The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, founded nearly 500 years ago to defend the church from heresy, has called female ordination an offense as grave as pedophilia. And despite Pope Francis’ growing reputation as a progressive, he has not conceded an inch on female ordination, saying in 2013: “The church has spoken and says no. That door is closed.”
But Meehan and her supporters say they are not thumbing their nose at the pope. She said Philadelphia — with the upcoming World Meeting of Families and papal visit — is the perfect place to focus attention on an injustice most Catholics want remedied. Nearly 70 percent of U.S. Catholics say the church should allow women to become priests, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study.
“I’m a big fan [of Pope Francis] because he is calling for justice for the poor, mistreated and marginalized,” said Meehan, of Sarasota, Fla. “But he leaves women out. Women priests are the elephant in the church today.”
While the church has trouble persuading men to join the priesthood, more women than ever are clamoring to become clergy, Meehan said.
“We are not leaving the church. We are leading the church into a new era of justice and equality,” she said. “We see ourselves walking very much in the path of Rosa Parks and the suffragettes. We’re calling on the church to make the connections between the discrimination against women in the church and abuse and injustice against women in the world.”
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia did not respond to the Daily News’ request for comment.
Rocco Palmo, a Catholicism chronicler who writes the popular “Whispers in the Loggia” blog, said Francis’ stance on female ordination has more to do with his concern about clericalism — clergy believing themselves superior to others — than any personal or institutional sexism.
“Francis sees clericalism as one of the greatest destructive forces in the history of the church,” Palmo said. “There’s this belief that if you’re not a priest, you don’t matter.”
Yet women have been indispensable in other church roles, Palmo added. The three most influential Catholic services — Catholic Relief Services, the Catholic Health Association and the Catholic Charities USA — are headed by women, he said.
“And you can make the argument, and it’d be a very credible one, that the most significant, influential Catholic in this city is not a cleric or a man. It’s Sister Mary Scullion, who has done more to reduce homelessness in Philadelphia than anyone and who is living her baptism to the fullest. I don’t know what more priesthood would accomplish for her.”
Since the first seven female “priests” were ordained in 2002 in Europe, more than 200 women now are ordained worldwide — including about 160 in the United States, Meehan said. None of them are recognized by the Vatican as priests or bishops.
The three women Meehan will ordain as bishops on Sept. 24 in Philly are the Revs. Mary E. Collingwood, of Hudson, Ohio; Michele Birch Conery, of Windsor, Canada; and Olga Lucia Alvarez, of Medellin, Colombia.