Ann Carey is a veteran journalist who has written hundreds of articles for many prestigious Catholic publications. She is a member of the Catholic Press Association and has won awards for news and feature writing, as well as investigative reporting. Her specialty is women religious, and she is the author of two books: Sisters in Crisis: The Tragic Unraveling of Women’s Religious Communities, published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., in 1997; and Sisters in Crisis Revisited: From Unraveling to Reform and Renewal, an updated version of her first book and published by Ignatius Press in 2013. She and her husband live in Indiana and are the parents of three grown children.
Just as I was putting the last stitches into the Halloween costumes I was making for my preschool grandsons, a story in the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that a local Sister of the Precious Blood was excommunicated and dismissed from her order because she had attempted to be “ordained.”
A photo accompanying the article showed Letitia “Tish” Rawles, clad in an alb and stole, being “ordained” by Bridget Mary Meehan, who was decked out in a patchwork chasuble. Meehan also is a former sister excommunicated for her “ordination” and now a “bishop” in the renegade Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP).
I could not help comparing these women to my grandsons, who also were about to put on their costumes and pretend they were someone they are not: Royal Guardsmen who protect Queen Elizabeth.
There is a huge difference between these two masquerades, though. The grandkids knew their costumes were innocent, temporary Halloween fun that did not magically transform them into another role they are ineligible to fill.
Rawles and Meehan and their women “priest” cohorts, however, are living a lie and deceiving themselves as well as other people. They claim that they are real priests who are creating the kind of church that Jesus allegedly wants. As the ARCWP website states: “We lead inclusive, enthusiastic, egalitarian communities where all are welcome to receive sacraments.”
Their motivation to be “priests” is their conclusion that women will not be considered equal to men in the eyes of the Church unless and until we can be ordained. Happily, I and most of the Catholic women I know do not suffer from that lack of self-esteem, but I digress.
The question that must be asked is “Where do these women get the authority to become ‘priests’?” From themselves, or course, for they assert the “primacy of conscience,” an erroneous concept left over from the 1960s that allows an individual to determine right from wrong based not on objective moral truths, but rather based solely on one’s own feelings.
Meehan wrote this for the ARCWP website: “I am passionate about primacy of conscience. We, in the women priests movement, are following our consciences in prophetic obedience to the Spirit by disobeying an unjust man-made canon law 1024 in ordaining women. In order to change an unjust law, sometimes, one has to break it.”
To help other women become priests, the ARCWP runs an online “People’s Catholic Seminary” with courses such as “Reshaping the Priesthood as a Discipleship of Equals.”
Of course, missing from the curriculum is any reference to the necessity of a well-formed conscience based on objective truth expressed in the teachings of the Church, not made up according to one’s own whims and wishes or inspiration from a nebulous “spirit,” who apparently tells a person whatever she wants to hear.
As the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1783) states: “The education of conscience is indispensable for human beings who are subjected to negative influences and tempted by sin to prefer their own judgment and to reject authoritative teachings.”
The ignorance and pride of the ARCWP movement is further expressed in an online petition asking Pope Francis to “ensure Sister Tish Rawles can continue as a Sister of the Precious Blood by overturning her excommunication and all excommunications. As we enter the Year of Mercy, the People of God ask you to show Christ's mercy to Sister Tish and all who have been excommunicated.”
Again, proponents of the ARCWP misunderstand a key concept of the faith: The Year of Mercy—beginning on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception this Dec. 8 and concluding on the Feast of Christ the King Nov. 20, 2016—does not mean a free pass to do whatever one pleases and expect no consequences.
Rather, in declaring the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis stressed the need for repentance and conversion. In the papal bull on the Year of Mercy he wrote: “Let us place the Sacrament of Reconciliation at the centre once more in such a way that it will enable people to touch the grandeur of God’s mercy with their own hands. For every penitent, it will be a source of true interior peace.”
That repentance and acceptance of the authority of the Church is indeed what excommunication is all about: Excommunication is medicinal, not punitive, and is intended to encourage the person to consider her actions, contemplate the loss of communion with the Church, and hopefully repent of the actions that incurred the excommunication and return to the full practice of the faith.
Until that happens, Rawles and Meehan and their sister “priests” likely will continue to dress up in their costumes and pretend that they are conferring the sacraments; but they are not priests any more than my preschool grandsons are real guardsmen at Buckingham Palace.