After our liturgy and a snack, we listened to Fresen describe her dream of an inclusive non-hierarchical church without top-down power. There would be no popes and cardinals dictating commands and inciting fear by excommunicating those whose conscience directs them to disobey. Power would reside in the people, all the people. Leadership positions would circulate to prevent corruption and abuse.
In the discussion afterward, we heard about hopeful developments in our movement, but one young, idealistic theology student was troubled by our criticism of the present structure. Aren’t we just as bad when we argue against them? Saying women should be ordained and violating our church’s rule? And why bother with ordination when we criticize the status ordination has?
Bishop Fresen briefly described her journey with its Yes to the divine call that welled up in her, a vocation that clearly was not an ego-driven decision, but entailed painful losses. She explained that women claim ordination as a way to counter the hierarchy’s use of ordination as a tool of exclusive power. By getting ordained, to use an expression by another member of our group, we’re getting right into their garden.
I answered his point about argumentative criticism and say more here. Every reform movement has to explain the need for reform; it has to state what is wrong with the present structure. This necessarily involves an adversarial stance—standing against something. We can’t always loll in the lap of sweetness and light; we can’t be all pleasant when someone or something needs to be corrected. Then we have to criticize, to oppose, to say what is bad and how we want to make it better. This often involves anger, and that’s good. Yes, it is. Anger in the service of improving a bad situation is good.
Also good was the opportunity to hear the young man’s statement. We were glowing in the affirmation that streamed in from all sides, and this sobered us by showing the need for deep reflection and more work to spread our message.
One more point. Harsh rhetoric does not characterize dissent in our church. If anything, the hierarchy is still tiptoed around, and I attribute that to the wall of fear they built. Consider the gentle way people of conscience oppose the bishops, the way women theologians intellectually correct the hierarchy, the reflective and quiet way nuns deal with the Vatican’s oppression.
I am proud to participate in a worldwide challenge to patriarchal power that is manifestly motivated by divine inspiration.
I received an email from Patricia with this request:
I have just read your blog and it is so good, in contrast to the article by the young journalist in the Times. Since you write so well and have such a solid theology, could I ask you a favour? Could you possibly write a short response to the article, making two very important corrections?
The journalist states that I am dreaming of establishing a church which is all that I described. As you know, that is not at all the case. I, and we in RCWP, are not wanting to establish a church at all but are hoping for and working towards very different structures in the church, as you explain so well. The other point that really concerns me is that the journalist talks about different churches, as though we in RCWP are in a church other than the Roman Catholic church. These two misunderstandings really worry me.
I am still in communication with the Times to get this correction printed.