Limerick priest criticises Church’s ‘oppression of women’

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A LIMERICK parish priest is one of 12 Irish clerics who have signed a statement calling for “free and open discussion concerning the full equality of women in all facets of church life, including all forms of ministry”.

Fr Roy Donovan, who was born in Knockarron, Emly, Co Limerick and ministers to the congregation of Caherconlish/Caherline, said he is very proud of what they have written. It is also signed by Fr Tony Flannery and Fr Adrian Egan – both former heads of the Redemptorists in Limerick.

Fr Donovan supports the ordination of women and that priests “should have options” regarding celibacy.

“There are quite a number of men who have left the priesthood that would still be involved if they had the choice of being married. I know quite a number – even in the Archdiocese of Cashel & Emly – who have left the priesthood because they fell in love and they had no other option but to leave. Priesthood was in their bones.

“I know a number of women, as well, who feel they are called to the priesthood. It is in their DNA. I know they would make excellent priests. I have no doubt about it,” Fr Donovan told the Leader.

The beginning of the 12 priests’ statement reads: “In the Catholic Church women, despite being equal to men by virtue of their baptism, are excluded from all positions of decision-making, and from ordained ministry. In 1994, Pope John Paul II declared that the exclusion of women from priesthood could not even be discussed in the church.

“Pope Benedict reaffirmed, and even strengthened this teaching by insisting that it was definitive and that all Catholics were required to give assent to this view. Pope Francis has said that Pope John Paul II had reflected at length on this matter, had declared that women could never be priests and that, therefore, no further discussion on the ordination of women to ministry is possible.”

They believe that this situation is very “damaging”, that it alienates both women and men from the church because they are “scandalised by the unwillingness of church leaders to open the debate on the role of women in their church. This alienation will continue and accelerate,” it reads.

Fr Donovan said the recent synod in Rome was the “touchstone” for the 12-strong priests putting their pen to paper.

“There were 270 clerics – all men – voting on issues of the family and not one woman had a vote. It became very clear women are being discriminated because they are women – there is no debating of that,” said Fr Donovan.

He also feels that the present Pope has emphasised dialogue, being bold and expressing one’s views.

“I think there is a new climate of openness that allows us to speak out so I feel I can speak out without fear now. There is no biblical reason or theological argument for not having women ordained or women in all the decision making structures of the church. They are just relying on authority because John Paul II said the door is closed on this permanently. It is a very poor argument,” said Fr Donovan.

At practically every Mass women make up well over half of the congregation and have been more active in the life of local churches than many men, “mirroring the fidelity of the women who followed Jesus to the end, to his death on Calvary”.

“At the moment the bottom line is a woman has no official role in the church in spite of being so central. I think it is time to reinvent the whole priesthood, open more ministries and make Christian community number one. At the moment the male celibate priest is number one – the glue holding everything together –and there is a fear if that glue falls apart that the whole thing falls but you have to believe in the Holy Spirit,” said Fr Donovan.

He says that Pope Francis has urged priests to get back to the original message and energy of Jesus by going into communities and helping people.

“Jesus loved women – it is very obvious. He involved them in so far as was culturally possible for him at the time.”

Donal O'Regan; Limerick Leader; 15 November 2015

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