The notes of the Hallelujah of July 22nd, which I sang from the second pew of the Madeleine church in the heart of my hometown, Paris, are still echoing in my ears, and the media rabble won’t cover them up. It is a resounding and endless Hallelujah, with a life of its own, which belongs to another dimension.
I write out of duty. Somehow, I have to account for what we did there, and I have to do it myself, even if I don’t have the journalistic style that dazzles from the first lines. It will have the merit of being a testimony, and that is my task.
Yes, I am one of the seven
I’m easy to recognise: in the pictures I’m in a white jacket, sometimes with a purple stole.
For those who do not know me or only know me by rumours and stories, know that I am a presbyter, or a priest, as you wish; I am not bothered by the name.
I received my priestly ordination from the hands of a bishop consecrated by a bishop of apostolic lineage, so that, if I were a man, it would be a totally legitimate ordination. Only my gender, the configuration of my reproductive organs, separates me from total legitimacy.
I know inside-out the canon law with regard to my situation, so don’t bother giving me chapter and verse. Incidentally, only the Holy See has the prerogative to punish; from there down, don’t even bother: don’t be a keyboard warrior like the ones that abound these days. Let us cultivate brotherhood and sisterhood; let us not judge each other; let us think before speaking about the importante issues.
The important for me in life and death
As I understand it, in doing the Lord’s will no more will be asked of me than I am capable. And my God has not yet raised above me a glass ceiling like the one imposed by the powerful men of the Catholic institution. So I will go ahead until Providence stops me, and there I will give thanks for the road I have travelled.
Glass roofs, windows and closed doors are for flies and the hard cold nights; they are defences against what damages family life and health… they were not made to stop the sisters and even less to silence the Spirit.
I know well the verdict of the popes, up to the present one, about the “door that is definitively closed and we have no power to open it”. Please do not bother to look for the quotations; ask me for them as I have them all, including the encyclicals (Inter Insigniores, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis… and other decrees).
That’s right, I also know what the Church understood as an institution says officially about God’s will for his people and for each of its members.
And I also know that a very important and growing proportion disagrees with its understanding of ministries, the distribution of roles between laity and clergy, the pyramid-shaped government and the gender inequality that, in laymen’s terms, is called misogyny, sexism or machismo.
Specifically, the Will of the One Who is All Love was manifested to me in the form of a vocation in a deep and indelible experience: a tenacious and unrestrainable call to celebrate at the table of the Lord Jesus, to make a memory of his passage among us, then, today and always, a passage that passes through the cross, his and that of so many, a passage of love that transforms everything into resurrection.
If I had been a man, the red carpet would have been laid out for me. Only a question of anatomy prevented it.
Thus my discernment had to pass first through the veracity of my vocation, tested and examined together with various persons with ecclesial and spiritual authority, and then through the need for consistency with that veracity, even at the expense of an act considered illicit.
I had no choice but to disobey the Pope in order to obey God.
In my heart this hierarchy makes sense; I would like this to be taken into account more often, I would like this to be heard, I would like the hundreds of women who have gone through this experience to be listened to.
Although only a few (about 280) today have taken the step towards ordination (diaconate and priesthood) in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (RCWP-ARCWP), we know an important number of vocation stories like mine, with different forms and circumstances, all luminous and carrying the unmistakable mark of the presence of Jesus who one day touched their lives and marked them forever.
I decided not to abandon my Church, the Catholic Church, but to stay, since I have loved it ever since I freely chose to commit myself to its ranks, and I consider it as belonging to me just as much as to any baptised person.
Holy Orders as it is understood in the Church has several facets. On the one hand, it can only take one form: the ordained priesthood. Neither the common priesthood of the faithful nor my mere solid adoration of the Eucharist nor the most passionate commitment would have made it easier for me to serve my community at the table of the Lord’s Supper without a sacrament consisting of the laying on of hands.
One of the immense riches that our Church holds up as treasure is sacramentality, a wealth that other Christian families have dispensed with.
Today I can testify to what is lost by those who do not receive an imposition of hands from others who pass on the breath of the first mandate from generation to generation. We hear the words “Rejoice, Mary…”, “Go and give them something to eat…”, “Go and tell my brothers that I am waiting for them in Galilee…”, “Wherever you go, announce the Good News of the Kingdom…”, and also “Woman, why are you crying? Whom are you looking for?”, and, above all, the one that changed my life: “Do this in memory of me”. By the way, whoever wants to can look for these phrases in the Bible, they are not mine… Or yes, a little, they are more my life than myself, air to breathe without which I could not go on. Once one of these phrases or some other glimpsed gesture is imprinted on someone… there is no other choice but to obey.
Disobedience is to go against the mandate of life; it is to refuse to share love, peace, deep joy, pure bottomless delight, absolute light that visits me every time I hold out my hands and only read a few words that are not mine. I absolutely refuse to renounce the sacraments, any of them; with special passion the Eucharist and the priestly order, since they constitute the nucleus of what I carry in my vessel like ointment to embalm as once did the sister apostle.
I see no difference between bringing God into the world in the form of bread and wine and giving birth to him, and that I know how to do, like Mary of Nazareth, the only one with the power to say: “This is my body, this is my blood”.
Where have we women lost the power to bring life and presence to the world, to incarnate the Word himself in our bodies? Where one could all of us can.
All apostles and sisters
Clericalism is the sad and black relative of patriarchalism; it has crept up on us like a bastard child in the ecclesial family. In fact, an imposition of hands, according to 1 Tim 4:14 or Acts 6:6, repeating the gesture of Jesus that accompanies a prayer and transmits health and salvation (Mt 19:13), did not have to bring with it the oppressive logic of domination-subjugation that was already rampant in the ancient world and remains centuries later the only logic known to the majority of Catholics.
We should not have allowed to enter through a side door that theology of the priesthood, which imprints an elite character and turns out special, almost magical beings; that dictates that without those celibate men God cannot be present because they are the unavoidable mediators of grace. Yes, that is what they say: that when I celebrate I play-act because God does not come, because they say so and because they are in charge.
They didn’t have to create so many stories to keep these people in the seminaries waiting to see themselves transformed into near-angels in exchange for the surrender of their affectivity – eros and the rest – by force.
Even the freedom of the gift of love is taken away from them. It could have been otherwise, and there is still time to change it.
We women want to be part of that change, part of the solution; we want to participate and finally say what we think, for the good of all, as much as we are capable. We are not going to be silent.
The imposition of the hands of the elders ratified the ministry of the apostle, gave the go-ahead of the community and transmitted the strength of love, faith, hope and passion for the Kingdom; it gave the strength necessary to tread surely the Way of the Good News in the company of all people and of those who were called, already in the lifetime of Jesus, by the hundreds.
I have received impositions like that in my community together with sisters and brothers who do not want anything else than such a roadmap. No commands or hierarchies, no jealousy or competition because everyone finds him- or herself in his or her place, the place that fulfils his or her dreams, and that place is always free.
This is what I found together with these seven women, Helene Pichon, Claire Conan-Vrinat, Loan Rocher, Marie-Automne Thepot, Sylvaine Landrivon and Laurence de Bourbon Parme, together with Anne Soupa, whose resounding initiative put on alert a whole crowd eager for liberating deeds and courageous words.
Soupa, a determined and open-minded woman who one day called me, along with the coordinator of a new group called “Toutes apôtres” (All Apostles), Alix Bayle, to ask me what I could ask for in the Church of France today, just as I am, ordained and already exercising my ministry in the ideal mode of a horizontal, circular and non-oppressive Church that characterises each of the communities of women and men priests of our ARCWP association.
After years of absence from the Church of France, where I received my baptism, first communion and confirmation… and also my vocation, which made me fall in love… I was offered the change to give back some loving service and I did not hesitate to respond:
“Whatever it takes: any position where my ministry can feed my sisters and brothers, preferably a humble parish of the many that are neglected”.
So I found myself, a few days later, depositing in the mailbox of the Nuncio in Paris, all those desires in the form of a letter and sincerely believing that it would be wonderful if one day those black doors opened and a welcoming smile appeared. Yes, I have that innocence and perhaps that innocence will protect me because the nunciature has answered us and is going to receive us.
Behind the doors there is a child of God, someone who feels, thinks and surely speaks and listens. I look forward to meeting him. I have been anointed to love and that is what I will do. My hospitality comes to me from apostolic lineage, from wise and loving women who when it comes to doing what has to be done were not afraid of the darkness of the cemeteries or of the soldiers who threaten or of death. We are their daughters.
Then we met with journalists eager to know, to ask, to know and to spread the news. I liked the respect, the sincere search for understanding, and even the ability to draw graceful profiles. They accompanied us to the church of the Madeleine, the day on which the Apostle to the Apostles is celebrated in the whole universal Church; there I concelebrated from the pew, duly dressed in my purple stole, and they allowed me to lead a last prayer and blessing with the people before leaving.
There were no conflicts, no exclusions, no quarrels; everything went on with total normality.
Even at the exit of the church, several people who were not apparently in a hurry to leave approached me for a chat, as my pastors used to at the end of Mass, and I welcomed them, giving thanks on the inside for so much richness. People need to be heard; that food is so often denied them… I would have spent the afternoon with them, life. Yes, let us continue to discern, day by day, to what the Lord sends us, to whom he sends us, and let us see how he responds.
We urgently need thousands of hands to be anointed, thousands of hands to rest on the heads of those who are to bring the Good News to those who suffer in poverty, in prisons, in hospitals, in the slums and refugee camps and battlefields of the world.
Grace has not expired, but abounds. The love of brotherhood has not died; nor has the passion for the project of the Nazarene been extinguished. Then why the clamour that asks for the end of the ordinations, that anyone should celebrate as he or she pleases? Will we be able to break the mould that makes two classes of people, the clergy and the lay troop? Will we be able to be one people without castes where only the desire to serve remains, with each one where life smiles at him or her and he or she is needed?
We are able and will be able to bless thousands and millions; we have already demonstrated it, we will keep on blessing until our hands are raw.
O that all of us wanted to be full disciples; the world needs us, our voice is needed, justice, peace and love are needed… The world is in too bad a way for us to spend so much strength in asking that all the baptised people be equally accepted and used for the harvest, for us to have to distribute power in tiny plots until it is pulverised.
If you do not want women to preach, pray, celebrate the sacraments, reconcile, console and bless… stop baptising us!
If I cannot sit next to the Lord at his table to repeat his gestures and words, stop giving communion to women.
Keep to yourself in your select gentlemen’s club and leave the wheat in the field… We women will take care of it; we are already sharpening the sickle, the Lord has already cleaned the threshing floor for us; make no mistake, with him we are invincible, and we know it.