Rocking the Boat | Sojourners

Rocking the Boat


It was late afternoon at the end of July 2006. The sunlight slanted in and ricocheted unpredictably off the water of Pittsburgh's three rivers—the Ohio, Monongahela, and Allegheny. Boarding the riverboat Majestic, 400 people attended the first ordination in the United States of Roman Catholic women to the priesthood and diaconate. In doing so, the Catholics present aided in breaking canon law 1024, which states, "Only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination." This act of ecclesial disobedience was punishable by excommunication.

As the boat motored into deeper waters, a few protesters appeared on the wharf. Their signs read: "Women obey priests" and "Jesus was a man." Aboard ship, in the open central gallery, bright banners hung from the balcony proclaimed, "Nothing new! Women reclaiming priesthood." Iconic images of ancient female Christian leaders adorned the altar—Mary of Magdala, apostle to the apostles; Phoebe, the deacon in Cenchreae (Romans 16:1-2); and Junia, who Paul calls an "outstanding apostle" (Romans 16:7).

The ceremony was held by the international organization Roman Catholic Womenpriests, which has held five ordination ceremonies since 2002 in Europe and Canada and claims five female bishops and 40 priests and deacons. In the pipeline are 120 students, 80 of whom are from North America. Aboard the Majestic, three female bishops from Europe prepared to ordain eight U.S. women to the Catholic priesthood and four to the diaconate.

Gisela Forster, a Roman Catholic Womenpriests bishop from Munich, was dressed simply and elegantly in a white alb with a bright yellow silk chasuble that floated lightly as she moved. "The church should not only be a church for men or with a male hierarchy," she said, "because men cannot do everything. It's very important that the women who are feeling called should be welcomed into this church."

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Sojourners Magazine March 2007
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