I grew up in a Catholic family and always wanted to discuss the roots of Easter with a priest. I found one who was willing to talk to me. Her name is Diane Dougherty. We went beyond the roots of Easter and discussed the role of women in the Catholic church.
JL: Where are you a priest?
DD: I am a priest serving in an LGBTQ church, First Metropolitan Community. I am helping them give form to their children’s ministry and work with members on various actions such as gaining access to same sex marriage throughout Georgia legislature. I also have home masses and advocate for women’s ordination wherever I am called.
JL: How did you become a priest?
DD: I have an equivalency of a Masters of Divinity and 37 years of working in a multitude of ministries within parishes and dioceses, which is a requirement for ordination. I completed mentoring and seminary training program provided by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. I was ordained a deacon by Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan in Sarasota, Florida in February, 2011, and a priest in Atlanta at First Metropolitan Church on October 20, 2012.
JL: Were there ever women priests?
DD: For the first 1200 years [of the existence of the Catholic Church] women were serving as priests, bishops, deacons and in many areas of the church. If you go to the Cathedral of St. Augustine in Hippo, which is now the Cathedral of Annaba, there is a mosaic that says, “Here lies Guilia Runa priest…” This meant she was on staff as a priest in the 5th Century AD.
JL: Tell me a little about the history of women in the Church and roles they’ve had.
DD: In the Catholic Church, women were priests for the first 1200 years, … It took the hierarchy that long to bully them out of priestly roles through creating canon laws. Patriarchal societies had no place for women much less single women. If you ended up unmarried women stayed on the family farm and took care of parents but property went to the male children and if they did not accept their sisters, there was no place to go. Oftentimes convents were invented to take care of women cultures didn’t want. At the end of the Crusades this was a huge problem because there were not enough men to marry women and these single women weren’t necessarily monastics. The state used the church as their social umbrella, but when the church accepted these women, they were told they had to provide for themselves. They became active religious women…. In living together they prayed together, shared resources and spent time serving the poor. In America from the 1800’s to today, they developed hospitals, orphanages and schools as they cared for the needs of each generation.
JL: What is Vatican II?
DD: Vatican II is the movement of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church. Pope John XXIII called all Catholic leaders together in 1962. As part of this Council the sisters were asked to modernize their communities. They took that call very seriously, took off their habits and put on the ordinary dress of the day. Sisters are active religious single women who are imbibed with the love of God and want to actively live out the gospel.
JL: What is the role of the baptized in the church?
DD: This is one of the key changes that came through Vatican II. Before Vatican II, we were taught that there is a God-ordained hierarchical leadership with the Pope, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Sisters and then Laity. Pre-Vatican teaching said men were closer to God because of ordination; women and laity were lesser under this thinking. Vatican II taught that by baptism we are equals. Our job now is to restructure to create that equality. The work of Roman Catholic Women Priests is to renew priestly ministry into a discipleship of equals.
JL: People are pleased with Pope Francis, are you?
DD: Yes, I think it’s a delight to have a pastoral bishop at the top of the hierarchy bending down toward us in a human way.
JL: What would he think of your being a priest?
DD: He has already said that will not happen [women being ordained]. There is a false hierarchical belief that makes women, as well as laity, second class citizens [in the Catholic Church]. They believe their ordination places them above us and therefore, they are closer to God and speak for God. We who are below must listen and obey. The problem with the model is that it forces God to follow this plan, and God does not.
Since Francis has been in office, he excommunicated two priests who would like to open discussions about women priests. One is Father Jerry Zawada-an, American Franciscan, and the other is Australian Father Greg Reynolds. I love this Pope and all others. They deserve my respect, but they are wrong when it comes to this spiritual leadership. Excommunication is a cruel punishment because it takes away the livelihood of those who have given their lives to the church and as bystanders are powerless.
JL: Are women excommunicated who are priests?
DD: All women and those who support and participate in this movement are excommunicated.
JL: What exactly is excommunication?
DD: You are not invited to participate at the Mass. You cannot read, be an usher or go to communion. You may not participate in any of the sacraments or be buried in the Catholic cemetery. And if you are under canonical vows, they take your income and retirement. You cannot function in a Catholic parish.
JL: Have you been excommunicated?
DD: I have and I just gave my plot in our Catholic cemetery to my cousin.
JL: It’s Easter. I am interested in the roots of Easter. There is the Catholic story I was told and then there is the historic roots of Easter. Do you have thoughts on this?
DD: The roots of Easter are bound in paganism and have to do with the death that comes to all. In pagan belief, Eoster returned the world to life after winter. In Christianity, it was Jesus who died, but has returned to life and like all of creation that is renewed, we too will rise again. In today’s church, creation once again celebrates-after a long death, it is the women who are rising.
You can read more about the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests at www.arcwp.org
Jennifer Lee is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles. She has spent many years working on Hollywood films and used her free time (when she had it!) making her own films. Her latest film, “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation” is being screened in numerous public libraries across the nation during Women’s History Month. Jennifer was recently named Global Ambassador for the Global Media Monitoring Project.