Female Priests in the Catholic Church

iStock_000029464898SmallSince Easter is upon us I thought I would talk with a priest about the roots of the springtime religious holiday of Easter.

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.

Diane DoughertyJL: 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.



  • steve

    so do they molest girls instead of little boys?

    • Daisy G

      The teaching profession has a far larger percentage of molesting children than any church!

      • Pia

        Thank you for this eyeopening story on the (his)tory of the Catholic Church and its ongong stance on women. So clear that any belittlement of it or Diane Dougherty’s work comes from a lack of respect and empathy for the opinions of women. Catholic women in service, whatever their title, have formidable reputations as loving servants of G*d. It’s is beautiful and courageous to bring the acceptance and love that Jesus taught to all people.

  • This was so interesting! As a Jew, I know it’s only in relatively recent years (based on our 5000 years of existence) women have become accepted as rabbis, and not in all branches of Judaism. I see Ms. Dougherty as being in on the development of what is the equivalent of Reform Judaism for the Catholic Church. Brava to her!!!

  • Tom

    None of this is of any importance. If everyone would read the book “GOD WHO?” by Thomas Cole they would learn the TRUE FACTS about the Bible, Koran, and Book of Mormon and would change their ridiculous ways of believing.

    • Pia

      Tom, not really the place to assert your dominance over women and their opinions. Read the websites’ tagline. So transparent and boring.

  • At the age of 5, I knew I was called to be a RCC Priest. I wasn’t supposed to be a nun as I was called to administer to the church, to shepherd the flock, to perform the sacraments. At that age, there was no one to dissuade me. In fact, my father was encouraging, though he knew that church law would not allow it. My vocation was so strong that when the teaching sister of my first grade told me I couldn’t, I did not believe her at all. So I studied everything I could in preparation for this life. I was a teenager when John XXIII lit the path and it only confirmed my plan.
    Over ten years of searching and confirming that Mary Magdalene had been Jesus’ wife, they had a daughter Sarah, that women were missionary disciples. I just had to wait for others to see. And they did with the discovery of the Lost Gospels; The Nag Hammadi and Gnostic Gospels (Elaine Pagels).
    I went to France and traced the steps of Magdalene as she lived there for 30 years in prayer and meditation in a cave. There is much documentation of her life there. But most important I met other women who had such a call, a call so loud and deep that nothing could tell them otherwise, not 1,000 years of a corporate church and patriarchal clergy or the sudden unexplained death of John XXIII. It is in the heart not on some book of rules in the Vatican library.
    There are Catholic churches who do not function under the rule of the papacy and women are priests. The male priests who support them are excommunicated, like Father Ray Bourgeois. (Did you know that after the genius of St Teresa of Avila, they would not allow women to be doctors of the church?)
    Finally let me say that when the men all freaked out, ran to the Cenacle in hiding because their leader had been crucified, it was the women who stood at the cross, prepared the body for burial and met him on Easter Sunday. It is always the women whose courage will not be deterred.
    PS I have a BA in RCC Theology and a MA in Religion from USC

    • Miguel Garcia

      I think your sources alluding to Jesus being married and having a child and that Jesus send out women missionaries, and other assertions are false at best. I am suspicious of that BA in RCC Theology granted by USC, as what you have proffered is not part of the RCC in any way or fashion.

  • ThiaL

    @Zoe Very interesting! I did not know there were male priests who were excommunicated for supporting women priests.

    I’m not Catholic but I’ve always thought they have a very rich history and some very lovely family traditions. These women priests must be made of very tough stuff – I think with them leading the charge the not so lovely tradition of male only priest shall soon be a thing of the past. Very educational post!

  • Walter

    The writer was raised in a Catholic family and does not know there are no female priests in the Catholic Church! Did not learn much. Also, a sacrament has matter and form. In the sacrament of holy orders the matter is male, since the Church is female; always referred to as Christ´s bride, Mother Church, etc. The Early Fathers never mentioned female priests; therefore, very doubtful. Yes women can be very gutsy, but since they are human, they have also been known to be wrong. God bless and good bye! Happy Easter, for the Lord is risen!

    • Liz

      There is so much proof in the early church of women priests, bishops and deacons. It is coming-out more and more. I worked on my M.Div. and studied early church history. God will call to the priesthood who he wishes to call and we all need to follow his call, not go by the ignorance of mankind. It is horrible what the church has done to women and how they have tried to hide history. The Holy Spirit is moving and things are changing. Jesus believed in equality and treated women with respect. Praise to you Lord Jesus Christ.

  • MCC

    This is an interesting story. Not everyday we could hear truth about Easter especially from a female Priest!

  • Camera Obscura

    I agree with everything she said except the bit about Eoster That story originated in something the Venerable Bede wrote c. 725 and Easter had been being celebrated for hundreds of years in lands far removed from Germanic paganism. The disagreement over the correct date of the PASCAL feast began c. 190, actually before that. The Pascal feast, just as the cognate for the name of Pesach (Passover) indicates, The feast, the most important in the Christian calendar is intimately tied to the Hebraic-Jewish holy period of the Passover, the dating of which was established in the book of Exodus.

    The fact is, any Germanic pagan influence in how Easter was celebrated is a Pagan pollution of a thoroughly Christian holy day, the timing of which derives from events in the execution and resurrection of Jesus intimately tied with the Jewish holy day.

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