By Kim Grizzard
The Daily Reflector
Sunday, March 31, 2013
In her 1962 class picture, Ann Harrington sits four rows back in Sister Mary Rosanna’s fourth-grade class. But some 40 years after her days at Our Lady of Hope, Harrington is ready to move to the front.
The wife, mother and longtime Catholic is a candidate for ordination to the diaconate of Roman Catholic Womenpriests. The movement, which began in
“It’s very much like the civil rights movement ... Rosa Parks sitting down on the bus saying, ‘I’m not sitting in the back of the bus anymore,’” Harrington said. “I’m not sitting in the back of the Catholic Church anymore.”
Harrington will talk about her journey this week as the Interfaith Alliance of Eastern Carolina shows the film “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican,” an award-winning documentary which chronicles the stories of women who have risked excommunication to pursue what they consider to be a calling from God.
“Why are we, in 2013, even having this discussion?” Harrington, 61, asked. “It makes no sense. Women have been in every field. They do everything.
“The problem is that when a woman feels called by God to be a (Catholic) priest, there is no way for her to answer that call.”
The Catholic Church prohibits the ordination of women as priests or bishops. Though the idea of women’s ordination has been discussed for decades, Pope John Paul II declared in 1994 that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”
Newly elected Pope Francis made headlines last week for becoming the first pontiff to wash women’s feet, an act he performed during a Maundy Thursday ritual at a juvenile detention center in
Father Justin Kerber, pastor of St. Peter’s Catholic Church, does not believe Francis will admit women to the priesthood.
“I think this pope will be in line with the other 265 popes before him,” Kerber said. “He will say this has already been decided and is not open to discussion.
“The church is not a democracy,” he said. “To put this up for a vote, we don’t do that.”
In a February survey by the
Lynn Caverly, co-director of the Interfaith Alliance of Eastern Carolina, said marginalization of women in leadership is one of the main reasons she left the Catholic Church a decade ago.
“The first time I saw a female clergy perform the Eucharist, tears streamed down my face. It just felt so right,” Caverly said.
“I grew up Roman Catholic, and it’s still a big part of my identity. I just kind of outgrew the patriarchy. I just got tired of looking in the mirror and seeing this female face but knowing that the image of God did not look anything like me, and I think that’s not what Jesus really intended.”
Kerber said that in recent years the Catholic Church, like much of American society, has become less male-dominated. At St. Peter’s, the parish manager and head of the parish council are women, and women have assumed leadership roles in everything from financial management to faith formation.
“The parish would fall apart, every parish would, if it weren’t for women,” Kerber said. “The church loves the role of women and loves all the beautiful things that women contribute to the church and respects women tremendously. Everything is open to women in our church with the exception of being ordained a priest or a bishop.”
Opponents of women clergy said that Jesus chose men, his 12 disciples, to lead the church. But proponents contend that scripture records women being an integral part of Jesus’ ministry and point out that the New Testament book of John records that Jesus first appeared to a woman, Mary Magdalene, after his resurrection.
“We’re all baptized into the body of Christ, and the priest is merely there as a representative and someone to help the community celebrate the sacraments,” Harrington said. “There’s really no reason that a woman couldn’t do any of these things.”
But after meeting an marrying her husband, Mark, who also was baptized Catholic, she felt her calling was to be a wife and mother. The couple had four sons. Harrington sang in the church choir, helped her husband lead Boy Scouts and volunteered with vacation Bible school.
As her children grew older, Harrington found time for more personal reflection, attending retreats and seeking spiritual direction. It was not until the death of a close friend that Harrington began to sense a calling to church leadership, perhaps to priesthood.
“I felt so led to be a minister for this family who had no church affiliation,” she said.
“Why am I feeling this call now? There may have been other times when I considered it ... and pushed it aside because, No. 1, it’s not a choice, not a choice within Catholicism.”
The Rev. Bob Hudak, rector of
“I have met so many women priests who started off in Roman Catholic families and went through their own kind of struggle and search and found a home in the Episcopal church where they could pursue a path to priesthood,” he said.
One of those is the Rev. Mimi Lacy, rector of St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. Lacy, 56, the eighth of nine children, grew up Catholic but was excommunicated when she married her husband, who had been divorced. But it wasn’t until nearly 20 years after she joined her husband in the Episcopal Church that she began to consider joining the clergy.
Even in the Episcopal Church, which began ordaining women in the 1970s, there was opposition. Lacy recalls a friend telling her that the priesthood was no place for a woman, an experience that helps her to understand something of what Catholic women must feel.
“She wants to obey (God) and then these people are telling her no,” Lacy said. “It’s very frustrating.
“There are women that jump ship. There are women that stay on and suffer through their pain and hope it will change,” she said. “I don’t think it will any time in the near future, but I admire their perseverance. You only change a system by being a part of it.”
Hudak, who was ordained as a Franciscan at age 26, served for nearly 20 years before choosing to marry in 1991, a choice that required him to leave the Catholic priesthood. In the Episcopal Church, being a husband and father did not preclude him from being ordained.
Though Hudak continues to believe his decision was the right one, it was nonetheless painful.
“It was like leaving home,” he said. “I always felt like being Roman Catholic was like being Jewish. You’re born into a family, you’re born into a history, you’re born in to cultural customs that really shape and influence your life.”
His experience helps him identify with people like Harrington, who continue to feel an attachment to the church despite their disagreements over some practices.
Harrington still attends Mass and still meets regularly with a women’s study group.
“I think her Catholic roots are so deep and strong that she’d rather fight than switch,” Hudak said of Harrington, whom he has known for about eight years.“It may be that her response and those of others like her will be sort of like the leaven, the yeast that causes the change to take place.
“I would think there’s hope with the new pope,” he said. “But again when you’re steering an ocean liner that’s as large as the Roman Catholic Church, it’s going to take awhile for changes to be made.”