Emmy Silvius recently had the pleasure of meeting Bishop Patricia Fresen during her visit to Melbourne. She came away from the meeting impressed and inspired and sent us this short essay which she entitled "For the Love of My Church".
A meeting with an impressive woman...
People often ask: "Why stay in a Church that discriminates against women? Why put up with authoritarian leaders who appear to be more concerned with pomp and ceremony than with the individual Catholic? Why hope against hope that it will become more accountable, more Christ-like in its dealings with people whatever their gender, faith or orientation?"
It's a fair question for sure. For me the answer is similar to why I don't run away and hide on some remote island every time I see injustices occur in our society. Admittedly, it is a lot easier to hold our Local, State and Federal parliamentarians accountable as we live in a democratic society. But the surge of passion that swells from deep within when speaking out on social matters comes from the same source as the surge of passion that says 'enough is enough' when it comes to religious injustices. That surge is my spirit speaking out for the rights of my Church.
Click on the above image to visit the ABC website to listen to the podcast interview with John Cleary
Recently I was greatly blessed to have met Patricia Fresen, one of only three Catholic female Bishops in the world, at a private gathering in Melbourne. There are times in one's life when we can feel we are witnessing an historical event. This was undoubtedly one such event. Patricia is an inspirational woman. Not only does she show enormous courage in the face of adversity but she remains humble, patient and resilient in her dealings with media and curious members of the Church.
John Cleary interviewed Patricia on his Sunday Nights radio program on 18 September 2011. It provides a good introduction to her story. Click HERE, or the image at right to listen to the podcast on the ABC website. It's amazing that despite all the injustices done to so many within the Catholic community we can still manage to smile at some of the ridiculous quotations put forward by the hierarchy as justification for this. For example, Patricia was told that even though she was ordained by a Bishop in good standing with Rome, her ordination could not be valid as being a woman it would 'not take'. As if the reception of blessings depends on having certain body parts!
That Patricia was ordained by a practicing Bishop in good standing with Rome is of vital importance. All over the world Catholic bishops are part of a lineage that goes back to the time of the Apostles. This doctrine called Apostolic Succession asserts that the chosen successors have inherited the spiritual, ecclesiastical and sacramental authority, power, and responsibility that were given to the Apostles directly by Jesus Christ. This is reaffirmed each Sunday in the reciting of the Nicene Creed: "We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church..." Sadly, this particular Bishop cannot be named as he would immediately be excommunicated. Thus whilst he is still alive, all official documentation is kept secret until such time when it can safely be revealed.
Currently there are about 200 women Catholic priests, most live in the United States. Each of these women has found inspiration from a deep and powerful calling. It certainly has nothing to do with fame, money or choosing the easy life. The women need to be well qualified in Theology and are self-funded. They also need to have a community and be accepted by that community as a leader before being ordained as a priest.
Bishop Patricia Fresen
The voice of the Catholic people—the sensus fidelium—has spoken. We women are no longer asking for permission to be priests. Instead, we have taken back our rightful God-given place ministering to Catholics as inclusive and welcoming priests.
Yes, we have challenged and broken the Church's Canon Law 1024, an unjust law that discriminates against women. Despite what some bishops may lead the faithful to believe, our ordinations are valid because we are ordained in the line of unbroken apostolic succession within the Roman Catholic Church.
The Catholic people have accepted us as their priests and they continue to support us as we grow from the seven bold women first ordained on the Danube River in 2002. Ordained women are already ministering in over 23 states across the country. We are here to stay. We are not going away. [www.romancatholicwomenpriests.org]
Earlier this year I wrote an article on Lay Ministry for Catholica [LINK] wherein I stated: What we need to do is to rediscover the meaning and significance of our baptismal call and to discern both the gifts we have been given by God and the role we are called to play in furthering Christ's mission in the world. It is absolutely vital that we move away from the pyramid structure of the Church of pre- Vatican II and claim a Church where all participate equally in truth and love whilst exercising our rights as a priestly people.
More women are feeling confident speaking about their inner desire to become a priest, quite a number of these women belong to a Religious Order. Hopefully when they are ready to take the next step their communities will continue to support them. Is it possible that the comment: "Not in my lifetime" has become obsolete in relation to gender equality within our Catholic Church?
Emmy Silvius 25Sep2011
 Patricia Fresen was a Dominican Sister in South Africa for over 45 years prior to her ordination. She had studied Theology for seven years in Rome and then taught Systematic Theology, Spirituality and Homiletics at the seminary in Pretoria. She now resides in Germany.
The photograph used as background for the headline and footer quote is sourced from the St Brigid of Kildare Catholic Faith Community in Alberta, Canada. It is a photo taken at the ordination of Monica Kilburn-Smith and Jim Lauder to the priesthood (May 29, 2009, Victoria, B.C.) by Bishop Patricia Fresen of RCWP (Roman Catholic Womenpriests). Photo Credit: Genevieve Kilburn-Smith. From left to right: Marie Bouclin, priest from Sudbury Ontario; Monica Kilburn-Smith; Patricia Fresen, bishop (originally from South Africa, now residing in Germany); Jim Lauder of Victoria B.C.; Michele Birch-Conery, priest from Parksville, B.C. (on Vancouver Island). (Michele was the first Canadian ordained through RCWP.) Website: www.saintbrigids.org
Emmy Silvius has a Degree in Theology (Melbourne College of Divinity), is a founding member of Catholics for Renewal, and has a passion for social justice.
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