There are a number of Roman Catholic women who are being ordained by various bishops (most, perhaps all, of whom are, in fact, Independent bishops and not Roman) who are claiming to be “Roman” Catholic priests. In fact, this is not the case. The Roman Catholic denomination – like all organized religious groups, from fundamentalist churches to pagan covens – is governed by a set of rules, in this case, its Code of Canon Law. That Code is quite explicit in stating that only baptized males may “validly” be ordained, and that those who are ordained (or “attempt” to be ordained, in the case of ordinations Rome views as invalid) outside of the Roman Catholic or Eastern Catholic (in communion with the pope) denominational structures are automatically excommunicated. Furthermore, it is quite explicit that only the pope can promulgate changes to the rules, and since the pope appoints the cardinals who in turn elect the pope, it is quite accurate to say that no Roman Catholic who has not attained the rank of cardinal has any real say in the governance of the denomination.
I have been rather offended at these women’s claims to be the first “female Catholic priests”, since they ignore the history of both Independent Catholic and Anglican women priests. Furthermore, I think that they are deluding themselves in thinking that they can have a real effect in bringing about change, given the structure of their denomination. Progressives within the Roman Catholic denomination can chant “we are the church” all they want, but at the end of the day, the pope appoints the bishops, and the bishop appoint the male priests to serve in each parish, with no decision-making authority given to any laypeople.
For pointing all of this out in an online discussion, I have been attacked because this is “bad ecclesiology”. I happen to agree that it is horrendous ecclesiology, but that does not change the simple fact that it is the ecclesiology of the Roman Catholic denomination, for better or worse, and pretending that it is not because one does not want it to be does not change that fact one iota.
I happen to believe that, rather than hit one’s head against a brick wall over and over again is counterproductive. Much better for people who disagree with Rome’s ecclesiology to leave and join and help build churches they can believe in. (The same could be said for those in many other denominations, even those with more democratic structure, but I’ll leave making the Anglicans and Protestants angry for another day.) I am not impugning these women’s call to ministry, but far better for them to find communities willing to accept their gifts.