Dear Pope Francis,
From an early age, I’ve known of my call. My parents tell me that attending Mass calmed me as a young child, when I wasn’t running to the altar to participate that is. I became an altar server at 10 and served through my college years as frequently as possible. By high school I was coordinating liturgies, large and small, at my local parish and engaged in several other ministries, sometimes as the youngest person by decades. The church was a second home and a safe space, able to calm me through my hardest moments of adolescence. In a word, being around the parish and being among the people was ‘natural.’
At 13, a priest asked me if priesthood was a life that might interest me given my involvement in the life of our parish, and the life of the People of God. I’ve seriously discerned this question, is God calling me to ordination, for more than a decade. Over time, my yearning to lead people in our liturgies or be present to them in life’s most profound, daily moments of suffering and celebration grew. Throughout college, each moment of reflection, each liturgy, each protest for justice, and each tender encounter with another person was a coal added to this fire burning within me. I received a degree with honors in theology from The Catholic University of America as a first step to making my desire to minister a reality.
I wanted to answer God’s call. I wanted to say ‘yes’ to being a priest. I wanted, more than anything, to try and explain to those on the margins the immense love of God that I have long known. I wanted to do all this as a priest.
And yet, I could never say ‘yes.’ The more secure this call became, the more I sensed I could never answer it. It is the most painful struggle I’ve known, for while being in ministerial leadership is natural to me and noted by many, I cannot enter the priesthood. I could not discover the obstacle to my entering seminary at first, for I had both the right equipment and was attracted to the right gender according to institutional guidelines.
Now, the obstacle is clear: the Catholic Church institutionally refuses to recognize in full the dignity of every person, especially women.
For the last few years, I have ministered on the Church’s margins among the gay and transgender community and spent many hours speaking with people about the necessary renewal our Church needs. At one such conference, I found myself at a table with seven women discussing how the Church can uproot the current power dynamics structured against women. Three of the seven shared their experiences of feeling called to ordained ministry and priesthood. In their stories, I saw my own journey of discernment and it became clear that I could not, in good conscience, become ordained while so many were denied access to serve in ministry due to their gender or sexual orientation.
As it was well known I was considering priesthood, I’ve spent a good deal of time at vocation events and speaking with vocation directors. The key point always stressed was the increasing shortage of priests our Church is facing. Relatedly, a wise friend of mine, an older woman as so many of my mentors and spiritual companions have been, once told me that the Church must die before it can rise to new life. Pope Francis, I believe the Church’s current priesthood is dying by the persistent failure of our leaders to welcome more fully all those God is calling to ordained ministry and spiritual leadership. Help raise it into new, renewed life and open up priestly ministry to all God’s people!
Yet, the priest shortage is not the main reason to ordain women. As the Body of Christ, we need each person’s contributions to most fully incarnate God’s kingdom. Denying women their divinely ordained place in our churches harms the Church’s much needed voice against the many injustices which disproportionately harm women, and to which women are often the most capable agents for social change. There are so many people who know they are called by God to lead our Church in renewal and into its finest age as a mediator of God’s love and grace for all. Without all and by denying some, we as the Church, in so many ways, severely wounded in our consistent defense of life and dignity.
Lastly, in perpetuating an exclusionary vision of ministry, the Church commits a sin of its own making by denying women their full dignity. The Church perpetuates the sin of sexism that it has condemned in many other contexts. This sin’s structural occupation of our community causes the personal corruption of too many Catholics’ understandings about God, Christian anthropology, ecclesiology, etc. Ordaining women and restoring them to rightful positions of leadership, for they were the ones who remained at the Cross while Jesus lay dying and the men fled, is a necessary action by which the Church can begin to truly undermine sexism in our religious community and in our world.
Pope Francis: I implore you to end the prohibitions against women’s ministry, ordained and otherwise, in our Church. Until that moment when all are welcomed to the Church as the person God created them to be and able to minister in the manner in which God calls them, I refuse to leave the Church’s margins for ordination.
In Christ’s peace,