(Certainly one of the most hopeful developments in the Roman Catholic Church has been the ordination of women as priests and bishops. This week I am pleased to post this letter, sent to me by my friend Bishop Nancy Louise Meyer. It is dated January 6, 2023. – Jack)

An Open Letter to: the People of God, Pope Francis, Curia Officials, Conferences of Bishops in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia and Oceania

Hope arrived for women in the Roman Catholic Church at the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Pope John XXIII called the Church to open the doors and windows and to “read the signs of the times”. When Pope Francis recently called for a global synodal process, we, the women bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, dared again to hope that the leadership of the Church would listen and walk with all the People of God. 

In a November interview published in America magazine, Pope Francis attempts to justify the exclusion of women from ordained ministry utilizing the archaic, patriarchal theology that Jesus was a man and he chose men as his apostles, therefore, priests must also be male.  He appealed to the medieval spousal imagery of an active-receptive relationship, in which the Church is the bride and the priest the bridegroom. This disregards the fundamental message of the Gospel and contradicts our baptismal oneness in Christ: “. . . there is no longer male nor female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)  Baptism rests on faith, not on gender, not nationality, nor any other form of discrimination.

In the interview, Francis fails to acknowledge the many times in Scripture where women are chosen by God or Jesus to minister. Mary of Magdala was proclaimed ‘Apostle to the Apostles’ and a host of other women named in Scripture went out to proclaim the Good News in the early church. The argument that maleness is necessary for ordination damages the Church and greater society.  A church subjugating women with their structures supports similar subjugation in the world. In this the Roman Catholic Church violates its own words from the Second Vatican Council which states that, “Forms of social or cultural discrimination in basic personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language or religion, must be curbed or eradicated as incompatible with God’s designs.”(Gaudium et Spes 29) Francis’ attempt to justify the exclusion of women from ordination is a failure to “read the signs of the times” and to understand the basic human rights of all members of the Church.

Roman Catholic Women deacons, priests and bishops have answered the call of God and their communities through valid ordination in apostolic succession. We are providing a vibrant experience of community and sacraments where we live. We are not responsible for people leaving the Church, we are bringing people back to the faith. We heal those grievously wounded by physical, emotional and spiritual abuse and exclusion. We offer a model of church easily recognizable as Roman Catholic, but offering transparency of governance, the inclusion of those marginalized, and recognition of gender equality.

We call on Pope Francis and the Conferences of Bishops in Europe, the Americas, Africa, Asia, Australia and Oceania to meet with us, the Roman Catholic Women Bishops serving across the world. Despite his call for dialogue, Pope Francis refuses to engage in authentic conversation with us. Francis can use his Petrine key to unlock that door.

On behalf of Roman Catholic Women deacons, priests and bishops around the world:

+Jane Kryzanowski, Regina, SK, Canada; photina61@gmail.com,

+Martha Sherman, Washington, IA; revmmsherman@gmail.com

+Mary Eileen Collingwood, Cleveland, OH, USA; mecreg6@yahoo.com

+Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger, Pettenbach, Austria; mmcml@almnet.at

+Jane Via, San Diego, CA, USA; janevia17@gmail.com

+Olga Lucia Álvarez Benjumea, Envigado, Colombia

+Jean Marie Marchant, Boston, MA, USA

+Suzanne Avison Thiel, Portland, OR, USA

+Mary Keldermans, Springfield, IL, USA

+Ida Raming, Stuttgart, Germany

+Bridget Mary Meehan, Sarasota, FL, USA

+Marie Evans Bouclin, Sudbury, ON, Canada

+Merlene Olivia Doko, Pismo Beach, CA, USA

+Andrea Michele Johnson, Annapolis, MD, USA

+Sibyl Dana Reynolds, Pebble Beach, CA, USA

+Joan Clark Houk, South Bend, IN, USA

+Patricia Fresen, Johannesburg, South Africa

+Nancy Louise Meyer, Brownsburg, IN, USA

+Dr. Gisela Forster, Berg, Germany


17 thoughts on “An Open Letter from Roman Catholic Women Bishops

  1. It is heart-warming to see that there are so many Catholic women bishops – I had no idea!

    But is it realistic to expect Pope Francis to engage seriously with them? To use his Petrine key to unlock the door? I’m usually an optimist, but in this case not. It was Francis who canonised John Paul II, and to do anything that calls into question the teaching contained in JP2’s Ordinatio Sacerdotalis would be a step too far, even for him. It would give ammunition to his many enemies, who would triumphantly shout “We told you so!”

    But miracles can happen, so I won’t give up hope.

  2. Thank you so much for this ever-timely Open Letter.  Here are my four comments and a quote, to wit:

    1)  Yesterday was the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, forever tattooed on my brain from my days at “our” eponymous seminary in Saginaw… all boys, all men, and one senior Dominican Sister who gamely taught us Science, Chemistry, Physics….  Is it not ironically prophetic that this Open Letter, from priestly women in the PRESENT church, comes along?  Yes it is, and I hope– once again– that it might instigate a Damascus-moment for that church to live as women see it and work it.  In living organisms, if structure determines function, and if “determine” means limited and tied-down, then change the structure, get some metanoia, eshew limited perspectives, see the small-C catholic wholeness of Reality.  That is the point of the Incarnation, Epiphany and Transfiguration, after all.  [Please pardon my hortatory subjunctives: I’m excited to see this Open Letter, thank y’all again.]

    2)  Maybe my reading of religious evolution limps, but to me it seems that Christ Jesus of the gospels is not really the spirit of, or even tracking true on some points of, what Emperor Constantine of Nicaea etc. wrought upon the then-known world, upon “Mare Nostrum” as the imperial Romans called it.  [“Claudicat,” an emperor might say of the gospel, “It limps.”]  It doesn’t take much of a mental ellipsis to see that the consistent structural sin of the imperial church is a mortal one, a structural metastasis not just a limp, a sixth “Mass extinction” caused by male methane (lotta hot air) blowing through Sunday Masses monitored by the Vatican for almost two millennia.  However, take heart: what’s a millennium or two in the grand scheme of Life on this fragile Earth, our island home?  Meanwhile, mutation happens, many churches have real women as deacons, priests and bishops, molded by scripture itself. 

    3)  Opening the windows of the Roman church, as we used to say, was the great hope of Pope “Juan-2-3” Roncalli, bringing bravely to this Earth the convening of Vatican-2.  The assembled inside-male clergy-avatars of the restructured memory of Jesus of Nazareth would then hear, see, taste, smell and touch the sensational life of Earth as a whole.  After all, in facing the a-perspecitval Origin of the Real, Earth was-is-and ever will be catholic, whole, “ab initio,” or as the “Last Gospel” used to remind us at the second ending of every Mass, “In principio erat Verbum…”  That is an elegant two-dimensional perspective, from our historical consciousness, Copernican one could say, not quite up-to-snuff scientific by our standards but still evocative through time.  Skipping over Galileo (“Eppur si muove!”) and the third dimension, we still shy away from that intuited-but-real fourth-dimensional Presence.  I shrink from the hard work in my own life of personal change of heart and mind that the Spirit requires, it never ends, to see the whole beyond the parts, or to be quantum about it, to see the hole beyond the particles.  That work, like aging, is not for sissies.  [I could say, “Man-up,” but that verb makes all the amazing women in my family life laugh.] 
    4)  Half of this old world is female, not male, and the valiant but incomplete role that the inside-males assigned, historically, to the mother of Jesus, whose name is Mary (or Maryam, Myriam, Miriam, etc.) never entered the level of dogmatic inside structure effectively to change up, to mutate out of rigid brittle static doctrines, to the true perception of what the whole of humanity IS…. or I should say of Sapiens, of who WE ARE.  For all the good it did in the books, it seems that Vatican-2 was possibly toned down by the revanchist “new catechism,” such that metanoia cannot happen that way: the structural mutation necessary to perceive the a-dimensional truth of what being human is, of what the Incarnation IS, not WAS, cannot happen, lacking structural brain-change, mutating the way we think, yearn, act.  This is not a Darwinian or Lamarckian extension, it is beyond existential, a “spiritual matter,” a matter of the Spirit, on behalf of this fragile Earth OUR island home.  SHE depends on OUR doing just that– regarding truly what is the whole that Creator-Origin [“God” is too male– our language limps, “claudicat”] intends and is doing right here in this fleshy-now.  Earth will trundle on, but a poorer place without us.  Let’s get a wiggle on, with the spiritual awakening– “awaring” and accepting with intent that metanoia, the next mutation of human consciousness.  Not to be too rhetorical, but, who but us can do that?  I think it might be a response to the Call, “Follow Me,” and “Do this in remembrance of Me.”  

    Finally: Dr. Schweitzer 119 years ago concluded in his “Quest for the Historical Jesus,” using his verbal tenses wisely: “He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side… He speaks to us the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’ and sets us to the tasks that He has to fulfill for our time… And to those who obey, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself…”  I read this often, when “us” means “y’all,” and “all-y’all,” in the hospitable tradition of the South that I encountered in my time at Charm City, Baltimore MD.

  3. For your Readers information…This letter was very controversial within the rank and file of the working women priests in the field. There are different ways to approach this and many of us are not on board with the signers (Bishops) of this letter. The dollars it took to run this ad could have been spent in many different and holistic ways. Most embarrassing is the letters Euro-centric focus. Francis’ hope is that he is Argentinian and use to be a bouncer at Tango club. I would have written the letter more as a dance partner… Oh well, who asked me? Not the Euro-centric women bishops. The Church is moving too fast to get stuck in un-finished business and angst. God Bless them, though…C for effort.
    Rev. Dr. Cynthia Yoshitomi
    Oxnard, CA

  4. Wow! Are we watching the beginning of a new chapter in the history of our Church? What impressed me most was that this declaration is not one of separation or schism from the Roman Catholic Church. Rather, it states the desire for full participation in the sacramental life of the Church. It challenges all of us who declare ourselves Catholic to self-check to see if we really commit to what “small c” catholic really is. Do we believe that all are invited to the banquet? Do we stand for or against inclusion without reservation? The legitimate question was asked: is “tradition” the only obstacle to ordination of women? I hope we are on the cusp of positive growth in our faith. What an astounding moment!
    Frank Skeltis

  5. The Catholics in Japan kept the Faith going for 3 centuries (16th – 19th centuries)
    without clergy — so there is still hope for us all!

  6. In commenting about Roman Catholic women priests and the maleness of Roman clergy, I must return to ask forgiveness for failing to temper my words under the situational criterion of “Who am I to judge?” This is a quote from Pope Francis, an unscripted, situational, in-flight interview touching on gay (male) priests searching for the Lord with good will.

    Like all occupants of the Vatican palace, and even in an airplane, Francis sits on a hot-seat (St. Peter’s), an untenable position from almost any perspective, no matter the gender: even so, that church isn’t moving fast enough. No one really knows how near or far our religious considerations veer from the personal model of Jesus of Nazareth, the Word Incarnate, dwelling among us, and sometimes prefigured as Lady Sophia, and Ruach in Genesis, present “in scripture and tradition” as we say so often. Scripture? The Word is not in a two-dimensional book or in a 3-D building, it is experiencing the passionate speaker and the intent, rapt listener. Tradition? Sometimes called the living faith of dead people, it isn’t a flesh-to-flesh expression of faith, of meeting someone in whom Jesus the Word is present. The signs and symbols and objects of sacraments are a bit deflated and ineffective next to the living Presence of the originating Word of Creation, in the person next to you. Do we really believe that the Presence of the Incarnate One enfolds the whole of Reality, and one another? If so, this itself is a statement of the a-perspectival reality: of compassion and camaraderie with all who suffer oppression and injustice, especially from “surplus powerlessness,” to use Michael Lerner’s term, an imposed voicelessness– elemental absurdity.

    The Absurd is like the cosmic microwave background against which restructuring of consciousness affects how religions work, in the venerable Roman Catholic church particularly. Claiming for itself its origin in that historical scandal of particularity, i.e., the Incarnation, for this institution’s function into the future, it needs gender INclusivity to be truly an inherent, recurrent, internal, structural process. Although the past is not dead, nor is it even past, history (or herstory) is a considerable inheritance but not a determinant, only slices of limited perspectives. The future is mysteriously whole, AND in the fleshy-now of our own hands, in tandem with– a Tango!– “the Lord of the Absurd,” to use Fr. Raymond Nogar’s term. The Absurd unfolds (by implication) over time in an ever-expanding fulfillment, beyond reason and tempting discouragement (as Sr. Mary Basil Bacon noted in her 1968 review of Nogar’s book), with all the entailed dramatic mess. “Ite, missa est. Deo gratias.” The Eucharist sometimes does resemble the mess hall: the aftermath is not as tidy as Teilhard, perhaps, would like. Cleaning up– “Kitchen Patrol”– is never fair or just, it seems, but KP isn’t about justice. Feeding the Five Thousand is about strength for resisting injustice, not for solace only, but even for rebelling at times.

    I should try at least try not to add to the bitterness of sexism and male exclusivity. There is a third way: wariness for human dignity, camaraderie, non-violence, and holistic realization of spiritual consciousness, the truth about Reality as it is. Writing wrestles with metanoia and true consciousness of the whole expansion of the real Presence. (How do I know what I think if I don’t read what I write? ) What is happening to religion, and the current experiences of the church of Rome in particular, feel like a personal tragedy, but they are birth pangs, I hope, not violence or revenge on both sides erupting as “justice.” To paraphrase Camus the writer, if that is justice, I prefer my family. Meanwhile, if I can’t work, I can write, on two fronts: refuse to lie about what I know, and resist the abuse of power and nihilism. I know that something new and holistic is approaching, and the horizon is a perspective too limited. Awareness is changing, with the true a-perspectival “fourth-dimension” of spiritual perception.

    In “Romeo and Juliet,” her private response to the mess she’s in elicits this prayer, which begins: “Is there no pity sitting in the clouds,/ That sees into the bottom of my grief?” Today, my internet exchanges sometimes lack pity from “the cloud” but more often find sympathy and at least confluence of thinking with others while the COVID plague endures, so I am grateful For Another Voice.

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