In the past year Dignity/Washington has embarked on an education and discernment process to determine whether it would welcome women priests to preside at its Sunday Masses. The Board formed a Women Presiders Task Force, chaired by former Dignity/Washington president Allen Rose, whose duties included inviting speakers to present varied viewpoints on the issue at a series of community-wide discussions.
The following is a digest of the community presentations to date.
1. General Introduction Meeting
Approximately 70 people attended this first Community Discussion held for an hour in October 2013 after Sunday Mass. The community sat in a circle and everyone spoke for a few minutes to share their views on the subject of Dignity/Washington using women priests as presiders.
2. Joe Hennessey: Models of Catholicism
After Mass on Sunday, November 10, 2013, Joe Hennessey, priest-presider at Dignity/Washington, and president of the Board of Dignity/Northern Virginia, presented his reflections on models of the Church drawn from society and church history, including the hierarchical, the charismatic and the mission/ministry models. He traced the historical challenges to dominant models of the Church and how several legitimate models of the Church can coexist.
He asked questions like: how do individual members of D/W, and the community as a whole, describe what the Church is? how does D/W understand and fulfill its role and purpose? what does it mean for D/W to be asking questions about its own liturgical and sacramental practices? He proposed that the model(s) of Church that eventually predominate(s) at D/W will influence its understanding of its own sacramental role and how best to mediate the presence of Christ.
Finally, he maintained that D/W is a community, a family, a people united in faith and love and that any decision on the issue of women presiders, whether for or against, does not translate to “people who think that way are out to harm the community.” Citing Saint Paul, he reminded attendees that we owe no one anything but the debt of loving each other and working for the good of the community in honesty, respect and love.
3. Panel with Members of Dignity/Washington
On January 12, 2014 Dignity/Washington held a presentation by a panel comprised of several of its members on what D/W means to them. They were asked to speak briefly on why they come to D/W, what they find there and why they remain committed participants.
One panelist stated that he could never participate in a church where he could not be who he is and that D/W was for him a place of comfort and security to be sent forth.
Another panelist related that he had come to D/W out of curiosity in 1976 and his involvement over the years had helped him understand himself and integrate aspects of his life.
Still another panelist, a university student, disclosed that, as she found D/W and became involved, she was happy to discover that she could keep her Catholic faith while being a lesbian.
A fourth panelist expressed gratitude for having an intentional, intimate community where he can integrate and celebrate his identity as both gay and Catholic. He spoke of the power of Mass for him and feeling part of the larger Catholic community; he believed that D/W provided a witness and healing to those hurt by their Catholic parishes.
Lastly, another panelist stated that he too had found Dignity helpful in his integration of being Catholic and gay and that, as part of the D/W Young Adult group, D/W felt more like home than other churches. He stated that it was his purpose to make the D/W community better.
4. Reflections on the Priesthood
At an after-Mass Community Discussion held in February 2014 five of Dignity/Washington’s current presiders (Fathers Steve, Alexei, Joe, Paul in person and Bob by proxy) discussed their call to the priesthood, priesthood in general, and their views about the legitimacy of having women priests act as presiders for D/W. A full range of opinions regarding of the validity of women’s ordination were expressed. This gathering completed the first part of the discernment process that gave members the opportunity to describe what kind of community D/W is to them.
5. Mary Hunt: Feminist Theology
Noted theologian Mary Hunt and founder of Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual (WATER) was the featured speaker at the Dignity/Washington community conversation held on March 16 to study and reflect upon the importance of the Eucharist in the life of the chapter. Another objective of the event was to discern whether D/W will allow Roman Catholic ordained women to preside at its liturgies. Dr. Hunt presented various responses from women of faith to the Washington, DC pivotal address of Sr. Theresa Kane, then president of the Leadership Conference of Religious Women, before Pope John Paul II in 1979, responses that continue to spark renewal and creative engagement today. The Q & A period sharpened the focus on several key considerations, including “do we need a presider to have a Eucharist?” and “how do we foster the emergence of a more horizontal form of leadership in the Church where there is a discipleship of equals that fully includes women?”
6. Jaimie Manson: Women In Ministry
Dignity/Washington welcomed, Catholic lay minister, Jaimie Manson, to lead a Community Discussion on April 6 after Dignity/Washington’s Sunday Mass. She spoke of her pastoral experiences while serving two Manhattan churches and the homeless population of NYC. She focused on women in ministry, presenting examples from her own upbringing as a young woman who wanted one day to be a Catholic priest. She noted that despite receiving the same training and education as a man she still could not be ordained. While frustrated in her vocation she stated that she remained loyal to the Church as the people of God. Jaimie holds a Master’s of Divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, is a writer for the weekly column Grace on the Margins for the National Catholic Reporter, and has led retreats and workshops nationally.
7. Tim MacGeorge: The Vatican’s View on Women’s Ordination
Following its Sunday Mass on May 18th, another in a series of community conversations for education and discernment regarding women presiders at Mass was led by Tim MacGeorge, former Dignity/Washington presider and homilist, who expressed surprise that he had been invited from Florida where he now lives to share his thoughts on the subject. He presented the Vatican’s current position on women priests, based in large part on Pope John Paul II 1994 Apostolic Letter on the Ordination of Priests and the pertinent canons from the 1983 Code of Canon law. The subsequent often impassioned discussion centered on several considerations including the ramifications that having women preside at its Masses would have on Dignity/Washington’s relationship with the Archdiocesan hierarchy. The question was raised whether or not the D/W community wanted to continue to be recognizably Catholic with its Masses, and would it be so if it had women presiding at Mass.
8. Rev. Ann Penick: Liturgy and Presentation on WomenPriests
As part of the discernment process whether to credential women as presiders at Dignity/Washington, its Women Presiders Task Force invited Rev. Ann Penick, a Roman Catholic Womanpriest, as a guest to preside at a liturgy held on the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on Saturday, June 28.
Basing her remarks on the feast’s Gospel of the Holy Family’s pilgrimage to Jerusalem when Jesus was 12 and how Mary and Joseph anxiously searched for him when they were separated, Rev. Ann highlighted Mary’s recollection of the angel Gabriel’s words to her twelve years earlier that Jesus was destined to be the Savior and Christ; it was the memory that got her through this and many other painful events in her life. She exhorted all to have that same kind of trust and hope in the promises of God.
Following the liturgy, Rev. Ann was given the opportunity to recount how she came to discern her call to ordained priestly ministry and the influential people and events over the years that convinced her that her call was from God. She charted this journey from her early days in Chicago as a convert to Catholicism at age 19 and through her involvement and training in many lay pastoral ministries in parishes and college campuses in Birmingham, Alabama, Charleston, SC, and Boston until she applied and was accepted for the ordination process of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests-USA .
She described the credentialing as including, among several other requirements: her master’s degree in pastoral ministry from Boston College, a psychological evaluation, a criminal background check, several letters of reference, an admissions interview with the formation staff of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, and a full year of study and formation in priestly ministry. She was ordained a deacon in May 2010 and a priest the following year. She regularly presides at house and family liturgies in Baltimore and officiates at baptisms and weddings. She and her husband make their home in Southern Maryland. She, and all other Roman Catholic Womenpriests, are fully vetted and certified through the Federation of Christian Ministries, an ecumenical and national certification and commissioning organization.
A lively Q & A session with Rev. Ann ensued that lasted over an hour. For more information she may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
9. Community Wrap-Up Meeting
Once again after Sunday Mass on July 13 at St. Margaret’s roughly forty attendees in large group were asked to tell which aspects of Dignity/Washington drew them to it. These were, in order of importance to the group, from greatest to least: community, sacraments, Catholic, justice, inclusion, support, faith, apostolic succession, LGBTQ and love. Then the group sub-divided into six smaller groups each led by a member of the Task Force and given about thirty minutes to discuss the question: what is the most important thing that the Board should consider when making its decision regarding whether or not to include women as presiders?
10. Final Upcoming Community Discussion
On Sunday, July 27th, the final in a series of community conversations for education and discernment on women presiders at Dignity/Washington Masses will be held in the church social hall at St. Margaret’s immediately following the 6:00 PM Mass. All interested members of the Dignity/Washington community are invited and encouraged to come and participate in drawing together all the various threads of the months-long discernment process on this very important issue. The event is scheduled to last roughly one hour. If you are unable to attend but would like to comment, please send your views by e-mail to Allen Rose, Women Presiders Task Force chairman, at email@example.com or see a member of the Board.
A final decision on the issue of women presiders at Dignity/Washington’s Masses is expected in the fall 2014 by its Board of Directors, following the recommendation of its Women Presiders Task Force based on this education and discernment process. The community is encouraged to continue to pray that the Holy Spirit may guide and enlighten its leaders to make a decision in wisdom that will foster its growth in the love of Christ for each other, the wider Church and all of society.