God’s Tricksters, Prophetic Vision, and Justice in the Church.

I’ve been reading about Catholic Bishop, Patricia Fresen . That’s right: Catholic Bishop, Patricia Fresen.

Bishop Fresen is one of three consecrated Bishops in the Womenpriests movement. Now, I’ve been fascinated by Bishop Fresen since I first heard of her a couple of years ago, but all my natural instincts are in turmoil over this. On the one hand, part of me says this can’t be valid – the Catholic Church does not allow women priests, let alone bishops. On the other, another part of me says, right on! After all, she appears to have been legitimately and validly consecrated by a (male) Catholic bishop in good standing, witnessed by three other male bishops, and other women bishops – who had previously been consecrated themselves, in similar fashion.

women priests

The second feature that appeals to me, that warms the cockles of my heart, is that I share one part of Bishop Fresen’s path of resistance. She and I both spent the major part of our lives in the church in South Africa. As legally “white”, we were both beneficiaries of the apartheid structure. As Catholics, we both accepted the national church’s insistence that it was right and appropriate to stand up against injustice, and to resist, even to disobey, unjust laws. I myself attended several meeting of peace and justice commissions, where the regular slogan was “If you want peace, work for justice”, and quite deliberately ignored and contravened some significant pieces of legislation, opening myself to real risk of prosecution.

Bishop Fresen logically applied church teaching on justice to her own position:

“As she left childhood, she realized that this neat division into black and white was not the Will of God. It was unjust. Through her experience in her Dominican community, which had broken barriers of white and black among the sisters and in their schools, Patricia came to understand that there is a moral obligation to change unjust laws and that this is often done by refusal to obey those laws. Therefore, when she heard about the ordination of seven Catholic women on the Danube in 2002, she immediately recognized that their ordinations were moral resistance to the apartheid of sexism in the Catholic Church.”

I do not know enough about canon law on what constitutes a legitimate episcopal consecration, but I do know that this issue is not going away any time soon. In addition to the women already ordained, they are training more – as well as married and gay men.

[UPDATE: By sheer chance, I stumbled upon this story on Clerical Whispers from 2007, focusing on one of the American women ordained. Have a look here, at the original source, for a different perspective.

I am also struck by the action of the (male) bishop and his colleagues who had the courage to initiate the ordination of womenpriests, and then the consecration of three women bishops, to continue the work. I have been reading Virginia Mollenkott on “God’s Tricksters”, in “Take Back the Word” (ed Goss & Webb).

MollenkottMollenkott argues that for those compelled to read Scripture, and to follow authority from “low and outside” (which includes women, gay men, and especially lesbians), it is sometimes necessary to adopt a certain amount of deception and trickery. This sounds dishonest, but she quotes convincing Scriptural precedents for the strategy (Jeannine Grammik has proposed something similar, for subverting Vatican authority from the inside). I also like Mollenkott’s observations on assigned authority. She is not here speaking of the Catholic Church in particular, but if the cap fits…

“Those who find themselves disadvantaged, on the outside, in the margins as it were, make use of trickery and other forms of manipulative behaviour because they do not have assigned power….Assigned power is just that: assigned (usually by the elite in favour of the elite) but masquerading as divinely ordained, cosmically correct and unquestionably true.” (emphasis mine)

It seems to me that the unnamed male bishops have done just that – used their legitimate authority to ordain & consecrate women priests and bishops. But because the people chosen are women, and therefore not approved in the modern church (the evidence is that this was not also the case: women deacons, and possibly priests, were certainly ordained in the early church), the identity of the consecrating bishops must be kept secret for now.

At Bilgrimage, meanwhile, William Lindsay has been critically discussing the stance of Archbishop Rowan Williams on gay marriage, contrasting it with that of the British Quakers. He notes that what is required here is not endless debate, commissions, scholarship and clear majority support, but the adoption of a prophetic stance against injustice.

“To my mind, what British Friends have just decided to do, and the theological rationale they advance to justify their decision, strongly supports the argument I offered yesterday against the Archbishop of Canterbury’s understanding of how churches change their moral minds. When social attitudes begin to show churches that certain practices they have long taken for granted are no longer morally defensible, churches usually change their moral minds not because they have reached wide agreement about a new moral consensus, or as a result of ongoing study and discussion about the new consensus.

They change their moral minds because prophetic, cutting-edge groups within the churches and outside the churches needle the churches into rethinking their complicity in practices that can no longer be justified on theological, biblical, or moral grounds. “

This is precisely what I was taught by the Church in South Africa, what Bishop Fresen has followed in her calling to the priesthood, and what the Quakers have now done.

See also:

Mollenkott, Virginia Ramey “Reading the Bible from Low and Outside: Lesbitransgay People as God’s Tricksters ” in Take Back the Word, (ed Goss & Webb)

Wild Reed, Women Priests ordained in Minneapolis

Roman Catholic Womenpriests:

From the Womenpriests website:

“Roman Catholic Womenpriests Celebrate Eucharist at
CALL TO ACTION 30th Anniversary Conference
in Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Link to a 9:46 minute video on Google Videos
“Highlights from Roman Catholic Womenpriests‘ liturgy at Call to Action”
this video downloads on either Windows or Mac

Link to a 3:55 minute video on Google Videos
“Roman Catholic Womenpriests Celebrate Eucharist at Call to Action”
this video downloads on either Windows or Mac

Link to a 3:44 minute video on Google Videos
“A New Inclusive Model of Priestly Ministry”
this video downloads on either Windows or Mac”

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