Despite strong Vatican opposition, one group is preparing to ordain Cincinnati’s first Roman Catholic woman priest on May 25.
The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) already ordained a woman priest in Louisville, Ky., and it’s hoping to carry the movement around the country, including Cincinnati.
The Vatican and local Catholic leaders oppose the movement, and the ordination isn’t technically legal under the Catholic Church’s rules. But ARCWP says its ordinations put pressure on the Vatican to pull back rules that are keeping it in the past.
Locally, Debra Meyers will be ordained as the first Catholic woman priest. Meyers holds a Ph.D. in history and women’s studies and a master’s in religious studies. She is currently a professor of history and women’s studies at Northern Kentucky University, and she also serves the Resurrection Community in Cincinnati where she promotes equality and social justice. For Meyers, this is a chance to break the glass ceiling and prove women can take up the highest roles in Catholic organizations, which she says is a necessary next step for the Church to keep up with the times.
CityBeat interviewed Meyers about her ordination. The full interview, edited here for clarity and brevity, is available below.
CityBeat: What led to this ordination?
Debra Meyers: I have been a minister for a very long time. My primary focus is single moms with children. One of the reasons is that single mothers and their children make up a vast majority of the impoverished people in the United States today. Without an education — an associate or bachelor’s degree at the very minimum — a woman can’t find a job for a living wage, as opposed to some men who take jobs in construction that don’t require as much of an education.
One of my jobs as an adviser was to make sure that single moms have an opportunity to get an education and break out of this cycle of poverty. My dedication to this particular group has extended to my many volunteer activities. So I’ve been a minister for a long time, and ARCWP offers me an opportunity to solidify what I’m doing.
CB: What is ARCWP’s main goal?
DM: I think that ARCWP is really interested in fulfilling what Jesus Christ promised us, what Paul and the New Testament promised us and certainly what the Vatican II promised us, which is that we were all made in the likes of God and we are all qualified to be prophets, priests and shepherds in this world.
In that view, women are created with equal ability and should be allowed to answer God’s call with equal relevance as men do.
That’s really what we’re all about: We’re just looking for equality for women so that they’re not just second-class citizens that are just washing dishes. We are in fact called by God to do some of the things men are doing. We have the right to fulfill that calling.
CB: Why do you think Vatican officials have been resistant to this movement?
DM: Certainly, the Vatican as an entity has a lot to preserve. It’s been a male-dominated organization from the start. By allowing women in with equal footing, that really disrupts a lot of the male domination that’s been going on.
It also would really press the Vatican to fulfill the promise of Vatican II. That is to be inclusive and welcoming of everyone, which the Church hasn’t done a very good job of in the past 60 years.
CB: Of what other groups do you think the Vatican could be more inclusive, besides women?
DM: The Church should take the message forward — that Jesus didn’t exclude anyone. He welcomed everyone to the table. He welcomed everyone to be part of the faithful group. He welcomed everyone into the New Covenant.
What was promised by God, and all He was asking from all of us, was to love one another. That means everyone, whether you’re gay, lesbian, white or black. It’s an inclusive idea that welcomes every single person that wants to partake.
That’s really another thing that ARCWP is very interested in: helping the Church [understand] that it’s heading down the wrong path by excluding people.
CB: So this group could help cover more than women, and it could help other groups that feel left out, such as LGBT individuals?
DM: Absolutely. For the most part, there’s been a real feeling of alienation for a lot of Roman Catholics because most of us have gay relatives, gay friends and women who have been called by God and been excluded from ordination. We all know people like that. We know nuns that are doing fabulous work, and they’re being pressured to conform to certain things from the Vatican as well.
We’re all beginning to question the exclusiveness of the traditional Roman Catholic Church. All we’re saying is we’re Catholic, we want the Church to really embrace the idea that the congregants are the Church and we really believe in Jesus’ message of the inclusion of everyone.
CB: Recently, a Catholic school teacher was fired for getting pregnant out of wedlock. How do you feel about that kind of situation?
DM: We ought not to be judgmental. There needs to be room for healing above all else. When people are in an environment where they find themselves in difficult positions, they need help; they don’t need judgment.
CB: What do you feel personally qualifies you for this ordination and movement?
DM: As I mentioned before, I’ve been ministering to a variety of people for a very long time as a professor, adviser and social worker at volunteer organizations. But I’ve also had, in addition to my other degrees, a religious studies degree with an emphasis in pastoral care. That certainly qualifies me for this position.
But I got all this experience prior to even knowing about ARCWP. I got it on my own because it was the right thing to do. I was called by God to work for God’s people.
CB: What will your ordination change about your personal position?
DM: I don’t think it’s going to change me all that much. I think it is good for me to be a visual example particularly for women about the promise of a more inclusive Church. It helps women know that they really do have the quality, and they don’t have to suppress it. When they’re called by God, here are examples of how they can fulfill God’s love.
It may open up new doors and possibilities to reach people, and that’s my real hope. This isn’t some kind of stunt or anything. I really do believe in this.
CB: Anything else you’d like to add?
DM: People that are really critical of this movement: I would ask them to really think about how important it is to love our neighbors and love the diversity of our neighbors. Allow people when they are called by God to fulfill that calling. They’re being called to fulfill the greater good, not themselves. For people try to quash that progressive movement forward is really shameful. ©