The Third International Conference of Women’s Ordination Worldwide – 18 - 21 September 2015

A week before the Pope was due to visit the city, over 500 people gathered in Philadelphia to address and explore issues affecting Catholic women in the world today.  450 women and 50 men, including religious sisters and priests, from the United States and around the world met in the Marriott Hotel in downtown Philadelphia, discussing topics ranging from an exciting gender policy in India, new research on Mary as priest, the theology of the body and the hidden history of women’s ordination. There was a screening of the film Radical Grace, made by a young woman film-maker, tracing several months in the lives of three Catholic women, each called to an extraordinary ministry.

There were contributions from distinguished Catholic feminist theologians Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza, Ursula King and Tina Beattie, a message from Joan Chittister and a rousing session with Sr Teresa Forcades, known as ‘Europe’s most radical nun’. With a wealth of talks, panel discussions, academic seminars, vibrant worship and over 20 workshops on offer, it was a packed, stimulating and moving time. There was also an all-male panel, with each of the men telling their stories of the costliness of speaking out in favour of women’s ordination.

I was invited by WOW to speak on an interfaith panel, along with a female Jewish rabbi, a Mormon feminist, a Muslim feminist and a former Dominican nun, now a priest since her ordination with Roman Catholic Womenpriests. We shared our very disparate experiences and backgrounds and also found much common ground in the struggle for the equality of women in our different churches and faiths. I also participated in an early morning spirituality workshop exploring how men and women can work together, in spite of unequal gender relations.

It was a huge pleasure to make new friends and to meet up with many UK friends, including Pat Brown, Miriam Duignan, Collette Joyce, Katharine Salmon, Tina Beattie and Ursula King, and to meet Luca Badini, now working with the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research in England.

I learned a lot. I had not known that the host organisation, the Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) had been going for forty years. I had not realised the extent of the growth of Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a group that has taken the decision to ordain women as priests and bishops. I was deeply impressed with how all those present supported and respected one another, despite having chosen different paths.

WOW is an international network of groups from around the world whose mission is to see Catholic women admitted to all ordained ministries in the Church. The organisers intended that the conference will have helped to ensure that ‘commitment to ordination equality is recognised as an integral part of freeing ourselves from centuries of discrimination.’ WATCH was included among the list of Friends of WOW and will, I know, continue to walk in solidarity and in hope with our Catholic sisters.

Christina Rees