Breaking the Stained Glass Ceiling

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When the choir sang “All Are Welcome” as Christine Fahrenbach walked down the aisle of St. John the Baptist Church at her ordination ceremony last Saturday, the hymn took on a whole new meaning.

Though she couldn’t consciously articulate it at the time, Fahrenbach knew she wanted to be a Catholic priest ever since she was a little girl.

“I was the kid who played priest with a cup of grape juice and used Necco candies as communion,” Fahrenbach said.

Fahrenbach attended Catholic school from the elementary all the way to university level, and finished her Master of Divinity in her early twenties, along with a Ph.D. in psychology.

Spirituality had always been an integral part of Fahrenbach’s life, but it was the dogma of the institution she followed that prevented her from answering her calling.

The Roman Catholic Church refuses to ordain womenpriests, but Fahrenbach fulfilled her lifelong aspiration before 130 friends, family and supporters when she was ordained into Roman Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP), a movement within the Catholic Church. However, the Church itself refuses to recognize RCWP as a legitimate movement.

“The Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women,” Fahrenbach said. “It says it has no authority to ordain women. The Church won’t talk about it, so there’s no conversation. RCWP took it as its mission to find a way to ordain womenpriests and to work toward a new model of what it was to be Church and what it means to be a priest.”

RCWP differs from the Roman Catholic Church in its inclusive language, with prayers not saying “thy kingdom come,” but “thy kindom come” and not “our father who art in Heaven” but “our father and mother who art in Heaven.” RCWP also differs in its inclination toward open dialogue on topics seemingly untouchable to the Church, such as abortion, birth control and homosexuality, among others.

“RCWP is committing ecclesial disobedience,” Fahrenbach said. “It’s similar to civil disobedience — it’s where you disobey an unjust law to create a conversation in order to bring that issue to a level of consciousness so it can be talked about. People don’t talk about it, so let’s give them something to talk about.”

The movement began in 2002 when seven women were ordained by three Roman Catholic bishops — whose identities have never been revealed due to fear of excommunication — on a ship in the Danube River. Those womenpriests then ordained other womenpriests, following the Roman Catholic Church’s practice of apostolic succession.

RCWP ordained over 100 priests worldwide since its founding, but despite its practice of apostolic succession, the Church refuses to recognize RCWP’s legitimacy.

In 2010, the Vatican implemented a new policy — giving the ordination of a womanpriest the status of delicta graviora, a grave crime against the Church. Although 59 percent of American Catholics favor the ordination of women, according to a 2010 survey by the New York Times and CBS, in the Catholic Church, ordaining a womanpriest is comparable to child molestation.

Another grave crime in the Catholic Church is homosexuality. Fahrenbach was aware of her desire for priesthood at a young age, but didn’t realize she was a lesbian until her early twenties. Her gender combined with her sexuality subjected her to prejudice, Fahrenbach said.

“Discrimination by the Church because I’m a woman. That’s a big discrimination. I’m a lesbian, that’s a pretty big discrimination there. I’m not really a person to them,” Fahrenbach said. “The Church’s rhetoric on homosexuality and gay people is just hideous. You’re intrinsically disordered — that could be further from the truth.”

Although the Catholic Church condemned Fahrenbach for her sexuality, she said she always felt closer to God than any institution, which is why she didn’t feel ashamed when she realized her homosexuality at age 22.

“I felt so alive and I never had a moment where I felt God would hate me,” Fahrenbach said. “If anything, I felt closer to God because I was more true to myself. Being who you are is, if you want to talk in religious language, that’s what God’s plan for you is — to be who you are. God doesn’t make those kinds of mistakes.”