Working Women

Article excerpt

In my first year as a seminarian in 1992 I attended the ordinations of our diocese's deacon class--always at Thanksgiving--where I ran into our then-director of evangelization, a Sister of Mercy.

"The bishop is avoiding me," she told me with a grin. It turns out they'd had a dustup at the funeral of a permanent deacon just that week. In his homily the bishop had noted that because of the late gentleman's service to the church over the years, the church had made him a deacon. "No one ever offered to make me a deacon," said the decades-professed sister to the bishop after Mass--with evident feeling.

When shepherd and sister met again just minutes later, it was the bishop who seemed sheepish. But then both smiled and hugged as sister said, "I just get frustrated sometimes."

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"Me, too," said the bishop.

Two years later, Pope John Paul II removed from Catholic debate the issue of the ordination of women to the priesthood in his apostolic letter Ordinatio sacerdotalis. But while that particular question is no longer open to official Catholic discussion, the movement of women into Catholic ministry and positions of authority continues.

That growth has not been without bumps, including the 1999 tabling, at the behest of the Vatican, of a U.S. bishops' pastoral letter on the role of women in the church. Such controversies, however, are but a small part of the story--especially with women now making up around 80 percent of professional lay ministers in the church. …