THE BLOG

Happy to Be a Heretic

08/11/2015 20:31 GMT | Updated 08/11/2016 10:12 GMT

"You can't be a Catholic priest; you're a woman. There's no such thing as a female Catholic priest," said the man at the party who'd assumed that asking me what I did for a living would be a matter of routine.

He wasn't interested in discovering more; from that moment, all he wanted to do was to get his glass of Merlot and the last handful of Twiglets as far away from me as possible. I was much too scary - and he wasn't even a Catholic.

At least he didn't presume that I was a bloke in drag. But then nobody would. If that were the case, I'd have big hair, fabulous boobs and much, much better make-up.

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Others, thank God, are more open to the idea. My local BBC radio station in Devon happily books me to do Sunday morning services and Pauses for Thought; my diary is filled with weddings, baptisms and funerals and I spent a year as a volunteer hospital chaplain where just a few Catholic women held tightly to my hand and said they could die happily now they knew that the tide had turned.

I was ordained in 2007, the year before the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith ruled that all Catholic women ordained and any bishops who ordained them were automatically excommunicated. That edict, they say, is irrevocable.

It's certainly not going to be one of the things that the lovely Pope Francis is going to reverse; two years ago he excommunicated an Australian priest and activist, Fr. Greg Reynolds, who supports LGBT rights, marriage equality and women's ordination.

My church, The Flower of Carmel, supports all those too.

People expect me to get het up about women's ordination and to campaign for it but, apart from that being on a hiding to nothing, I don't think it matters.

Why?

Firstly, because looking for permission is not the point: the ability to do a job comes from doing the job, not from waiting until someone tells you that you are allowed to do the job. Real change comes from the grass roots, not from the top. And, if you'll forgive my mixing metaphors, when it comes to Catholic women priests the toothpaste is well and truly out of the tube. Catholic women are out there doing the work and if the Vatican doesn't like it there's only one thing they can actually do with any power - the truly Christian thing; they can forgive us!

The second reason is that God doesn't care what religion you are or even if you have one. That's ego and God is not about ego even though most religion teaches that He/She/It is. God has not read the small print. The small print is the religious stuff we've added in to the basic rules of 'be nice to each other' that underpin the Ten Commandments. You must have noticed by now that God doesn't rain thunderbolts on people who break 'the rules.'

The whole Christian faith is based on the life and work of one Jesus of Nazareth who broke the rules right left and centre. Jesus railed against the religious folk who thought the law was more important than love. He healed the poor, the misfits, the lost. He lived an inclusive life. That's what love does.

The small print against women's ordination doesn't come from Jesus, it comes from St. Paul who lived in Roman society where women weren't allowed out on the streets on their own, let alone permitted to speak in public. That's just how it was then; it wouldn't have been acceptable or even safe for a woman to be a priest openly. But the job of a minister - any kind of minister - is to be a servant of the Living God, not to live in the history books.

There's no point in campaigning against the Vatican. We must appreciate the great weight of responsibility on their shoulders and allow them to be museum curators. All humans are beloved of God and deserving of respect and forgiveness whatever their faith or none. Religion can be a great pathway for that one great truth - or a terrible impediment to it.

Jesus was a heretic. Joan of Arc was a heretic. Martin Luther King was a heretic. Ghandi was a heretic. Theresa of Avila managed to hide it very carefully from the Spanish Inquisition but she was a heretic. Maimonides, the now-esteemed Jewish Rabbi, was originally thought to be completely off the wall. It is heretics who change the world and heretics can never expect to be accepted by the current regime. It's not our job to expect it - or even to want it. It's our job to do what Jesus did: work with and heal those who are bruised and broken by life and its small print.

Yes, it's nice to wear priestly robes - although for we women priests they are usually way too big because no one's making them off-the-rack for us yet. I'm 5ft 3ins and when I'm robed up, I'm basically wearing a tent.

It's nice to do the bells and smells and it's heavenly to officiate at Mass (where, in our church, everyone is welcome). But I was doing funerals and rituals for those who needed them and writing books about Jesus, women and mysticism long before I was ordained because actually doing the work is what it is all about.

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In this line of business you do what God wants you to do, even and especially if it is against the official rules. His/Her/Its latest ministry for me is to be a stand-up comedian as well as a heretic priest. It's fun, scary and a huge challenge... and now both my mother and my bishop think I should get a proper job.

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