ARLENE VIOLET – Church moves (slowly) toward holy women

ARLENE VIOLET – Church moves (slowly) toward holy women

Maybe it was because on the same day the announcement was made, I received the fall 2019 newsletter of the Northeast Sisters of Mercy. I smiled as I read the profile of Rhode Island’s Mercy nun, Sister Amelia Carpentier. The snapshot of her life captured her teaching career in Providence before she left for Belize in 1962 to work after a terrible hurricane there. She had 50 5-year-old boys in her first class. She conducted workshops, training local teachers in every school in Belize, many of which were difficult to reach. She and another sister traveled on rivers by dory. Outlier schools had no paper or pencils and the children had sticks and wrote in the sand. She expressed gratitude for all that the Belize people taught her along with her colleague nuns at Mount St. Rita Health Center, in Cumberland, whose stories made her realize that the nuns there brought Mercy to all parts of the world.

The same newsletter focused on “Team Mercy,” a group of senior citizen nuns and associates who took part in the annual walk for a temporary shelter, which raises money for sheltering the homeless or people who are at risk of losing their homes in Vermont. The Mercies had co-founded the group. The New Hampshire Mercy community celebrated the abolition of the death penalty in the state after taking a corporate stand against it since 1997. A climate symposium was held for 150 leaders, spearheaded by Mercy Sister, Mary Pendergast. Four young women took finals vows, one an immigration lawyer in New York City, another a geriatric nurse practitioner, another a spiritual director and the fourth, Sister Marybeth Beretta, president of Bay View Academy in East Providence. These stories were only part of the ministries that the newsletter reported.

So, bursting with affection for this prayerful group where I witnessed for 23 years their persistent commitment to social justice and their ministries, I was somewhat taken aback by the Catholic bishops’ recommendation that Pope Francis allow the ordination of married men as priests in the Amazon region. The recommendation is limited to remote areas in South America because of the scarcity of priests and could set a precedent for easing the restriction on married priests throughout the world. They did not vote to allow women to become deacons in the church, despite the Pope’s urging.

I think that married men (and women) should be eligible for ordination, assuming they meet all the criteria indigenous to the vocation. In the early church, married men (starting with St. Peter), were ordained. Eventually, the church grew worried about property passing to the priest’s family instead of the church so celibacy was introduced in the 11th and 12th centuries.

While the nuns in the Mercy newsletter may or may not have aspired to be priests, they would have been fabulous ministers. I have met wonderful lay women also who would be remarkable priests. The ban of women is quite simply sexism. Pope Francis after the vote told the bishops that the Vatican will continue to study the role of women from the early church. “We still haven’t grasped the significance of women in the church,” the Pope noted, “Their role must go beyond questions of function.”

Right on, Pope! Wake up, bishops!

Violet is an attorney and former state attorney general. She was a Sister of Mercy earlier in life.