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Women priests are defying Catholic doctrine to follow their vocation

caption: Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.
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Pope Francis celebrates Mass at the Vatican, Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019.
Giuseppe Lami/Pool Photo via AP

Catholic bishops from around the world are meeting this month at the Vatican to discuss possible reforms, including the potential for a greater role of women in the church.

It’s part of a years-long process known as the Synod on Synodality, which will conclude next year, but some Catholics aren’t waiting to get approval from the pope.

That’s the case with "Father Anne."

While living in Portland, Ore., she began attending a Jesuit parish near her home. That’s when, unexpectedly, she felt called to the priesthood.

It doesn’t take a master's degree in divinity to know that women cannot be priests in the Catholic Church. In fact, they’re immediately excommunicated when they are ordained.

So Father Anne said she looked for alternate ways to serve according to church doctrine, such as liturgical ministries, leading retreats, and pastoral administration.

Still, she felt like God was calling her to the priesthood — not a substitute, subordinate role, she said. With the support of a group of feminist rebels bucking Vatican orthodoxy, she was ordained.

"I want to just dispel anything right now about the idea that this is somehow my own initiative," said Father Anne. "The vocation chose me."

She joined a small group of Catholic women who are rejecting institutional doctrine to become ordained priests. They’re on the far edge of a church community that’s going through an identity crisis: liberal forces pushing for change one way, and conservative leaders trying to hold the traditional line.

Right now in Rome, Catholic bishops are meeting at the Vatican to discuss potential changes in the church, including an expanded role for women.

That’s getting a lot of liberal Catholics excited about possibilities like a greater acceptance for LGBTQ communities, divorcees, and even female deacons.

"It's not a narrow focus, like on the the family or the environment," said Ruth Graham, a correspondent for The New York Times who covers religion and faith. "It's really on how the church will operate in the modern world. And it's a very wide-ranging conversation on the future of the church."

There's also a chance that, when the synod concludes, there are no changes. But Father Anne is watching optimistically.

Listen to Soundside’s full conversation with Father Anne and Ruth Graham by clicking the play icon at the top of this story.

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