On October 6, Jennifer O’Malley was ordained as a Catholic priest in Los Angeles as part of the Roman Catholic Woman Priest Movement. The 40-year-old is the first woman priest to serve in the Los Angeles area as part of the movement challenging the traditional Roman Catholic Vatican doctrine which does not recognize women in the priesthood.
“It’s a really exciting moment for myself to start a journey with people who have been excluded from our traditional parishes,” says O’Malley. “It’s an exciting moment for the Church to have the voices of women in leadership positions.”
It’s certainly exciting for Rosa Manriquez, a Chicana in Los Angeles, who is also working towards becoming an ordained priest. For years, she has heard the stories of other women wanting to be ordained, and she says they all sound similar. According to Roman Catholic Womenpriests, there are approximately 130 Roman Catholic women worldwide – about 100 of whom are in the U.S. – who have this strong desire.
“They have all felt a strong calling from a young age, and a frustration at not being able to do so,” says Manriquez who herself has tried different professions throughout her life, but has always felt the insatiable calling to be a priest.
She says the ordination of O’Malley is a big step forward. She received support from Church members, family, and friends – showing more Catholics are on board with the Womenpriest Movement. Yet, Manriquez says there is still push back from the Vatican.
“Her ordination is valid but illicit,” says Manriquez. “It’s like if you didn’t get permission from your parents to get married, but you’re still married. Even if the church doesn’t want to recognize it, it’s still valid.”
Manriquez says although O’Malley was ordained by a bishop who was ordained by a cardinal or bishop, according to Vatican law, O’Malley is now considered excommunicated, and so is everybody who took part in the ceremony. She says this means her possibly being refused communion, depending where she is.
“I know there has been at least one instance that they refused a woman to be buried in a Catholic ceremony, but I wasn’t planning on getting buried in a Catholic cemetery anyway,” says Manriquez. “I think that would be the worst thing, or to refuse to baptize a child – petty little things – but in the long run, I think things will come out alright in the end.”
O’Malley says it’s a little hurtful to be excommunicated, but she thinks it’s a crucial step.
“It leaves me with no choice but to break an unjust law…,” says O’Malley. “I’m willing to accept those consequences with the hope that others won’t have to have those consequences, and the church will change and include the voice of women.”
Manriquez is not far behind. She’s only five classes away from completing her master’s degree in theology – one of the prerequisites before becoming an ordained a priest, and she says she’s feeling hopeful during this interesting time for constructive and giving Catholic women, like O’Malley, with the innate desire to be a priest.
“I think the Church of the future is going to persevere,” says Manriquez. “I think it’s going to be more inclusive with more hunger for the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Different isn’t bad – it can be very good.”