Saint Joan, Pray for me. I want to be a Catholic but The Church won’t let me.

Welcome to Anti-Pope Joan, my blog dedicated to disaffected and dissident Catholicism. I am a 26yr old woman with a theology degree and a vocation to the Catholic Priesthood; a vocation continually thwarted by the Catholic Hierarchy due to my lack of a pee-pee. On this blog, I document my journey through and to this vocation and my continuing strained relationship with the Catholic Church.

I fell out with the Church in August 2011. The new translation of the Mass had just been introduced and I was at a World Youth Gathering; 1 million young Catholics descending on Madrid for a week, along with guest appearances from the Pope and some of his nearest and dearest Cardinals. I objected to the new translation as it had removed all the inclusive language introduced by the Second Vatican Council, and re-introduced a scrupulous focus on sin, guilt and human unworthiness. (This was particularly ironic as I had just completed an undergraduate dissertation on how useful Catholic Guilt really is to the faithful, and the conclusion was: not particularly, not the way we use it now). While in Madrid I saw a youth blindly zealous in their cheering for the Pope, and in their reaction to those with legitimate protests against us. I saw racism, Islamophobia, superiority complexes and a generally nasty attitude from, not by any means all, but enough young Catholics for it to put a bad taste in my mouth. I saw a lot of these malicious aspects of Catholicism, aspects I can only call distinctly unchristian, either tacitly or explicitly condoned by Cardinals and Bishops and the Pope in their lectures and catechisms. I felt the only thing I could do was dissent, and to dissent in one of the most extreme ways I could find. (This surprised no-one who knows me!)

The most extreme way I could find was voluntary excommunication. Excommunication is the punishment reserved for the most severe of unrepentant sinners; it’s for the heretic, the schismatic and the apostate. Due to the indelible mark placed upon me by baptism (thanks mum and dad!) I will never be completely outside and shut off from Christ’s salvation, and the Church teaches the excommunicated can still achieve salvation through Scripture and prayer alone, but that it is a difficult path and by no means guaranteed. This path is, to me, a spiritual hunger-strike.

In recent months I have been coming to terms with my own vocation to the Church. I used to virulently deny the possibility of womens ordination and I believe that was precisely because I knew that if I admitted there were no good theological reasons for forbidding womens ordination, then I would have to face the hidden vocation within me. And facing that vocation would hurt. A lot. And it does hurt. A lot. Without access to the priesthood all I am left with is the fight for access to the priesthood and that is exactly what I fight for here. I am a keyboard Christian soldier, typing as to war.

I try and categorise my posts. Here are the categories:

Catholic Privilege: These posts try and look at all the aspects within the Church that do not affect me directly. I recognise that, whilst as a woman I am in many ways treated as a 2nd class citizen by the Hierarchy, I still have a lot of privilege within the Church. This means I need to try and prioritise the voices of those with less privilege than my own and try and shine a light on these issues in my own, privilege-limited, way. These posts are my attempt at doing that.
My Journey: These posts look specifically at my experience as an excommunicated, dissident, wanna-be woman priest. These are my personal reflections on the pain the Hierarchy, and my vocation, and my excommunication cause me. They are angry and hurt. They are possibly not feel-good reading…

Rent in the Raiment: I am unusually inspired by St Augustine. I think most of what he said was worthless, but when he said something worthwhile, he got it spot on. Augustine didn’t have time for the schismatic. He saw the Church as the raiment of Christ and felt that to divide the Church was to tear, or rent, Christ’s raiment. We currently have one of the most divisive and schismatic Hierarchies we have ever had; a Hierarchy that fosters division not only between the Catholic Church and other faiths, but between Catholics within the Church. This is where I get all angry about that.

General Musings: Short bits when I have an odd thought I want to share.

Fig-Leaf Christianity: I love Kierkegaard. I love Kierkegaard to the point that I got trainers especially made with his face on so he can look up my skirt. That’s an over-share, but the point remains, I LOVE Kierkegaard. Fig-Leaf Christianity was a term he used for Christians who use their Christianity to position themselves as superior to others. Fig-Leaf Christians are Christians who obscure the actual, difficult teachings of Christ, as they have already convinced themselves they are good Christians and nothing more can be asked of them. They are Christians who want to retain all their Christian Privilege without actually being a Christian in anything other than name. This is where I get angry at them.

Homilies from the Other Side of the Pulpit: My homework. My Priest has suggested that I start writing homilies in order to take me away from all the anger I feel towards the hierarchy and remind me of all the love I feel for God and Christ. That isn’t to say there will be no anger, this is an angry blog, but here you will find the positive that is probably missing from most of my other posts…
I hope you enjoy reading this blog. Unless you are the Pope, in which case I hope it pisses you off like no-bodies business! I welcome comments, although they are moderated as I would like to maintain the comments section as a safe space. Outright bigotry and offensive, identity-based hatred will be deleted. Otherwise, I would love to hear from you.

  1. Walter Carey Cox says:

    My heart goes out to you So many things hinder a person in their journey with God. Church hierarchy included. I suggest that you read and meditate on St John chapter 1 and Galations 3:24-29. I pray GOD’S richest blessing on you in your walk with Him!!!!!

  2. Hi. Became aware of your blog after you posted on my blog. Thank you.

  3. Dave P. says:

    So go join the Episcopalians. You’ll find everything you want there. Or perhaps you might want to ask yourself why all the growing Catholic religious orders are traditional, or why the Extraordinary Form of the Mass attracts young families, or why the “progressive” orders are dying out….

    • Unless the “P” stands for pneumer, or perhaps even paraklete, I am unsure as to the authority by which you feel that you can dictate my faith to me or which church I am called to.

      And the small and really rather sluggish growth in a few traditional orders has to be considered in relation to the mass exodus from the Catholic Church in its entirety that is currently occurring. 1 in for every 100 out is not an impressive rate of growth. Will you still be able to call yourself the “Catholic” Church when you can fit the lot of you in one small chapel?

    • Dave P. says:

      And people are beating down the doors for mainstream Protestantism, which has married and female clergy, and a theology compatible with yours?

      As far as traditional orders go, I can assure you the growth is not sluggish. The Dominican Sisters of Nashville have had to add on to their motherhouse to accommodate all the women in formation. Same thing with the Franciscan Sisters of the Martyr St. George. The Benedictine monastery in Clear Creek, OK, became an abbey 13 years after its foundation. And some communities of men have experienced a resurgence, like the St. Joseph (Eastern) Province of Dominicans. Their houses of formation are packed.

      Same thing with diocesan seminaries. Milwaukee (my archdiocese) experienced a resurgence of vocations after Rembert Weakland left. The neighboring Diocese of Madison actually matches Milwaukee in numbers. And the diocese of Lincoln, NE, which has had three traditional bishops in a row, has never experienced a priest shortage.

      You might be right that the Catholic Church may be smaller. Unfortunate in one way, because we have had three generations of poor catechism (I am in my mid-40’s, and have experienced it myself). But the Faith is timeless, and is not married to the spirit of the age. The pendulum is swinging towards Tradition, which is why you will see young faces in traditional habits and cassocks. That’s why you’ll see campus ministries like Texas A & M, Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, and (mirabile dictu!) Wisconsin at Madison turn out practicing Catholics and vocations to the priesthood and religious life. Maybe the numbers won’t be so large, but at least there’ll be authentic Catholicism.

    • Referring to a few specific houses, during a world wide downturn in ordinations, is highly selective cherry picking of evidence. I don’t have the figures for any of my local chapters, but I do know that letters about a shortage of priests and religious have been read from the pulpits nation wide here in the UK. And the Vaticans “Year of Faith” has been inaugurated precisely because of a shortage of priests worldwide.

      And as for “authentic Catholicism”, authentic to when? The Church today would be unrecognisable to members of the earliest Church. At best the “authentic Catholicism” you refer to can be found in the 2nd century, but for it’s real emergence you have to wait until the 11th century.

      Anyway, your initial remark from your first comment has rubbed me up the wrong way. It is utterly insulting that you think you can dictate how I should identify my faith or which church I should worship in. Your following up comment is blinkered and I have no evidence that you are commenting in good faith. This is my space, my little corner of the internet, and I will not publish any further comments from you.

      So neyah!

  4. DAve P. says:

    If you wish to publish this…I do owe you a sincere apology in one respect. I had forgotten, or neglected to remember, that you are British. I am very sorry about that, and ask your pardon, as I should have known better. I am also aware that the situation in the UK and Ireland is different than that of the USA.

    In my (admittedly hasty) first remark, I assure you that I was not dictating to you, but simply inviting you to go somewhere that you would be “at home”. I realize that the C of E has not been as progressive-minded as the Canadian Anglicans or the American Episcopalians. But from what I could tell from your posts, you would be more comfortable there. They claim a Catholic heritage; they have woman priests and bishops; and their outlook is very compatible with yours. I ask in good faith and in the spirit of inquiry: Why not go where you are welcome, and why stay somewhere where you feel unwelcome? I can tell you that if I ceased to believe in papal authority, I’d join my local OCA (Orthodox Church in America) parish. My preferred worship style is Byzantine, anyway…

    I can also tell you that I’m not cherry-picking, so far as the church in my country goes. I am acutely aware of the priest shortage here, as my parish shares three priests with three other congregations. But I also read through the Official Catholic Directory, which has statistics for each diocese in the USA, including the number of clergy and seminarians. We also have an annual publication called “Guide to Vocations”, which lists most of the religious orders in the USA and Canada, along with their apostolates, numbers of professed, and numbers in formation. The examples I gave you were a few out of many communities which are experiencing growth, or even a renaissance.

    Again, this is your domain, and you are free to do as you wish with this. At the very least, I invite you to reply to me via email – I would appreciate a reply. And thank you for reminding me to think a little more before shooting off at the keyboard, and to be less combative and more irenic, even in disagreement. Looking back, I can see how that would rub you the wrong way, and you have my apology for that as well.

    • Thank you for the apology. I probably was a bit sharp with you and for that I apologise. I must also apologise for the delay replying. We had the family Christmas party… I am still recovering…

      I understand your thinking I should just go to another Church that would allow me to be a Priest etc. It seems like the sensible and obvious solution and, believe me, I wish it was that easy. I would be a lot happier if I could just go to another Church. But I was born a Catholic and raised a Catholic. I have been going to the same Church since I was a month old baby (I’m now 27). This is my community. This is my Church and the idea of just turning my back on my spiritual home, because of the actions of a few men in Rome, when they are so unrepresentative of the Catholics I know and have grown up with, is just too painful.

      I don’t know whether you read the National Catholic Reporter at all, or read the comments, but “Go to the Episcopalians” or “You’re not a real Catholic” or other exclusionary comments are thrown around with disappointing frequency. It can be liberal on conservative or the other way around and either way, I feel it is hard to recognise just how painful that is. Because it is words on a screen it’s hard to realise just how close these comments cut. But imagine, for a moment, finding yourself in a liberal Church and being told you are not welcome there and there is a more conservative, more appropriate Church down the road where you can go instead. Even if the alternative is offered, it is hard not to read a rejection into any such comment. And I can’t believe that Christ would reject or turn away anyone… ever… for any reason… Not if they came to Him in true faith and repentance.

      Certainly the situation within the UK and the US is different as far as ordination rates go, but when you talk about the youth becoming more traditional, seeking out more traditional masses etc, I would be weary of this youth. In recent years I have been to two World Youth Day gatherings, and several other Augustinian gatherings of a similar kind, and the youth worry me the most in the Church today. I am, obviously, fascinated by both Vatican I and II (they will both play big parts in my Masters dissertation) and would ask my fellow young Catholics what they had thought of Vatican II. They hadn’t heard of it. Many of them didn’t know that there were any such thing as Councils. They knew nothing of Synods or the general formation and development of theology. These are the people you are putting your faith in for the future. Regardless of what you think of Vatican II, do you really want Priests entering the Seminary having never even heard of it? It is not just a small Church that is developing, I am afraid, but an ignorant one. One ignorant of it’s own theology and it’s own history. And that is the thing that I want the most for the Church today… I want an educated Church, a Church that knows it’s history and it’s teachings and has the room to make up their own mind on these issues because the primacy of their conscience is respected by the hierarchy. I feel that you would probably want this too, I just think we think this will result in very different Churches.

      Happy New Year!

    • Dave P. says:

      Thanks for replying! I’m happy we are able to talk cordially now…

      I’ll give you a bit of my background, to let you know where I’m coming from…I’m 43 years old and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. This means that Rembert Weakland was my Ordinary for most of my life. I’ve been married for over seven years (wife is 30 years old – a bit of a cradle-robber!), have two boys aged five and three with another one coming in May, and currently seeking work (my job ended up in India last August). I’m a Benedictine Oblate novice with the Monastery of the Holy Cross in Chicago (http://www.chicagomonk.org). (Chicago is 90 miles south of Milwaukee).

      Quite a bit of my religious education was on the “progressive” side. My home parish (a small Croatian church – parishes in the USA were usually divided by ethnic groups) was relatively conservative, but we had the felt banners, the contemporary music, and no use of Latin. – all rather…blah. My family (especially my mother, who was involved in the Charismatic movement) would also visit neighboring parishes for a variety of reasons – they seemed to be more “with it”. My high school had copies of the NCR in the theology department’s study room. It is safe to say that most of the faculty were liberal in outlook (one was so far out, her nickname was “The Communist”!). I did check out the local Episcopal church three blocks away from my home, and came close to joining. (Even now, were I to move to certain parts of Texas or other places where it is available, I’d be tempted to join an “Anglican Use” parish.).

      My mother (God rest her!) also had an extensive personal library. Her old Missal was my first glimpse into how the Latin Church once worshipped (she adamantly preferred the current Mass, BTW), and everyone from Rahner to Von Balthasar to Jurgens to Pelikan graced her shelves. She also had a substantial collection of C.S. Lewis’ works.

      My first awareness that something was amiss came my senior year in high school. I was with fellow students on retreat at New Mellaray Abbey during Easter Break. We attended Compline, and the Salve Regina was sung. It was beautiful! And I felt a bit cheated that this had been done away with in the parish church (This isn’t to say that I hadn’t heard Gregorian Chant before. But listening to it recorded is not the same as hearing it live).

      At about the same time I was a Youth Delegate for the Archdiocesan Synod. I attended the regional sessions, and was treated as an equal with the adults. I remembered what we discussed there, and I also remember that the recommendations we made were radically different – even opposite – from the ones presented at the General Synod. And it wasn’t because my region or my groups were conservative – if anything, people leaned a bit liberal. Years later, I found out that the results were pretty much predetermined – the delegates were there to give a facade of participation and democratic process.

      Time and circumstances prevent me from going further tonight. I hope you’ll allow me to continue this, and I look forward to your reply. I leave with two more things – one dealing with religious issues, and one personal note. Apologies for the post length…

      1) Check out http://www.caelumetterra.com. This late, great magazine was a major influence on me. It’s why I consider myself “conservative”, but more culturally so than politically. Please also check out the blogs by the magazine’s founders,

      2) I was especially ashamed when I realized you were British because I am something of an Anglophile, and should have known better.. When I was in high school, I went to a shop and restaurant called “Bits of Britain”. It was there that I learned to appreciate goodies like scones, Eccles cakes, steak-and-kidney pie and mushy peas. My late mother also had an extensive library on British history, so I daresay I know a bit more about the history of the countries of the British Isles than most of my countrymen. I was an English major in college. My favorite “classic” author is Dickens, and my favorite contemporary author is Terry Pratchett (I literally cried when I found out he was suffering from Alzheimer’s). Lastly, I have an English brother-in-law. I used him as the excuse to have roast beef and roast goose for Christmas dinner. Alas, I haven’t been able to get hold of a Christmas pudding for some years now… I hope to cross the Atlantic someday and visit…

    • OK, so it seems that your biggest focus is on the Mass and a traditional Mass. I get that. I live up the road from the Oratory and sometimes I go there for the full Latin Mass and it is incredible. All the smells and bells, it is deeply meditative and sometimes makes a welcome change to the children’s Mass I usually go to, with it’s accompanying chaos and small child noises (which I love!). It is also nice to hear the theological and scripturally based sermons that come along with this kind of Mass; there is nothing better than a really well thought out, complex and engaging sermon on a Sunday. But the thing I want to ask you is this; do you really think it would make that much of a difference to the Mass if I said it rather than a man? Cus the only difference I can really see is that I sing a lot better than the Priests at the Oratory and so maybe the bits where we go from Priest to choir wouldn’t sound quite so discordant…

  5. Dave P. says:

    Actually, as mentioned before, I prefer the Byzantine Rite, which is traditional and in the vernacular. In fact, they used the vernacular before the Roman Rite did. I also like having the readings and the general intercessions in the common language as well (although the latter should have a set form, like the Byzantines and other Rites do).

    With either Latin usage, I’m a “say the black, do the red” sort – that after enduring some rather outrageous liturgical abuses (and, admittedly, eagerly participating and even abetting some of them in my younger days). My “breaking point” came with what I witnessed at my university’s Catholic campus ministry. They broke rules because they could. I also read a number of liturgical journals and attended workshops, where I came across “evolving understanding” of liturgy. To me, that is an attempt to come up with things to justify one’s continued existence.(My jaundiced view on such things is not limited to religion. I had a manager who tinkered with our procedures continuously because it was in his nature to do so. It played havoc with our productivity.)

    And while I like the EF Mass, I’m considered a barely tolerated liberal by many traditionalist Catholics. For example, I prefer using “you” instead of “thou” and “Holy Spirit” instead of “Holy Ghost”. Gothic and especially conical chasubles are preferred to Roman style vestments, and I detest saccharine art and music. Were I a music director, I’d make sure my choir knew all 18 chant Masses before I would tackle Palestrina or Purcell. Orchestra Masses would not be considered at all. And I am a believer in strong social outreach, so I’d revive the St. VIncent de Paul Society and get the confirmation candidates to do some service projects…Those are just some of the minor issues, mind you. I don’t know what it’s like in the UK, but a good number of the traditionalist Catholics here have a bunker mentality, and a few have gone frankly mental. For them, nothing good has happened in the Church since 1962 , or even earlier. In my wilder fantasies, I would like my rad-trad Hawaiian cousin and a Call-to-Action family friend together in Purgatory and not let them out until the end of time, or until they came to complete agreement on all matters. (I should be careful, though. For my sins, I might be thrown in there as a referee!).

    To conclude for now (I must run errands and deal with a persistent three-year-old – until I find work again, I’m doing the Mr. Mom thing…and liking it, actually), while I most certainly would visit Brompton Oratory and enjoy it, I think I’d be more partial to Westminster Cathedral.

    Two more website “gifts”:

    1) An example of “traditionalists gone mental”: http://www.dailycatholic.com. They started out somewhat OK (the Medjugorje thing aside), and then began sliding around 2001. Now…hooboy!

    2) http://www.madonnahouse.org. Catherine Doherty’s “Little Mandate” has haunted me for years…

    And a Happy New Year to you as well!

  6. hav u seen Nadia Boltz-Weber video on Vimeo yet !?
    She reminds me of you, even tho i hav never met you, She gives a fantastic interview about her work as a lutheran pastor ! email me for link; cheers
    denisj@blueyonder.co.uk You met my brother David jackson at a ACTA event in leeds with fr billy steele.

  7. Margaret Watson (Maggie) says:

    It was good to meet with you and your Mom on Saturday and I hope you were at least a little encouraged. I came away realising how much people want good positive leadership , something I picked up form the workshop rather than the speakers. No one wanted to take the lead and I had to almost drag opinions out of some people. One girl said absolutely nothing. I kept trying to hand the pen on , but no-one would take it The only thing that got any strong response was when my husband John suggested we include ’empowerment’ ( He is not a Catholic). There was sadly an immediate ‘We can’t include that!’ and’ They’d come down on us if we put that ‘ from almost everyone. I did try to get someone else to be the spokesperson, but she actually cringed. This is very sad. I used to be in charge of a church in North Birmingham ( the Salvation Army in Erdington, my patch included the seminary). When I left to go to Pakistan I had my greatest accolade ‘She taught us how to work for God’. Priesthood and ministry is of course about many other things , but so many of them flow from this one – you can certainly teach people how to fight for what the Spirit is asking. A prayer from Iona ‘O Christ , kindle in our hearts within a flame of love to our neighbour , to our foes, to our friends, to our kindred all. Love in Christ, Maggie

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