I passed “Civil Disobedience 101” on Sept. 23, 2015, in Washington D.C., when Pope Francis was visiting the U.S. Along with the birthdays of my three children, this day was one of the best days of my life.
I was participating in an action for the birth of equality for women in the Roman Catholic Church and in the world. I was joining the modern-day civil-rights movement that says women are rising up to speak truth to power about the treatment of women in the church and world.
The experiences of my mother and grandmother, along with women of their generations, were with me asking Pope Francis to set them free from the debilitating, patriarchal abuse of authority that imprisoned them for too many generations.
My spirit was soaring as we could tangibly feel Sophia-Spirit’s presence and guidance in our action while the pope was talking to the U.S. Bishops, in the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle.
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I brought with me a deep understanding of the pain women have experienced due to sexism and damaging misinterpretations of scripture. I do not have the words to describe how important it was for me to be dressed in my alb and stole holding a sign that said “primacy of conscience.”
All people must follow their informed consciences and live the authentic life that God created them to live. Unfortunately, the culture of the Roman Catholic Church and the world has actually set up the conditions for women and men to feel compelled to make choices that go against their consciences.
These choices have imprisoned them to an unauthentic, culture-made, form of existence. As Pope Francis said himself, “Jesus wants us to be free, and this freedom — where is it found? It is to be found in the inner dialogue with God in conscience.”
Women suppressing a call to the priesthood, human trafficking, people suppressing sexual orientation to live culturally approved lives, are a few examples of the imprisonments people face worldwide. These are all connected to abuse of authority, misinterpretation of scriptures and domination-subordination structures that surround us.
Women hear the call from God to become priests and must follow their consciences. God’s call cannot be suppressed just to stay in compliance with canon law 1024, a law made by men. Does Pope Francis see that there cannot be equality for women until the church recognizes us as equals? His strong support of those who are marginalized must include women who are treated as second-class citizens right inside the church.
As I laid on the ground with the sign on my chest, people were watching, taking pictures and movies of us, giving us “thumbs up” and a few “thumbs down.” Most of the people who saw our witness gave us heartwarming support. The police even seemed to be helping us because I think they understood what we were doing.
As the pope’s vehicle rounded the corner, he was waving at the people and I made eye contact with him! His expression changed to one of surprise, as it seemed his mouth dropped a little bit.
Will he put it all together and see our call to him? We want him to use his authority as the peace-and-justice pope to make changes in the church. The world is watching what he is doing and is already being changed in a significant Christ-like way because of his messages.
We ask Pope Francis the same question he asks the people: Will you end sexism in the Roman Catholic Church?
Donna Rougeux of Lexington is a priest in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.
Related: McClatchy article, “Women will never be priests, Pope Francis says”