One of the more intriguing questions Pope Francis prompted earlier this year when he announced that a Vatican commission would study whether the early church had women deacons was: How would Catholics react to women preaching?
Some Catholic women hope to find out.
A new website called Catholic Women Preach will publish videos showing just that, Catholic women preaching. The women’s reflections will draw from the church’s weekly readings. The women backing the project say they hope the videos will help Catholics deepen their faith and become more comfortable with the idea of women preaching.
“The kinds of things that women preach about are qualitatively different and touch us in ways that other topics don’t touch us,” Deborah Rose-Milavec, executive director of Future Church and a founder of Catholic Women Preach, told America.
“Even if it’s a bit of a foreign experience to them,” she continued, “once people begin to listen deeply to the wisdom and the words of these Catholic women preaching, it also will touch them in brand new ways.”
Church law allows laypeople, including women, to preach only in extraordinary circumstances, when an ordained minister is not available. Though it is rare, women have preached in some U.S. churches. In the Diocese of Rochester, for example, laypeople were permitted to preach by the local bishop beginning in 1979, but the practice was ended in 2014.
And even if women are ordained deacons someday, there is no guarantee that they will be allowed to preach—at least not in the way Catholics are accustomed to today. In comments earlier this year, the pope suggested that priests, acting in persona Christi during the Mass, should give the homily. But there would be “no problem,” he said, with women offering scriptural reflections in other settings, like prayer services. One of the founders of the project said women of various perspectives are being sought to preach.
“We’ll have the most fabulous, theologically educated and faith-filled Catholic women from around the world offering five- to seven-minute reflections on the Catholic lectionary,” said Elizabeth Donnelly, another founder of the project and part of a team that meets annually with church officials in Rome to talk about women in the church.
The project is scheduled to launch on Nov. 1, in time for Advent, and the first half-dozen videos include reflections from a mix of Catholic women religious and laywomen.
Kicking off the series is Jamie Phelps, O.P., a retired Catholic theologian who lives in Chicago. She said she accepted an invitation to be part of the series because she thinks the videos will “make plain the fact that some women are called and gifted as preachers.”
“Since there’s a diversity of perspectives and experiences out there,” she said, “the more diversity of preachers we have who can tune into the felt needs of the community and of the people, the further along the mission of Jesus Christ is carried.”
Organizers said that women from all over the world will take part.
Sister Phelps, who is African-American and who will preach about overcoming class, race and ethnic divisions, said that in an increasingly secular society, the church would benefit from expanding opportunities for women to preach.
“I’m not saying that everybody needs to preach,” she said. “But there are gifts out there that are not being recognized, not being nurtured, not being used to continue the mission of Jesus Christ.”