Lay Lay Land Women were first witnesses to resurrection in Bible - but still can't be Catholic priests
"And so, in sheer desperation, the Catholic Church here has finally opened its arms to women, while continuing to keep priesthood firmly out of reach for the few who may be called to it"
The words 'horse' and 'bolted' sprang to mind when reading of a new lay ministry being launched in Kerry that will be open to women as well as men.
With almost a quarter of parishes in the huge diocese now without its own priest, a scenario being played out nationwide, the 'Ministry of Lay Pastoral Leadership' is set to see volunteers take on some roles "traditionally carried out by priests", including preparing for sacraments and visiting the housebound.
Addressing the critical shortfall of priests while introducing the ministry, which requires a commitment of three to four hours a week over the next five years, Bishop Ray Browne told how "the future of the Church will be different - not better or worse".
And so, in sheer desperation, the Catholic Church here has finally opened its arms to women, while continuing to keep priesthood firmly out of reach for the few who may be called to it.
For some, after centuries of failing to recognise the lay women who've long formed the backbone of parishes up and down the country, it's a step in the right direction.
For me, an erstwhile lector and extraordinary eucharistic minister - believe it or not - it's just another sign that we will never be regarded as good enough to be ordained.
Pray with the elderly? Sure. Help get school children ready for First Communion? No problem. But actually don a soutane and be 'in persona Christi'? Forget about it.
Last-gasp efforts in recent years, including a 2021 change to Canon Law to formally allow women to read from the Bible and give out Communion at Mass - something which has been common in many Catholic countries, including Ireland, for donkey's years anyway, have reportedly failed to stop women, especially, from abandoning the Church in droves.
Precisely how many - like me - made it official by ticking 'no religion' on last Sunday's census has yet to be revealed.
Worldwide, there are around 200 female Catholic priests, part of breakaway movement Roman Catholic Womenpriests, already following in the footsteps of 'apostle to the apostles' Mary Magdalene, with one 2018 survey showing it's something like 62pc of people here are in favour of, and just 18pc against.
The fact that such trailblazers face automatic excommunication under a new edict tells you everything you need to know about the organisation's prevailing attitude towards women.
Speaking on the topic in 2016, Pope Francis said "the door was closed" on women becoming priests, and would remain so "forever, forever".
And, while, of course, I'd love to be proven wrong, the option to become a lay minister feels like less of a stepping stone than a millstone to keep women who are actively involved in their parish in subordinate roles, answerable as ever to male bishops.
Amid the Easter celebrations, women may still be revered as the first witnesses to the resurrection by the Church - just don't expect us to stick around to keep it alive.
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