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Reverend Roberta Fuller RCWP

Updated: Jun 10, 2020

Article printed in Peterborough Examiner May 15 2019

Female Roman Catholic priests lead a new kind of church

ROSEMARY GANLEY: They are quickly excommunicated after ordination, but carry on.

At a recent course I was teaching, Women and God Talk, at Traill College, a gracious, well-spoken woman came in and introduced herself as an ordained Roman Catholic priest, living in Bethany.

That got everyone's interest.

Roberta Fuller belongs to a community of strong women who have, since 2002, defied Vatican rules and been ordained to ministry in a new form. There are 300 such women now, worldwide.

Their work has caused the church to react swiftly, strongly and negatively. They usually receive a letter of excommunication within two weeks from the local bishop.

A South African nun-professor, Patricia Frisen of the Dominican order lost her patience with the slow pace of any church movement toward gender equality, and joined a group in Germany in 2000. Fresen had been teaching theology and homiletics (how to preach), in a South African seminary, showing young men what scriptures to choose and how to speak at services, but she herself was barred from preaching in public.

With great persistence, she met with a male bishop willing to ordain her, a man whose name was to be kept secret until his death. It was important for the rebelling women to be in the apostolic line of succession, even for the resistance movement, which was gaining steam. Seven ordinations of women were held on a boat on the Danube River.

In 2002, Roman Catholic Womenpriests came to North America and conducted ordinations on a boat in the St Lawrence River out from Gananoque. Full disclosure: I was on that boat with my spouse. There was much joy as one more barrier to women's full equality was broken through. Had women been involved in church governance and teaching, from the beginning, what a different trajectory it would have been. So much suffering avoided. So many children spared. So many harmful policies and pronouncements, especially on women and sexuality, never issued. So much more respect from the world earned.

Some Canadians were among the candidates for priesthood in 2002, and so it has continued.

Fuller herself has a fascinating story. Toronto-born and raised, a convert to Catholicism, she worked for Trans-Canada Airlines, now Air Canada, for 25 years. She became bilingual and travelled widely, then leaving business for teaching. She was active in OSSTF union matters, travelling to Afghanistan to take supplies to the Canadian hospital in Kabul, all the while drawn to the study of theology at St. Michael's College in the University of Toronto. She earned her private pilot's license and trekked to the base camp of Mount Everest in Nepal.

With a master's degree in theological studies, she was ordained in 2011 and moved to a farm property north of Bethany. Now, Roberta Fuller ministers to a small congregation and has mass twice a month at a welcoming United church in Pickering. Her community is known as St. Mary Magdalen Catholic Faith Community.

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Links (info from Roman Catholic Women Priests in Ontario) (Directory of Members)