This week I came out to my pastor. I needed to confide in him about my plans to be ordained. I didn’t want him to find out through some other source, and with a profile in the New Yorker on the way, I needed to share the news. I deeply respect this man, and I love worshipping in this particular community.
Months ago, I grappled with the reality that I would be excommunicated by the institutional Church upon ordination. The most severe penalty levied by the Church, it means I can no longer receive a sacrament of any kind. No. More. Communion. And, no matter how upstanding in the faith I may be, I will no longer be permitted to work for an official Catholic institution, so I am throwing away my career. Also, and perhaps what makes my heart most tender, I will be denied a Christian burial.
Now, some female priests may not take excommunication seriously. It does sound rather…medieval. They may laugh or just simply dismiss the punishment as ridiculous, and sneak their way into a progressive Catholic community that welcomes them at the altar. I get that. After all, excommunication is a total BS move by an institution grasping onto a power it has no right to hoard. So, I get it.
But, for me? No, I will not do that. I take this punishment hella seriously, and though it burns me--burns me—to my core, I willingly accept the consequences. I suppose my response is a sign of respect for the Church I wish to serve, and I try my best to demonstrate that I do not take this decision lightly.
You might wonder: Father Anne, why do you even want to attend Mass in an official Church environment? A reasonable question, to be sure. The truth is that, though I will be excommunicated, I still consider myself part of the Roman Catholic Church. After all, my punishment is unjust, and part of my ministry is to the institutional Church itself—to hold it to account and help awaken it to justice. Part of this work is staying spiritually and practically connected with the official Church… as best I can.
When I wrote my pastor, I explained to him my intentions for ordination and I asked if I would still be welcome to attend Mass if I plan to abstain from receiving communion. I do recognize that I am putting him in an awkward spot, and I have compassion for that. But, still, a girl has to ask. His response was very kind. I would indeed be welcomed to pray, but he sincerely appreciated my sensitivity in not approaching the altar in light of the path I have been led to take.
I read his response a couple of times. There it was, in black and white. I tried to let it sink in. A future that seemed so far off has suddenly arrived: I have received my last communion from the institutional Church. A punishment so cruel, not even a man who has raped a child receives it.
As a devout Catholic this is a knife to the heart, and I am grieving. It will take some time to process this new reality. Though part of me will always grieve this loss, somewhere deep in my heart I hope--hope in the power of the Spirit. I learned of a Syrian song, I do not know the name, where the prisoner sings to his jailer, “No matter how much you try to keep me in the darkness, there will always be light.”
I pray that someday the institutional Church will right this wrong and welcome me at the altar in more ways than one. Until then: Bring it, Rome--hit me with your best shot.