Rebel female bishop on Northern Ireland crusade to recruit women into Catholic priesthood
A female Catholic 'bishop' excommunicated by the Vatican is in Northern Ireland on a recruitment drive to expand her movement of women priests.
Bridget Mary Meehan said five women who believe they have a vocation had come forward in the Republic and she hoped for a similar number on this side of the border.
"We have 250 women priests and 11 bishops but I'm the only Irish-born one and I would love to change that," she said. "I ordained a female priest in Scotland in 2009, which was very exciting, but my dream is to come home next year to ordain women in Ireland.
"I believe our movement is in harmony with everything Pope Francis stands for in wanting a more open and inclusive Church."
The women, who belong to the US-based Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP), are defying the Vatican's ban on female clergy.
Bishop Meehan stressed that although she had been excommunicated, she still saw herself as part of the mainstream Church.
"As an Irish Catholic, Catholicism is in my DNA," she said.
"This isn't about leaving the Church, it's about leading it. This is about moving the Church towards equality and justice and healing the wounds of centuries of sexism."
She yesterday said Mass at the Oratory, the independent church of rebel cleric Pat Buckley in Larne. He branded opposition to women priests as "sexism dressed up with theology".
Born in Coolkerry, Co Laois, Meehan was ordained a priest in 2006 and a bishop three years later. The 69-year-old currently ministers in Florida.
Her family support her stance.
"My late father Jack Meehan was 82 when I was ordained. He was very proud of me. He had been a dance band leader in the 1940s and he played music at Masses which I celebrated," she said.
Bishop Meehan said being branded "a white witch" and facing other insults didn't bother her.
"I grew up in a conservative Catholic tradition so I see those criticisms as part of the journey we're all on," she said.
She rejected the Vatican's argument that women couldn't be priests because the 12 Apostles were male. "The risen Christ appeared first to Mary Magdalene, not to the Apostles, and called on her to announce the good news of Christianity. Mary Magdalene was the Apostle to the Apostles," she said.
The ARCWP has significantly expanded from 2002 when seven women were ordained priests on a ship on the River Danube.
The organisation insists its ordinations are valid because the male bishop ordaining the first female bishops has "apostolic succession within the Catholic Church".
Bishop Meehan was excommunicated in 2007, but insisted: "Our actions are justified because we are disobeying an unjust law. No one can cancel my baptism - it's equal to that of any bishop, cardinal or Pope."
Pope Francis has said the Church is unlikely to lift its ban on female priests but he has set up a commission to investigate whether women could be ordained as deacons, giving them the authority to marry couples and baptise babies, but not to celebrate Mass.
While Bishop Meehan sees him as "moving in the right direction", Buckley is less optimistic. "Even if Francis wanted change, he is surrounded by a conservative cabal who will prevent it," he said.
"The battle for women priests will be far harder than that for married priests. Opposition isn't just in the Vatican, it's extensive at a grassroots level."
- Bishop Meehan urged women who have a vocation to contact her at email@example.com or arcwp.org