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The right side of history

As a once-upon-a-time Roman Catholic—and, very likely, a former Christian—my views on organized religion are suspect. So pay no attention to what follows. Yesterday, 27 April 2013, at Louisville, Kentucky, history of a sort was made; only time will validate the significance of what transpired.


At St Andrew’s United Church of Christ in Louisville, nearly 200 men and women gathered to ordain seventy-year-old Rosemarie Smead as a priest in the Roman Catholic church. This is likely to piss off a lot of people.

As a student of history—an amateur in the truest sense of the word—I’m aware of documentation and archaeological and art historical evidence for the ordination of women, evidence suppressed or discredited by current church authorities. There is also (unmentioned in news coverage of Saturday’s ceremony) a massive amount of similar evidence for the blessing of same-sex unions by the early church. All of this “evidence” is, of course, contested by church authorities, for which I have no response other than 1) my evidence is your heresy, and 2) “history is written by the winners”. Each of us hopes to be on the right side of history on contentious matters such as these, but I won’t live long enough to find out.

You might know that my friend Howard Tabor had something to say about female clergy in his sesqui-centennial series a few years ago. Agincourt’s Catholic parish from the 1870s until 1950 was Saint Ahab; after that, Christ the King. He had much to report on its founding and original priest, Rev Francis Manning, however, who felt a calling that Rosemarie Smead would understand: Francis Manning had been born “Frances” and yet found a way to acknowledge her vocation.

To read about Saint Ahab’s dramatic founding (and risk offense) visit Part I. The rest of Rev Manning’s story can be found in Part II and Part III. While the origin of the current Christ the King and its proto-Vatican II mid-century Modernism are summarized in Part IV. For the short term, I feel pretty good about all this.

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