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Rue the day: lesbian Victoria Rue is part of a growing wave of women priests who are turning the Roman Catholic Church's tradition of patriarchy on its ear. Is the Vatican listening?

On the day she was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest, Victoria Rue felt like every cell in her body was being rearranged. Presumably, the Vatican had a similar reaction--in the Catholic faith, priesthood is reserved exclusively for those with XY chromosome pairs.

But Rue's womanhood is only part of the story. As a lesbian who has been with her partner, Kathryn, for 18 years, Rue also stands in opposition to the Vatican's stances on gays and celibacy.

"The Vatican's 'Halloween letter' of 1986 stated that homosexual orientation is 'an objective disorder,'" says Rue, 60. "That means that right down to my very bones the Vatican is suggesting that there is something wrong with me as a lesbian and that all gay and lesbian people are sick. They are just plain wrong."

Rue's July 2005 ordination with eight other women--performed on St. Lawrence Seaway in Canada and therefore outside the jurisdiction of any Roman Catholic diocese--may have made the pope drop his wine chalice, but it wasn't unprecedented. Three years before, seven women had been ordained on the River Danube in Austria. Though all of the "Danube Seven" were shortly excommunicated, two of them, Christine Mayr-Lumetzberger and Gisela Forster, were secretly ordained as bishops by three Roman Catholic bishops in good standing, men whose identities will be protected until after their deaths. These female bishops, in turn, officiated at the ordination of the "St. Lawrence Nine."

It's a spiritual chess game over canon law 1024, which explicitly bars women from the priesthood. The mandate is quickly losing favor among U.S. Catholics. Surveys by news and polling agencies over the last several years have consistently logged support for female priests at 60% or more among Catholic respondents.

"Canon law 1024 is rooted in patriarchal bias that views women as subordinate to men and incapable of imaging Christ," says Rue. "An unjust law does not need to be obeyed."

Rue is one of about 20 ordained female priests in the United States. They represent the first fruit of the Women's Ordination Conference, an organization founded in the mid 1970s that asserts women called to the priesthood should be embraced, not barred, by the Catholic Church. The movement gathered pace following a 1974 report by the Pontifical Biblical Commission finding "no Scriptural objections to ordaining women to the priesthood."

For its part, Rome prefers silence on the issue. "The Vatican saw that if they made us a cause celebre, people would gather around us," explains Rue. "If they didn't give us publicity, then people wouldn't know that women priests exist."

Historically, female priests appear both in archaeological evidence and the New Testament, notably the Pauline Epistles and Acts. Their existence was officially eradicated in the 12th century, says Rue, when Gratian of Bologna rewrote canon law. "With one stroke of his misogynist pen, he erased centuries of histories of women priests."

Rue nearly became a nun in the late 1960s, but she left the convent--and the Catholic Church--after feeling constrained by some rules of her order, such as its barring novices from visiting their families to mourn a death unless the deceased was a sibling or parent. She became a playwright and director for feminist theater in New York but found her ecclesiastical side wasn't satisfied.

In 1985 she entered New York's Union Theological Seminary and studied the feminist and lesbian teachings of liberation theology. In 1993 she earned her doctorate in feminism, theater, and theology at Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. She went on to teach women's studies and comparative religious studies at San Jose State University, where she presides over weekly Catholic mass in the nondenominational university chapel. And while female priests can't hold mass in traditional churches, Rue began serving late last year as the priest for Sophia Catholic Community, a "house church" congregation of open-minded Catholics in Santa Cruz, Calif.

It's an impressive resume, made even more remarkable by that other Catholic rebellion--being a lesbian.

"As a lesbian feminist priest, I understand Jesus' message to be a call to love one another as I love myself," says Rue. "My partner, Kathryn, and I believe that as loving committed partners--and let me be very clear, that includes our sexual relationship--we embody a passionate, affirming, life-giving God."

And celibacy? "The apostles were married. The Bible clearly states that Peter had a wife," answers Rue. "We don't make a vow of celibacy. Those who wish to be celibate, fine. It's a lovely state. It's not the only state, however. Priests should look like the people they serve."

That resemblance grows ever stronger for Catholic women, since the first ordination of female priests on North American soil--which took place in May in Toronto--will be followed by ordinations throughout July and August in Minneapolis, New York City, Portland, Ore., and Santa Barbara, Calif.

"I think this is the beginning of what I call a renewed priestly ministry, a more inclusive priesthood, a more inclusive theology," she says. "And women priests are only a tiny, little piece of that. Believe me, I don't delude myself in thinking we are the vanguard of the church." Rue grins. "There are a lot of rebels at the base."
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Title Annotation:PERSON TO KNOW: VICTORIA RUE
Author:Archer, Greg
Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Date:Jul 17, 2007
Words:862
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