The story of Lavinia Byrne and the CDF

An American religious sister, Lavinia Byrne, published a book in 1994 entitled ‘Women at the Altar: the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church’. In the book she stated the following:

The ordination of  women to the priesthood is the logical conclusion of all the recent work  of Catholic theology about women and in particular about the holiness  of all the baptised.  It is not an aberration from what the Church  teaches, but rather a fulfillment of it so that not to ordain women would now be to compromise the Catholicity of the church.

The then Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Joseph Ratzinger, ordered that the book by burned, and the publishers, the Liturgical Press of Collegeville, Minnesota, duly burned 1300 copies of the book.

Following on from that Ratzinger and the CDF demanded that Byrne recant her work and make a public statement supporting  the Vatican ban on women priests. Instead of recanting, on January 6, 2000, Byrne  asked ‘with deep regret’ to be  dispensed from her vows.  Weary of the entire saga and the fact that the Vatican was refusing to  deal with her as an individual (the CDF insisted on communicating with her only through her community’s Superior General in Rome thus creating tension affecting others, and Byrne’s relations  with them), Byrne decided to leave her Order. ‘I am resigning because of the pressure from the  CDF. I’m being silenced as a member  of a religious order.   The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith won’t to talk me directly but to my  religious superiors, and  that strategy of not dialoguing with me has  become untenable.’ 

An illustration that what happened to me was nothing new; it had been going on for a long time.  Lavinia’s story is almost exactly similar to mine, right down to the details of their refusal to communicate with her directly, and how it created a tension between herself and her religious order.  The sentence that stands out most of me now is this account of what happened to Lavinia Byrne are the words “weary of the entire saga”.