Jane Via, a county prosecutor, can’t receive the sacraments at an official Roman Catholic Church. She can’t even be buried in consecrated ground when her time comes.
Yet she gives communion, marries people — even gays — and takes confession. Via, who was ordained in Europe without the Vatican’s approval, is apparently the only woman who claims to be a Roman Catholic priest in the county. She oversees a parish that meets in a Serra Mesa neighborhood church each Sunday evening.
The Roman Catholic Church has excommunicated all women who claim to have been ordained as priests, cutting their ties to the rituals of the faith. And earlier this month, the Vatican linked the ordination of women to pedophilia in the hierarchy of church offenses.
In an interview at the spare Lutheran church where her 150-member parish rents space, Via spoke of her conversion to Catholicism, her unyielding opposition to the Vatican and her faith in the power of change over time.
How did you become a Catholic?
I was religious all my life and knew by the time I was very young that I wanted to be Catholic, even though I grew up in a Presbyterian family in St. Louis.
Being Presbyterian in my home meant going to church on Sunday. Being Catholic involves, at least optionally, a lot of daily religious practice. I liked the idea of really integrating it into daily life.
When I went away to college, I became a Catholic. In retrospect, if I’d been able to go to seminary, I would have. But at that point I accepted the rules that women couldn’t do that.
You taught religious studies at the University of San Diego. What happened there?
I began to realize that much of the dogma in Roman Catholic tradition is not scripturally based, or if it is, it’s arguable. Contemporary Biblical scholarship doesn’t support the church’s interpretation in many cases. That coincided with the burgeoning of the women’s movement, and I became much more aware of the ways in which I was discriminated against in the Catholic Church.
But you remained in the system.
I did everything: I remained a faithful Catholic. I was a lector, I went to Mass every Sunday, I raised my children in the church, I was active in every parish I was a part of. I did everything I could to try to change the church, and it was all ineffective, for the most part.
Eventually I heard about this ordination movement in Europe, and I thought, that could be my contribution. I was ordained a deacon in 2004 and a priest in 2006.
What do people call you? Do you have a title like “Mother”?
I don’t care for those kinds of titles at all. For me, there are very few commands from Jesus in the entire New Testament. But one of them is to call no man father but your own father in God. That’s in Matthew’s gospel.
We the church, at least in the Roman Catholic tradition, have ignored that command to our detriment.
“Mother,” of course, would have the same problem. And I don’t like the title “reverend,” because it implies I am somehow more revered or more holy than everyone else, which is not the case. Mostly I just go by Jane.
Was it a painful moment for you when you learned that all ordained women priests were excommunicated?
Getting to it was painful. The thought that I would not be able to be buried in a Catholic cemetery was very painful for me.
In many ways, I love the Roman Catholic Church or I wouldn’t be trying so hard to change it. I would have gone off and become an Episcopalian woman priest, and that would have been the end of this story. But I really believe if everybody like me leaves, nothing will ever change.
Yes, it was very painful. It’s less so now. Here, we are living typical Roman Catholic parish life to its fullest.
Will you reach a point when you’ll say you’ve tried your best and it’s time to move on from trying to change the church?
I don’t think so. I’m very well aware it will not change during my lifetime.
I’m sure you’re aware of the statement that people like myself are the equivalent of pedophiles, which has a particular twist for me, since my profession is prosecutor and I have prosecuted many child abuse cases, including cases involving pedophilia. I know what a serious crime it is. It’s ironic for me in particular to be classified as such.
But I’m very happy that the statement was made. It’s been clear for me for years that that (the church’s belief that women’s ordination is akin to pedophilia) was the case. But when I’d articulate that, people would say, “You’re exaggerating.” Now they’ve been very clear: they consider women getting ordained the equivalent of an act of pedophilia.
Your parish is named Mary Magdalene Apostle Catholic Community. It’s not unusual to name a parish after Mary Magdalene, a saint and one of the most well-known and controversial of Jesus’ disciples, but the “apostle” part is unusual. What does the choice of the parish’s name mean to you?
The message is that women were disciples during the time of Jesus. Mary Magdalene was specifically sent by Jesus as an apostle. Women were taught by Jesus, were his friends and his companions and participated in his ministry. Our message is that scripturally, there is a basis for a discipleship of equals between women and men.
What do you think will happen over time to the Roman Catholic Church?
If the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t change, it will die. How it will change, I don’t know.
One of the most important turning points in the history of Judaism was provoked by a terrible tragedy, the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.
It must have seemed like the end of the world and the end of Judaism to the people living at that time, but it really gave birth to a whole new variety of Judaism. You never know how history is going to knock religion around and provoke change.
— Interview conducted and edited by RANDY DOTINGA