For Diane Dougherty, it is a way to live up to her calling and to challenge the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. It is a hierarchy that Dougherty maintains is sexist. Though not recognized by the Vatican, the Coweta County resident and longtime former nun will be ordained next week and will become the first female Catholic priest in Georgia.
Dougherty on Oct. 20 will be ordained a priest in the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) at a ceremony at First Metropolitan Community Church in Atlanta. Asked earlier this week at her home near Newnan if the ordination is valid, Dougherty said, “I’m being validly ordained in the line of Peter, but it is not recognized by the church hierarchy.”
The ordination service will be performed by female bishop, Dougherty said. The woman who ordained the bishop had been ordained by a male bishop, though his name has not been released, Dougherty added.
“The male hierarchy will not recognize the ordinations even though not all of them believe that women cannot be priests,” Dougherty said.
Once ordained, Dougherty will continue serving at First Metropolitan Community Church, as well as developing Intentional Faith Communities in Newnan and throughout the Atlanta area, empowering women to lead within the church and advocating for women’s ordination. Intentional Faith Communities include both Catholics and non-Catholics, she said.
Dougherty also spent time in Fayetteville where, for 10 years, she taught second grade at Hood Avenue Primary School. Having retired in 2011, Dougherty called Hood Avenue Primary the best kept secret in Fayette County.
Prior to her years as a school teacher in Fayetteville, Dougherty served in the Religious Education and Faith Formation office at the Archdiocese of Atlanta. As a lay minister, she served in Catholic schools and parishes as a master educator and catechist. An Ohio native holding a number of academic degrees, Dougherty also served for 23 years as a Sister of the Humility of Mary in Pennsylvania.
From Dougherty’s perspective, she has the training and the experience to serve in the priesthood. But why do it, given that the Vatican does not recognize women as priests?
“I’m passionate about discipleship. I didn’t ask for my vocation to serve as a disciple. I have worked in the church for nearly all my life except when I taught school in Fayetteville,” Dougherty said, explaining why she is taking the next step that will result in her ordination as a priest. “I’m doing this for the children of the next generation of women who think they cannot fully participate in the Catholic tradition. It is the biggest systemic oppressor of women in the world. I’m not above or below anyone. The most important thing is that I’ve been called to do this. It was my original call.”
As for the Catholic Church not recognizing women in the priesthood, Dougherty maintains that such an approach is tantamount to sexism that needs to come to an end in the 21st century.
“I am choosing to make a stand against sexism, an illness that is killing the very heart of our church,” Dougherty said. ”I do not want the children of the next generation to believe this is what God would have them do. I do not want little boys to grow up believing they are somehow ‘better’ than girls. Nor do I want little girls growing up to believe God would never call them into the fullness of discipleship because they are women. Separate but equal has been proven to be a false foundation for any culture and most particularly, any religion.”
Dougherty maintains that archeological evidence has been found that women served as priests in France, the British Isles and in the Mediterranean area. Fast forward to today, Dougherty insists that she is not part of a breakaway or renegade group.
“We are authentic women living out our gospel call within the Catholic Church. We stand as equals with all clergy through this ordination,” she said. “Sexism is now and always has been divisive. You cannot take half a religious denomination, make them second class, and say this is the will and intent of Jesus. The gospels and experience of the early church clearly indicate women have been called to full discipleship. There is historical and archeological evidence that verified women were priests and deacons for the first 1,200 years of its existence. That is also how long it took to make a hierarchy to say we never existed. Oppressed for the last 800 years, we are now rising up to say once again, we are here, we have been here and we will always be here, because God calls us all to be God’s presence on earth — both male and female.”
Above all, Dougherty insists that she became a religious woman to answer God’s call and served in parishes, schools, archdioceses and other Catholic institutions.
“I have never left the church. When this opportunity arrived, I saw it as a fuller pathway of service,” she said. ”I am passionate about women called to be disciples. I hope to open doors within the Catholic tradition to allow this to happen.”