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The Anglican woman vicar who gave up her ministry to become a Catholic

Una Kroll, ordained a priest in 1997, says ‘God gave me a direct push that I could not resist’

By on Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Members of the Women's Ordination Conference (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

Members of the Women's Ordination Conference (AP Photo/Riccardo De Luca)

A friend has just off-loaded a lot of old copies of the Tablet on to me. I dislike its editorial line of “loyal dissent” (an oxymoron if ever there was one) over Church teaching on many issues to which we should give loyal assent – for instance Humanae Vitae and its teaching on contraception. (My colleague Stuart Reid once observed in his Charterhouse column in the Herald that the Church’s teaching in this area is hard – but that he would not want to be a member of a Church which taught differently. He put my own view entirely.) The Tablet also bangs on about women priests in the Church. I tend to skip those pages.

Still, bad can often be mixed with good and the issue of the Tablet for September 24 included an article that moved me deeply. Entitled “Power and perversity” it was by former GP and later an Anglican woman priest, Una Kroll. The subtitle explained what the article was about: “After a lifetime of spiritual searching, which included 10 years as an Anglican priest, one of the best-known campaigners for women’s ordination shocked family and friends by giving up her ministry to become a Catholic. For the first time she explains why she made that choice.”

It was curiosity, not narrow triumphalism of the “Good! She’s come home” variety, that made me read on. Kroll relates that in January 1997 she was ordained a priest in the Church of Wales by the Bishop of Monmouth. Several happy pastoral years followed, then “just before Advent 2008 I became a Roman Catholic, not on impulse but after at least five years of trying to discern God’s will…”

She writes that her parish priest exclaimed, “Why are you joining a Church whose Pope and Vatican leaders are resolutely opposed to women priests?” She replied (and this is what moved me): “I’m sorry, but I have to.” Despite some areas of disagreement with the Anglican church – such as the rights of Anglican clergy to enter into civil partnerships – there was much she was comfortable with in her own Communion. Moreover, Kroll disliked some aspects of the Catholic Church, such as interpretations about “the exercise of papal and magisterial authority that were apparently being used to suppress discussion of difficult issues in the Church: the concentration of power (potestas rather than auctoritas) is always dangerous when all opposition can be suppressed…” and so on.

Nonetheless, she is now in a Catholic parish “where lay men and women do not have any role at all in making decisions and in a diocese and Church where episcopal and priestly potestas holds sway. I am there, knowing that I cannot exercise a liturgical diaconal or priestly ministry, nor can I share in decision-making…”

All this makes her decision seem rather heroic. We inside the Church know well how divine authority given in the priesthood can often turn into tussles of petty parochial power – and in the worst cases become actual clerical abuse of authority. We stick with it because we know the infallible Church is full of fallible human beings – and because once you have put your shoulder to the plough you can’t turn back. But in Una Kroll’s case, to choose to leave a satisfying leadership role in one church for the back pews in another: only the action of grace can bring about such a move. She puts it thus: “God gave me a direct push that I could not resist.”

She also had the humility and insight to recognise in her former role “the temptation to potestas”, adding: “That was the moment when I realised that I was called by God to move to a Church where I could not exercise dominion of any sort, but where I could still learn what servant priesthood actually meant when put into practice.” In her article Dr Kroll doesn’t mention Our Lady. I hope she will come to know the sublimity of service as exercised by Mary; then she will really understand the “servant priesthood”.
Meanwhile, there is always the flowers, coffee and cleaning rota – I write as one who has been on this rota for many years in my own parish.

  • Paul Waddington

    A courageous woman.  I wonder if she will be presenting Thought for the Day anytime in the future.

  • Magnificat729

    Great article….just a response to the last line, because I’ve heard it said so often as a sarcastic sneer, that our only service at the altar is to scrub the floor beneath it.

    There are LOADS of ways that women can serve that have nothing to do with flowers, coffee, and cleaning. 

    Become a catechist, start a bible study, start a mums mentoring group, design modest and fetching clothing and promote a culture of respect for women, give seminars on how NFP supports good communication in marriage, write articles and books, host a young woman who doesn’t want to live with her boyfriend while they prepare for marriage, become a faithful, orthodox, woman theologian!  Sing! Make great art!  Mentor young women in relationships! Etc, etc, etc…..

  • Anonymous

    Quite often the promptings of God goes against the worldly grain in terms of what society accepts as a convenient consensus which can be very subjective.  In this case, one lady decided to give up the trappings of her anglican “priesthood” and cross the Tiber into the arms of the Church which she trusts as being Divinely founded and inspired.  Authority here is derived from Apostolic mandate and succession and the Church believes that She does not have it within her gift to ordain women to the priesthood as explained by the late, Blessed pope, John Paul 11 in his encyclical “ORDINATIO SACERDOTALIS “(1994).

  • Oconnordamien

    Thank you for that comment, as I was sputtering with disbelief at the suggestion that women would be most useful as a “Mrs. Doyle”.

    So to catholic women around the globe I say make a difference, “Go on, Go on, Go on, Go on!!”

  • Oconnordamien

    “the infallible Church is full of fallible human beings”. An infallible church by definition would not make mistakes. The church constantly does, otherwise the pope(s) would not need to apologise for it’s past mistakes. Mistakes which left the current pope, after a meeting in Germany, “shaken” afterwards.
    That reaction has improved my opinion of the pontiff considerably.

  • Anonymous

    There’s a difference between teaching and action.

  • Anonymous

    @Oconnordamien
    The phrase used was unfortunate. The teaching of the Church can be infallible but we all fail to live up to it.

  • WSquared

    Spot on, Magnificat729.  The Church is not confined to a building on Sundays.  And as members of the Body of Christ, neither are we.  We serve the Church and build her up in the world as well, which definitely has nothing exclusively to do with flowers, coffee and cleaning (though doing those things in our spare time might actually teach us some humility, especially if we’re among the higher-ups out in the world).  And I think that this is very true of women.  That women cannot be ordained priests just means that God uses us in other ways, and leadership for both men and women is about service and about witness.  We go out into the world to engage with the culture;  to “make disciples of all nations.”  To make women’s roles in the Church about administrative decision-making or lack thereof is actually restrictive.  Priests are chosen by God for a specific function– namely to administer the Sacraments that allow us Catholic women around the globe– or any other Catholic, man or woman, for that matter– to “go on, go on, go on, go on!!”

  • Anonymous

    Magnificat729, I agree with you, though, that there are many ways we women can serve without being priest.

    I am certainly NOT what you could classify as a “Traditionalist” (esp because I’m a seventeen year old girl who thinks chapel veils, etc are out-of-date) but it strikes me that we should consider it an honor to “scrub the floor beneath the altar.”

  • Oconnordamien

    Aha, I got it. I was being too simplistic.

  • SJH

    Honestly, what a begrudging opening paragraph. The point of your article is this woman. The interview is in The Tablet. Just say that.

    Not: “got a job lot of rubbish thrust upon me. God, those people are dreadful. Still, I managed to salvage this from the ordure.” Pointlessly digressive, thin-lipped throat clearing.

  • Vince

    You can only say that if you don’t have a single clue of what is behind the term infallible when it is related to the Church.

  • WSquared

    I think it’s more about seeing everything in our lives as opportunities to serve Christ and his Church and as an act of love.  And while that’s not exclusive to scrubbing the floor beneath the altar, it doesn’t exclude it as a form of loving service, either.  One can be that Catholic woman academic dedicated to promoting the Church’s appreciation of Fides et Ratio AND volunteer to scrub the floor beneath the altar because one wants to out of love.

  • http://twitter.com/Rokewood Robert Davis

    great smashing the church is growing everywhere!

  • stag

    What about… having a family and bringing them up religiously?

    That is by far the most important service we need from women in the Church. The extras are great, sure, but we need good committed catholic mothers far more than we need good faithful female theologians (although that would be very nice too).

  • stag

    Everyone hates the Tablet, though – don’t we?
    I for my part think the article was mild in its criticism. So what if it isn’t relevant? It makes me feel warm and fuzzy.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Adrian-Johnson/100002117620278 Adrian Johnson

    A woman can be BOTH a comitted mother AND a theologian –especially as people are living so much longer, and a woman can be an “empty nester” for decades. . . why settle for just being a grandmother and mother-in-law?  (Many daughters-in-law would heartily endorse interests beyond the family  ;-) 

  • mydogoreo

    Whatta gal!  I, too, struggle with humility and yet, when I get frustrated with the slow pace of evangelizing at my parish, I recall how trusting in God’s Providence makes it all work out somehow.  Prayerful patience always wins out.

  • Anonymous

    A lovely witness!  I have often thought, when all the sick are visited, all the children are hugged, when all the teaching has been done, then is the time when women should be priests. And I think of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who held no administrative power, worked no miracles, washed many a floor, and yet, in her quiet world of love and self sacrifice became the greatest saint of all time–yes, greater than any priest.
    Author of ‘Graffiti On My Soul ‘  (amazon) 

  • Anonymous

    Eventhough Catholic, he hurts me to see so many European Anglicans leaving their church. In Africa, Anglican services are still well attended and this with the upmost devotion. The African Anglican church is an entity of living hope and it’s a shame that this is not happening here in Europe. After all, we are all Christians. 

  • denis jackson

    I hope Baroness Helena kennedy reads this !

  • http://coracaoconfiante.blogspot.com Rodrigo Ferreira

    My mother is a catechist, lead many pastorals and was responsable for the conversion of many from my family. Why do I have to discuss the point that there is no place for women in “importante roles” in the Church? for those who read in portuguese: coracaoconfiante.blogspot.com