Ireland’s only female bishop has warned that although women in the Church of Ireland are “slowly but surely getting into high-level positions” they “are not there yet” and they must not be “complacent”.
Speaking to the Irish Independent about the 30th anniversary of the ordination of women to priesthood within the Church, Bishop Pat Storey explained that today one in five – or 100 of the Church of Ireland’s 500 serving clergy – are women.
Dr Storey, who is Bishop of the Diocese of Meath and Kildare, revealed she is part of a group appointed by the Church’s House of Bishops to study the progress that has been made since the first ordinations in 1990 and to look at why there hasn’t been more progress.
“We have come a long way but there are lots of factors that mean maybe we are not where we would like to be,” she said.
“This research is asking questions such as how far have women come, have we any self-limiting beliefs, and are there institutional barriers that prevent more women progressing?”
The 60-year-old prelate, who was consecrated a bishop in 2013 and remains the only woman among the Church of Ireland’s 12 governing bishops, said progress will have been made when women’s vocation to priesthood becomes “so embedded in the system that it is no longer a matter of being ‘women priests’ but priests, or ‘women bishops’ but bishops. We have a way to go on that.”
She believes there will be more women bishops appointed by the Church of Ireland, though “it may take a little more time”.
Recently, a second female archdeacon, which is the next level to a bishop, was announced by the Church and there are also a couple of female deans.
The mother-of-two, whose husband Earl is also a Church of Ireland priest, described her role as Bishop of Meath and Kildare as “an absolute privilege” and something she “never takes for granted”.
The Church of Ireland’s first woman deacon, Rev Katharine Poulton, was ordained to the diaconate in 1987.
In May 1990, Rev Irene Templeton and Rev Kathleen Young were ordained priests at St Anne’s Cathedral in Belfast. The first woman ordained a priest south of the Border was Rev Janet Catterall in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork, in 1990.
Although 20pc of the Church of Ireland’s clergy are female, Dr Storey highlighted that the number of women who are full-time rectors in charge of parishes is a lot less than that.
“We are looking at the factors that play into that.
"Family is the major one – but that would be a factor in other professions not just ours.”
Dr Storey dismissed the argument made in the Catholic Church against women deacons and priests, that it clericalises women, as “a weak argument”.
“There doesn’t seem to be any problem about clericalising men,” Dr Storey added.
A recent video produced to mark the 30th anniversary of the ordination of the first women priests shows 62 female ministers passing a chalice, the symbol of priesthood.
The video highlights some of the ‘memorable’ comments made to women as Church of Ireland priests including being asked, ‘Are you sure you are not a nun?’, being referred to as priestesses, and told, ‘I don’t agree with women in ministry but I suppose you’ll do’.