Sarah Mac Donald Irish Independent

3 July 2019 2:30 AM

A mosaic at the Lateran Baptistery in Rome showed Mary as a bishop until it was painted over white

There is “overwhelming evidence” that women served as clergy in the early years of Christianity – and some of the evidence was deliberately hidden by the Vatican, according to ground-breaking new research.
Experts in theology and the early history of the Catholic Church heard Dr Ally Kateusz, research associate at the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research, outline the findings at a conference hosted by the International Society of Biblical Literature at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome yesterday.

Dr Kateusz, the author of ‘Mary and Early Christian Women: Hidden Leadership’, bases her research findings on the depiction of women as clergy in ancient artefacts and a mosaic in a Roman church in which Mary, the mother of Jesus, is depicted as a bishop.

She revealed that this mosaic contained a red cross on a vestment that only bishops wore.
But it was covered over with white paint on the orders of the Vatican “to disguise the fact that Mary was portrayed as a bishop”.

The findings are set to challenge the long-held dogma in Catholicism that women cannot be priests, strictly enforced since Pope John Paul II, who also ruled that the issue of female priests could not even be discussed on pain of excommunication.

Some of the six Irish priests who have been censured by the Vatican in recent years were targeted over their support for women in the priesthood.

According to Dr Kateusz, the three oldest artefacts anywhere in the world depicting Christians at the altar in churches all portray a woman at the altar.

“They depict women at the altar in three of Christendom’s most important churches – St Peter’s in Rome, the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem,” she said.

Miriam Duignan, spokesperson for the Wijngaards Institute, said: “This is evidence that women served as clergy in some of the most important churches in Christendom.”

Dr Ally Kateusz has written a book on women in Christianity

Some of the research relates to an ivory reliquary box dated around 430AD which shows a female priest at the altar in Old St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.

Speaking about the Lateran Baptistery in Rome and the hidden mosaic there, Dr Kateusz said: “Pope Theodore commissioned this mosaic including the bishop’s pallium [on Mary]. Her arms are raised as if performing the Eucharist. It is a symbolic way of saying Mary was a church leader.”


This is a very interesting body of information.

For over 20 years now I have been advocating the ordination of women and ordained Mother Francis Meigh to the priesthood in 1998.

Last year I welcomed a lady bishop and priest from the US to celebrate Mass here.

But I had one problem.

After the Sunday Mass celebrated by them I checked my altar etc and was quite shocked to find they had left half a chalice full of consecrated wine (The Precious Blood) in the chalice.

Very basic training and good Eucharistic theology tells you the priest consumes the left over species and purifies the vessels with water and wipes clean and dried with a purificator.

As a firm believer in the Real Presence I find such neglect unforgivable.

I’m sure male priests have been neglectful at times – but if women want to be priests they need to be properly trained theologically and liturgically and have and show proper respect and reverence for the most sacred aspects of our Catholic Christian faith.

And the Eucharist and Real Presence goes to the heart of it.

When Sinead O’Connor wanted to be a priest and asked for my advice I told her that there was no reason she could not be a priest but she should enter a period of theological and spiritual preparation.

In the end she decided to be ordained without any preparation and went for a quick fix.

I like Sinead and am very well disposed towards her. She was abused and it has left huge scars on her life. I know of her amazing generosity to the Dublin homeless.

But no one, and I mean no one, should be ordained without the most careful preparation.

As a priest you can do so much good.

But my God, as we have seen, priests can do so much harm too.