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.


All very interesting about women and bishops in the early Church. But hold on – don’t you dispute the role of bishops in the early Church and even their existence? I thought the figure of a woman with up-raised arms is the Orant – the figue of hope, especially hope in the resurrection, and so common in funeral art and often found in the catacombe, which even pre-date the three examples of Church art mentioned in this article.


8.30: Surely Pat you must find this comment totally inane and superfluous to the issue for today. Where in Mother McVeigh ministering? The women you welcomed last year showed great disrespect for the EUCHARIST. I was not impressed by their interviews. There was too much “feminist aggression” and too much disrespect directed at Pope Francis. They also showed a complete disregard for the many women who live out their baptismal calling every day as parents, guardians, teachers, parish activists, charity workers, initiators of welcome and hospitality. They also forgot to acknowledge the immense and amazing leadership shown by women religious around the world and in our own country, women who achieve so much and are fulfilled in their work. I cannot find any theological or scriptural reasons against ordaining women as deacons or priests. The Church urgently needs to act in support of women at this level of ministry.


8.30 are you obsessed by KOB did he knock you back or reject you as everyday he is on your mind.

You need psychological help and maybe the Archdiocese will pay for it.

The Priesthood is not a closed shop it is a long process and sadly looks like you were not acceptable.

Yes KOB did bad however let our lord be the judge and no need for you to be the jury.

Archdiocese of Saint Andrews and Edinburgh still have the pain however think of those two faced party going priests still serving and enjoyed all the razzmatazz and will partakers.

Sorry you have been rejected.


8.30: Pat, this is the kind of comment that should be binned. Such comments lower your blog and I hope you will not allow this topic to be hijacked by this kind of inane, infantile and offensive comments. This plonk head seems to get through with crappy comments. Please do not print any further derogatory comments which have no relevance for the topic being discussed.


9 years in a religious order, philosophy, theology, noviciate, missionary service, RE teacher………..


What was in that chalice that they left on the altar was only wine. It was not the Precious Blood.

Does their lack of faith in the Eucharistic Presence not tell you something, Pat? The ritual those three women carried out in your oratory was not the Eucharist. It was just a ritual.

As regards that artwork the Vatican is alleged to have covered up – poppycock!

If it were verifiably the case that these figures portrayed were indeed Christian “priestesses”, the Vatican would never be able to cover it up. The advocates for women’s ordination would be able to demonstrate beyond doubt that “women priests” are in our tradition but were surpressed. But the fact is – they can’t.

And that John Winjgards lobby group are hardly a credible and objective source anyhow.


There’s a lot of bluster in your reply, or rather, your reaction at 11:33, but not a single item of argumentation. You make a few claims but you do not substantiate any. That’s not theology. Because you appeal to the desires and prejudices of your readers instead of using rational argument, you are engaged in demagogy. There’s no point in presenting a detailed point-by-point response to what you have written. A bag of wind, as a famous Maynooth professor is alleged to have said about a famous recently-deceased Irish bishop.


Oh, but the advocates of women’s ordination can indeed demonstrate that women ministered in the early Church not only as priests, but also as bishops. The problem is finding ears that want to hear this rather than ears like yours, which prefer the patriarchial status quo in the Church.
The Gospel evidence that men AND women ministered co-equally in Jesus’ time is highly plausible. According to the Gospel of Mark, Jesus commisioned twelve men to act as his envoys to preach, and to heal, and to cast out demons in his name. (Mark 6: 7-13) The problem with this scripture is that it may not be complete: that there may have been others, women, besides the twelve males sent out in this way. In the Greek version of this gospel (its original language) the phrase for being sent out in pairs, duo duo, was not the standard way of expressing this; in fact, the phrase corresponds with a Greek one in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible for Greek converts to Judaism), that expresses, in Genesis, Noah’s pairing male and female animals for safety in the Ark. In other words, ‘the phrase was used to express mixed-gender pairings’.
The case for female apostles in addition to the twelve males named in Mark ( 3:13-19) is strengthened by the fact that there were strict gender codes at the time delineating acceptable social roles for men and women. Mark states, for example, that these apostles anointed people for healing, but it would not have been culturally acceptable for a male to anoint a female in her own home; so the possibility that women apostles were chosen, partly with this in mind, grows stronger.
Further evidence that women ministered equally with men as clerics in the early Church was discovered, in 2009, during archeological excavations of catacombs in Naples. An ancient chapel was found, dating from the second or third century. In a frescoe behind where the altar would have stood is depicted a woman, orante, but with a gospel either side and above her head; we have even her name, Cerula. This style of early Christian iconography depicted only bishops. For the still sceptical, the depiction shows flames coming from each of the gospels, symbolising the Holy Spirit’s inspiring the bishop in his preaching. To blow any remaining scepticism out of the water (one can only hope), the style traditionally depicted a ritual…episcopal ordination.
Around the time the frescoe was painted (495), Pope Gelasius wrote to the bishops of southern Italy to order the banning of women from ministering at the altar…which means that they were performing roles as priests.
The erosion of male and female co-equality in the early Church can be traced through the depiction of women socially in the carvings on stone sarcophagi in the Vatican museum. In the Gospel scene where Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead, Martha and Mary are shown alongside Jesus and his disciples. One of the women is kneeling in astonishment and disbelief at the miracle, while the other stands as tall as Jesus and the other males. This carving dates to the end of the third century. But a century or two later , the same scene in other carvings either eliminates the women altogether, has them veiled, or grovelling on the ground as midgets.
Cultural patriarchy (and, indeed, mysogyny) was creeping into the Church to start a gender power struggle; and males won.
The most significant catalyst in this struggle was undoubtedly Constantine, who preferred a more aggressive, militaristic Christianity, the kind favoured by his legions and the kind necessary to reunite his framenting empire. But he kind that could not be expressed by women. So largely owing to Constantine’s imperial objectives, women in the Church, and in Church history, were airbrushed out of any due, leadership roles.
Who says the Vatican has no vested interest in keeping all of this hidden?


7.16: Magna, you’ve just saved me much time rummaging through Wikipedia. What an amount of information! Irrespective of early Church practices, history and cultural requirements and norms at the time of Jesus, I am a strong advocate of women deacons and women priests. However, we would have to ensure that we wouldn’t be creating another layer of clericalism. I believe we need to reconsider the concept of “gospel service” much more deeply. Simply adding women as deacons or priests into the present system which is dysfunctional at many levels could cause further difficulties. The present shortage of priests should not be the defining reason for having women in the role of deacon or priest. A new theology about service, ministry and the call to share in the priesthood of Christ (given to all through baptism) must begin anew. If we believe with St. Paul that we are each gifted differently, then we must find a place in our Churches for those gifts to be at the service of the Christian community, for both women and men.


Thank you Magna. Very informative. It’s interesting to consider this with how the Christian church like most large hierarchical organisations controls and dictates it’s message to conform with it’s aims


MMM, psychologically there are two (perhaps only two) mechanisms of social control: fear and reward (colloquially, the carrot-and-stick approach); in highly authoritarian organisations, like the Roman Catholic Church, both have proved necessary.
The Church historically has indeed used both, with a predominant inclination to inciting fear: the prospect and horror of eternal damnation and punishment.
The fear factor once worked with great effectiveness (on past, largely uneducated generations of Catholics), but it does not work so well today. Hence, the growing freedom (and the feeling of personal liberation) to dissent from traditional, unquestioning faith in Catholic clerics.


The Tablet calls for +Nichols and +Longley to consider seriously their positions (ie to resign) following severe criticism of them in the recent IICSA report on Birmingham Archdiocese. I am sure that + Nichols’ high self regard and vaunting arrogance will persuade him that he should ride this out (water off a duck’s back) but hopefully +Longley will take a more considered position. Should they resign ? Yes ! We are being told that the Church takes very seriously not just the commission of abuse but also mismanagement and coverup of abuse, including by bishops. If we are to believe this and it is to be credible in its zero tolerance then cases like this should be acted upon. The IICSA report is scathing about both these bishops, + Nichols for the primacy of protecting Church reputation and interests before the interests of victims, and + Longley for his careless management of safeguarding in his diocese, something he is ultimately responsible for and something he cannot slough off and blame on his VG ( who by the way has conveniently been moved already to another time as Dean of the Cathedral). Both these bishops should realise that their clergy and the laity are watching to see how they react, and in that will people judge whether they and the Church are really serious about this matter or just paying lip service. Their credibility and that of the Church is at stake. Other bishops and the Nuncio should also take note. Ignore this at your and the Church’s peril. Also outside the Church what you do about this is being watched. If you do nothing secular authorities will conclude that you are not serious or capable of managing your affairs. And they will intervene. Be warned.


11.43 do you really think they read the Tablet and take notice somehow I do not think so.
IICSA has them back in September so nothing likely happen till then however = Nichols was in the Universe saying sorry but that is too late.
Nichols is 75 in November 2020 but Longley has a long time to go and thinks he maybe transferred back to Westminster but after this not now.
Hopefully people have written to Nichols and Longley and asking them to consider their position as for the Papal Nuncio he leaves soon suppose to be September.


In any other organisation, Nichols and Longley would have been walked to the door with a box with their things in it following such a damning judgement by a independent judicial inquiry. But, they will brazen it out. But, the damage is done. And will continue to be done further. They have no shame.


that line here -Pope John Paul II, who also ruled that the issue of female priests could not even be discussed on pain of excommunication.
Dictatorial and also a hallmark of a cult who say that kind of comment.
It reminded me of Cardinal Brady who told and the kids abused by Fr Smyth to swore and tell no one even their parents under the pain of excommunication. That kid broke his oath of swearing and went off on his own bat which eventually led to arrest of Fr Smyth.
Under the pain of excommunication smacks of sheer blackmail and coercion. Also that said, Catholic church is NOT inclusive to woman or people with disabilities. Imagine that every sunday mass, its over my head every time cos i cant hear without any kind of accessibility provided by the church or the parish itself.
Catholic church is never inclusive for 2000 years and they went after women -why?


I have commented here several times that in effect it is impossible to leave the church… Because of this coercion. Then other people comment that yes of course you can leave. In reality it is impossible to leave.


3.56: Yes, it is possible to leave the Church. Just leave. Just move on in your life. Stop being so stupidly nonsensical. Just forget that you were ever a member like the way most people do and don’t care….but many of these “don’t care, couldn’t be bothered” types will want 1st communion and confirmation for their children, a church for their daughter’s wedding and for family funerals. Utter hypocrites. They should all join Larne or some other outfit. Or just be honest and go to a haybarn for all their celebrations of milestones.


DU: Are you a hearing aids user? If yes, do they have the “loop” facility programmed onto them? Most modern hearing aids have this programme available, but regularly, NHS audiologists just don’t bother installing it via their computer. Disgraceful: it’s a two minute job on the computer usually done when aids are being programmed specifically to the users personal frequency losses, and anyone with NHS aids should insist the audiologist installs it.
Then, provided your venue, church or theatre, has a loop facility installed to their microphones/sound system, the hearing aid user simply acesses it by pushing a button on the hearing aid, to clearly hear sound from the microphones/sound system. And if your church does not have a loop system, demand one is installed to meet the requirements of disability legislation. Home loop systems are also available for the TV so hearing aid users can hear speech clearly without the high volume annoying others in the home. They’re currently about £100 and easily installed, with no VAT payable by hearing aid users.


Patsy on Sinead O’Connor
Patsy you like and are very well disposed to this demented creature, are you for real? this is someone who was convicted of shoplifting and truancy, has married four times, then has herself ordained a ‘priest’ wants to be called Mother Marie Bernadette. She rips up a picture of The Holy Father, declares that she is a lesbian then converts to islam and changes her name to Shuhada Davitt this creature is a disgrace to Ireland and dose not say much for you.
Evviva Maria!


You are not very compassionate to someone who has suffered abuse and has a mental illness. I know of many of her kind acts. Jesus would not speak of her the way you have.


Pat, I have the greatest compassion for the Lady in question but anybody with a titter of wit would have recognised her ‘unwellness’ and would have disabused her of notions of ordination. completely. But she does have pots of money doesn’t she? Did she perchance part with some to you?


Patsy at 12:53pm
How do you know how Our Lord would speak of her, He is merciful to those who ask for mercy, I don’t think that apply’s here from an apostate. He is also Just and would not condone her dreadful lifestyle. She say’s she was abused her family don’t agree and if she has a mental illness she should book herself into Stillorgan for help.
Evviva Maria!


12.53: Sinead O Connor – not at all an icon….utterly demented. Utterly not an icon. She may do some good but so do most of us. She’s had so many incarnations it’s difficult to take her seriously.


Bishop Pat you amaze me surely with your experience you must see that Bellarmine has no compassion constantly on the attack of people all God’s children.
Our lord will be weeping over people like Bellarmine.
At least magna does not profess to be Catholic or part of the Universal Church.
Just pray for Bellarmine to Our blessed lady and Saint Robert bellarmine who’s Sacred name he is using.
God Bless


12.53: What about the behaviour of this woman, Sinead, jumping around from one relationship to the next: screaming in a motel room in the USA: creating many personae for herself: joining with one faith after another: and now a Muslim….When she sees the flaws and dangers of that religion, will she tear up photos of Immans?? She daren’t as she’d be decapitated. The woman is cracked, is no role model and has made a fool of many a man…. as for the care of her children??? That’s another issue….


Pat. May I go off subject please. Reports in the Irish News in the last few days have concerned an issue in the church controlled Hannahstown Cemetery where a number of families have been asked to remove memorials/ headstones deemed to be inappropriate and not in keeping with the dignity of the cemetery. Despite the fact that the families concerned are said to have flouted the cemetery regulations it is now reported that a protest in support of these mourners is to take place at the cemetery this weekend. Do your contributors think this is a right course of action.


Fr Peter more like Auld Gossip or Br.Stephen, Paul or all the litany of names she uses.

LOL What a load of nonsense especially coming from you, trying to sound so pius when that’s very last thing you are!
watch you don’t trip over your halo Peter.
Evviva Maria!


Patsy at 5:21pm
Patsy I know you had nothing to do with O’Connors so called ordination, it was some clown calling himself bishop Michael Cox who started up his own mad sect. Thank God you had nothing to do with it, it’s one of your saving graces.
Evviva Maria!


2;33 Seamus,
I think you are at the wind up trying to cause trouble pretending you are from the general Area. If you were a local you would know Stonyford has no E.
That said for what it’s worth I understand families who bury a loved one in this graveyard sign a document to abide by the rules and regulations governing the type of monument which they can erect.
My understanding from the press article is that the families involved have failed to adhere to these regulations. I hope the parish and the families can resolve the matter sensitivity.


Hi iv seen many a good Mrs Vicar. Tis a historical thing that the male hierarchy took over. Nowadays tis ok to have gay pride but not to have female priests in thRC. Tis allmad so tis G nite hi


Of course women were ordained in the early church. The present day church is mysoginistic in the extreme. It is an exclusive men’s club because they believe that men are superior. They are deluded fools. It’s all part of the clerical state. It’s about egos and control. Those in power can control men. They couldn’t control women in the same way. It suits their business and corruption . Women are equal to men in this world but the good old Vatican thinks otherwise. It’s the same with marriage. In the pastoral chapters of the bible it states a man (priest) and his wife should be upstanding. But the business that is the Vatican thinks otherwise. Would all who support this failed entity please in the name of God wise up


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