At left, Maria Vittoria Longhitano, now known as 'Mother Vittoria'
The Catholic Church treats women as second-class citizens, and women are taking a stand to call attention to it Sunday, Sept. 26, from 9:30-11 a.m. in the South Park Blocks.
Organizers say the Vatican's new laws instituted this summer, equating the ordination of women with pedophilia, have prompted global outrage, and Catholics from around the world are speaking out.
While "A Sunday Without Women" is calling for change within the church, organizers said they're trying to avoid being "divisive or disrespectful."
"Rather, with great hope, peace and prayerfulness, we desire to make a strong case for justice for women, and the need for women to be treated fairly and equally in the Catholic Church," said spokesperson Gayle Bache.
The ordination in Italy last May of Maria Vittoria Longhitano, who is now known within the "Old Catholic" church denomination as Mother Vittoria, grabbed headlines and touched off a heated debate on the ancient institution's future.
The New York Times today reported she will be taking the helm of a congregation in Lombardy, which the newspaper described as creating a "small earthquake" for the church hierarchy.
"It was a strong signal, a way of opening the way," Mother Vittoria told the newspaper. "Rome is the center of Christianity; I think I gave a sense of hope to sister Catholics."
Critics of the Vatican say the new law against women priests is a sign that the movement for women's equality in the church is growing.
After a series of stories in the New York Times last summer digging out details of alleged cover-ups of pedophile church officials in Germany and Belgium, the Vatican's spokesman abruptly issued a statement linking sexual abuse of children with granting women the right to become priests.
On July 15, Vatican officials announced they had re-cast their laws on discipline within the ranks, but that they would punish ordination of females on par with some of the worst possible offences, including pedophilia, heresy and apostasy.
Catholics around the world reacted with shock to the new law, particularly in Ireland, where the movement to allow women to join the priesthood is particularly strong.
On Aug. 11, 80-year-old Irishwoman Jennifer Sleeman called for a national church boycott day to draw attention to the issues.
Her call has touched a nerve around the world, and Catholics from across many continents are responding with their own events.
Last week Pope Benedict officially apologized during a visit to England for the Catholic Church's inadequate response to wide scale pedophilia reports in Europe and the United States for the past 50 years; meanwhile, hundreds of protestors raged in the streets of London.
In Portland, organizers want to be clear that they are not staging a protest.
"It is a prayerful public witness event, and we are giving witness to the unjust and unequal treatment of women in the Catholic Church," Bache said. "The issue is that what we really want is this event to be an inclusive event for men, women, and children, and we believe if we do this in a prayerful and thoughtful way that we will be heard."
She said the group plans to continue organizing.
"We are not sure exactly in what form that will take but in the end of our event we are going to be inviting women to share with other women and develop talking circles and tell their stories about their suffering and hurtful feelings about being in the Catholic Church," she said.
Participants are gathering Sunday at Shemanski Fountain, corner of SW Park & Salmon. They plan to "pray, sing, and give testimony," and "attend Mass at alternate times."
For more information go to www.onespiritonecall.org