A woman from Rathdowney in Co Laois is among a number of female bishops at the helm of the breakaway Catholic group, the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP). In 2002 Dr Bridget Mary Meehan - who has lived for many years in Florida - was among a group of seven women ordained in the Danube River by a rebel bishop. All were officially excommunicated by the Catholic Church but, undaunted, seven years later she became ARCWP’s first bishop.

The group describes its primary goal as “to achieve full equality for women and men within the Church” and with that in mind it has ordained over 230 women as priests. On its website it says, “We are the “Rosa Parks” of the Catholic Church. We will not accept second class citizenship… Women Priests are visible reminders that women are equal images of God. We are healing centuries of misogyny.”

This summer Dr Meehan celebrated what was likely the first Mass ever celebrated in Dublin by a female bishop after receiving an invitation from what she described as “reform minded Catholics”.

Speaking to the Irish Times before the Mass she said, “I’m going to celebrate an inclusive Roman Catholic liturgy just like everybody has in their churches in Ireland. I’m going to celebrate that with a local community here of renewed, reform-minded Catholics who are interested in justice and equality for women in the church.”

Dr Bridget Mary Meehan part of group which encourages female, gay and transgender vocations https://t.co/MUHScCp5qr

— The Irish Times (@IrishTimes) August 7, 2016

The group knew it would never be given permission to celebrate Mass on consecrated ground and so opted not to ask. “We thought why bother causing a problem with the hierarchy because they’re not ready for it,” Bishop Meehan said. But in all other regards it was almost exactly like a traditional Catholic Mass.  

As well as gender equality, the group is also committed to LGBT inclusion and the organization has also welcomed an openly gay man into the priesthood.

“The Catholic Church must follow the example of Jesus who embraced everyone at the table. Gays and lesbians, transgender, divorced and remarried and all that are on the margins and are alienated should be welcome at the table of the Eucharist,” Dr Meehan said.

She remains hopeful that Pope Francis will yet slowly change how the Roman Catholic Church treats women, “Our challenge to Pope Francis, lovingly, is that we are happy you’ve changed the tone but we’re asking you to change the teaching so that justice and equality and inclusivity can become the values of the Church.”

But even if she hopes Pope Francis can change things for women she thinks attitudes in Ireland to female clerics remain years behind those in America, “I don’t know, I think your climate [in Ireland] is very different from the climate we have in the States.”

Dr Meehan has written twenty books, the majority of which deal with the role of women and Christianity and she also serves as a clergywoman for Mary Mother of Jesus Inclusive Catholic Community in Sarasota, Florida.

ARCWP Ordination/Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan's HOMILY Pt 1: http://t.co/b8Gspb0ubo via @YouTube

— Bridget Mary Meehan (@sofiabmm) December 27, 2013