Let's end this old, beat-up year by pointing off toward the far horizon to a change that is trying to work its way into the Catholic Church.
The ordination of women as priests won't happen in 2015. And it may never happen. But the stirrings continue to grow in intensity. And now there is a pope who may be willing, not to remove the barricades but to soften them just a bit, perhaps eventually by making it possible for Catholic priests to be married. (Just for the record, however, Pope Francis says the "door is closed" to the possibility of female priests.)
From married priests, the idea of female priests is not such a large leap.
Those of you in the Kansas City area may have seen this recent story in The Star about a woman who intends to be ordained this weekend as a Catholic priest, even though the church won't recognize the ordination as legal.
Although she'll be the first woman to be ordained in this way in Kansas City, lots of women have been similary ordained, encouraged by the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests.
At the same time, lots of voices -- both male and female -- are calling for a larger role for women in the governance of the Catholic Church.
A recent example is the new book Rise, Catholic Women: You Hold the Key, by Sarah Harding.
The author runs a Christian book store and flower shop in upstate New York, and, at age 82, has decided to add her voice to those encouraging Catholic women to become more engaged in the oversight of the church.
"The spirit of women needs to be interjected into the male-dominated Catholic Church," she writes.
Harding is not demanding female priests immediately. She understands that will be a long time coming, if it comes at all. She says, however, that "the first step is the acceptance of women deacons and priests' wives."
She offers ideas and resources -- including this blog -- for those who want to encourage a greater presence of women in the church but who aren't yet ready to break with the church in the way the Kansas City woman is.
Momentous change in institutions often happens only after tiny steps are taken first. Will these developments in Catholicism lead to women as priests? I can't predict. I know only that my Presbyterian Church (USA) has been blessed by the presence of many women in ministry, though it took us until 1956 to ordain the first female pastor. (That woman, Margaret Towner, though retired, still is active in church life in many ways in Florida.)
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THE POPE STIRS THE HOLY WATERS
The National Catholic Reporter's "Person of the Year," Pope Francis, continued in 2014 to engage, confuse, enrage and inspire millions. And as former NCR Vatican watcher John L. Allen Jr. reports, the various responses to the pope -- including those from insiders -- are well worth watching.