“I Name Myself in Power”: The Roman Catholic Womenpriests and the Performance of Relational Authority

Claire Maria Chambers


By focusing on the liturgies and spiritual narratives of the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, this article explores the performance of the authority of women in ways that challenge institutional hierarchy and affirm inclusivity and equality, but still maintain forms of power. The Womenpriests are a radical reform movement internal to the Roman Catholic Church committed to a progressive politics of inclusion. They challenge normative power relations by practising ritual ordination of women priests in the full line of apostolic succession. Their performance of priesthood names the individual and the community as sources of power in a manner that creates what the author calls “relational authority.” Relational authority regards dwelling with others and the recognition of inherent, human worth as sources of meaning that are creative and co-creative. This concept responds to existing theories that consider the social dimension of participation, rather than the individual viewer or actor, in collaborative performance. The article reflects on the relationship between performance theory and the theological dimensions of Christic representation and interrogates feminist theology for new forms of performative signification. The performance of priesthood by women in the Roman Catholic Church is an interstice of new possibilities for the exchange of authority and power, and an example of performance that, by means of “dwelling with,” opens new paradigms for performance theory beyond being, doing, and its permutations through showing and explaining. Rather than authority stemming from being and doing, the Womenpriests demonstrate authority that issues from knowing (wisdom) and relating.

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