She's 52, married, a mother of three and, of course, female. As a result, Andrea Johnson is barred from the career she would most like to pursue: Roman Catholic priest.
"If it were open to women, I would go to seminary," said Johnson, national coordinator of the Fairfax-based Women's Ordination Conference, a group that favors ordaining women.
"It seems to me the type of mediation Jesus did didn't depend on his maleness," she added. "It depended on his humanity."
The Vatican's insistence that only celibate males can be priests has not stopped Catholic women from feeling called to ordination. And judging by a newly released survey, a significant number of those women have not let their disaffection with its policy keep them from working for the church.
The survey, released Monday by the Women's Ordination Conference (WOC), found that 52 percent of a sample group of 265 Catholic women who said they would like to be priests or deacons are employed full time in paid positions with the church.
"Women who experience a call to priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church today are not radicals on the fringe of the institution," wrote the survey's authors, Maureen Fiedler, a Sister of Loretto and co-director of Quixote Center in Brentwood, and Karen A. Schwarz, a WOC board member. "They are mature, well-educated, regular churchgoers active in their faith communities . . . not a group to be taken lightly."
Titled "Benevolent Subversives," the survey report does not purport to reflect views of the general Catholic population. Rather, it documents how a sample group inclined to ordination feels about women's role in today's church.
The 265 were among 894 respondents to a questionnaire sent by WOC to 10,000 female members of seven organizations. Three of those groups represent liberal opinion among Catholics: WOC, FutureChurch and Dignity/USA.
But the four others do not: the National Association of Catholic Chaplains, National Association of Lay Ministers, Catholic Campus Ministry Association and National Association of Parish Directors and Administrators.
Of the female church employees, whose median age is 51, 35 percent are married and 27 percent are nuns. Eighty-six percent said they are heterosexual, and 14 percent said they are lesbian or bisexual.
More than 80 percent hold master's or doctoral degrees in such fields as theology, pastoral studies, liturgy, education and canon law. "These are women who any diocese would scramble to attract if they were male," Fiedler said.
Not surprisingly, 84 percent of the women said they would separate decision-making roles from ordination and give the laity a stronger voice in how the church is run; 87 percent agreed that parishioners should be able to choose their own pastors.
Ninety-seven percent also agreed that "it is possible to be a good Catholic and publicly disagree with church teaching." They also said the church should welcome back married priests to active ministry.
Funded by a grant from the Baltimore Regional Community of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas, the survey found that only 10 percent believe the Catholic Church will always decline to ordain females as priests and deacons.
Other studies have found that women occupy many positions in the church. In June, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops noted that women hold nearly half of the diocesan, administrative and professional positions in the church. And the National Pastoral Life Center in New York reports that about 80 percent of the jobs in Catholic parishes are held by women.
However, all senior church positions that determine church policies and teachings are held by ordained men.
Johnson, who lives in Herndon, believes that will change eventually, despite the Vatican's current position against female ordination. But it will happen, she said, from the ground up--something she said she learned from her own experiences in the 1980s.
For two years, because of a shortage of priests, Johnson served as parish coordinator of the Catholic parish at Vint Hill Army Post in Warrenton. She was responsible for organizing baptisms, visiting the sick and generally running the parish. A visiting priest said Mass each weekend.
"I think it is going to change and in keeping with how the Roman Catholic Church moves and operates," she said. "I think the change is happening as we speak, from below."
VIEWS OF SOME CATHOLIC WOMEN
Of 265 Catholic women polled:
* 35 percent are married, and 27 percent are nuns. 86 said they are heterosexual, and 14 percent said they are lesbian or bisexual.
* More than 80 percent hold master's or doctoral degrees in such fields as theology, pastoral studies, liturgy, education and canon law.
* 84 percent said they would separate decision-making roles from ordination and give the laity a stronger voice in how the church is run; 87 percent agreed that parishioners should be able to choose their own pastors.
* 59 percent said dropping the celibacy requirement is a "must" if they were to accept ordination.
* 95 percent said the church should permit couples to make their own decisions about forms of birth control.
* 74 percent said there are circumstances in which abortion can be a morally acceptable choice.