Ex-Marine and unmarried mother Macrina McGrath leads her Church out of the Middle Ages and becomes the first woman pope.
Macrina McGrath, a young 23-year-old Catholic ex-Marine and unwed mother, begins to see cracks in the Church she grew up loving. Bad priests preying on children, harsh treatment of the divorced and LGBTQ, a deep-seated and toxic sexism, and archaic dogmas force her to choose between leaving the Church or trying to make it better. Pursuing graduate school in theology at Georgetown and a trip to India help form her resolve: She will stop at nothing to take the Church out of the Middle Ages and deliver women from their abject status. Macrina McGrath joins and soon after heads the excommunicated Womanpriest movement and, with the help of the Archbishop of Boston, begins an ascent she never imagined. But her love for Ezra, a Jewish physicist and colleague at Amherst where they teach, is getting in the way.
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Novel tells of woman who becomes priest, bishop, cardinal and pope by 2081 Stafford Betty, Special to The Review | November 1, 2023 I am an avid supporter of Womenpriests and think the Catholic Church will continue its downward skid until women’s ordination to the priesthood is officially ratified. The deaconate is not enough. I think that ordination before 2050 has a 50-50 chance. Once that happens, a few women should stand out and be appointed bishops. My novel The Womanpriest, set in the future, tells the story of one of those bishops. Like some of you, she is an excommunicated womanpriest who is mentored by women like you. The story of her gradual rise from pastor of a progressive church in New England to bishop of a foundering diocese in upstate New York to her selection by Pope Francis II as the Church’s first female cardinal is the gist of the narrative. Her election as pope in 2081 over intense opposition from conservative cardinals on the Curia is its climax. I hope you will consider reading and sharing it with likeminded souls. Showing how all this could happen might help make it happen. I have a Ph.D. in theology from Fordham. This would be my tenth novel, two of them on biblical characters, and the most controversial. One member of the backward Catholic Book Club called my fictional pope “an antichrist.” Even NCR refuses to review the book or even give notice of its appearance. For the same reason it avoids, as far as I can tell, endorsing your movement. We are surrounded by timid calculation. Only a bold stroke forward will move the needle. ~ Felix Kryzanowski, Editor, The Review, Canada's RCWP online magazine
Juan Ventimiglia 5.0 out of 5 stars A transformative vision of God and Catholic Christianity Reviewed in the United States on October 29, 2023 Stafford Betty's novel The Womanpriest is the story of Macrina McGrath, an American woman who, towards the end of the 21st century, becomes history's first female pope. The prospect of a woman pope in the not-too-distant future seems unlikely. However, Betty's narrative masterstroke renders that prospect almost probable. He does it by introducing, among other things, a catastrophic pandemic killing billions the world over which leaves the traditional Catholic priesthood drastically reduced. The ordination of women and of married persons becomes necessary for the very survival of the Church. Celibacy is no longer a requirement. In the unfolding of the story, Betty has Macrina proposing further changes, without which the Church would become ever more irrelevant in the post-modern future--irrelevant, more specifically, to persons I'll call religion's cultured critics, persons who insist that religious beliefs, indeed all beliefs, must pass a test of critical reason before being accepted by them. Among her changes is the lifting, within limits, of current Church proscriptions condemning contraception, divorce, abortion, sex among folks not married to one another, and same-sex relationships. More radical, and consequently more interesting to me, are the theological changes Macrina advocates—and there are many more than I can mention here. Without them, she believes, Christianity--not only Catholic Christianity, but Christianity generally—will become even more irrelevant to the world’s educated peoples. Most radical and interesting is what she does with Jesus. Is it necessary to believe that Jesus is the coeternal Son of God who created the universe with its two trillion galaxies, or that he will descend again to earth to bring the world to an end, or that he was born of a virgin? The tradition says yes, but you lose educated, scientifically literate people it you insist on it. So treat such beliefs as optional—factually true for some but mythological for others. Instead, make the two Great Commandments the twin cornerstones of the religion. Put the emphasis where it should always have been: to love God as best we can and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Those are goals of near universal respect, and any religion that places them first will deservedly attract large numbers. Macrina does not take the further step that appeals to me personally, namely, to think of God mystically, perhaps as Love, rather than personally. She also shows her traditional side by defending the Church’s teaching on purgatory, which she sees not as punitive but instructive—a good place of cleansing and preparation before rising to heaven. On the other hand, she is not afraid to recommend a radical new vision of God. She insists that God should be thought of not only as Father but as Mother, coequal and coeternal. If women are to join men as their equals in Church leadership, she says, then the change must begin at the top—with God. Notwithstanding my disagreement with Macrina on God’s personhood, which she says is necessary for humans to feel any connection to God, I strongly agree that changes must be made to render Christianity acceptable to religion's cultured critics, who regard the Church today as medieval in its theology and deeply sexist in its social doctrine. She has taken the first and most important step. So saying, I hope I've been able to persuade any person hearing or reading this review to read with care this remarkably provocative novel is truly transforming. Read less ~ Juan Ventimiglia, Amazon.com Review
5.0 out of 5 stars A prophetic vision? If your theology is stale this is a must read. The format is original and compelling. The protagonist is inspiring and drives the story with courage and determination. You will come away with Betty’s concept of God as “a joyous, compassionate, loving, powerful, boundless, light-filled Reality at the hub of the universe with an outreach that extends to the epicenter of our souls”. All souls. ~ Ellen Mero, Amazon.com Review
A TRULY RIVETING NOVEL! Stafford Betty did it again: His latest novel, The Womanpriest, knocked my socks off! I’ve read all of Betty’s books on the Afterlife -- this is a subject that really draws my attention and, to me, he’s currently one of the best and most reliable authors on the subject. When I learned about The Womanpriest, I thought to myself, “Gee, too bad it’s not a novel on life beyond death, as The Afterlife Therapist, The Imprisoned Splendor and Ghost Boy.” I decided to go ahead and order the book, though, to see what it was all about. And boy, was I impressed! Womanpriest is a remarkable story to say the least! It presents the life and loves of Macrina McGrath, a brave young Catholic ex-Marine and unwed mother, with Hindu and Buddhist influences, who decides to face archaic dogmas to become a woman priest. She is painfully excommunicated by the Church she is so devoted to and has to face impossible odds to continue preaching in a religion ruled by men. The narrative is brilliantly crafted as sort of a scrapbook, where e-mails traded among characters, as well as interviews, article snippets and whatnot from different sources flesh out this powerful woman who will stop at nothing to bring change and make a difference in the world. And for those like me, Afterlife lovers, Betty has found a brilliant way to fit in the subject he is so well versed on! The Woman Priest is an enthralling page turner, a patchwork of memorable moments in the life of a fictional female character who, were she real, women and humanity as a whole would have a remarkable role model to follow. I was so sorry to reach the story ending. Of course I’ll have to reread it and savor it all over again. ~ Helcio, Email, followed by Amazon.com
Simply stated, "The Womanpriest" by novelist Stafford Betty is a riveting read that will have special and particular appeal to readers with an interest in Christian/Religious mysteries in general and the tensions within the contemporary Catholic Church in particular. An original, entertaining, thought-provoking, and iconoclastic work of fiction, "The Womanpriest" is also available in a digital book format (Kindle, $6.99) and is a highly recommended pick for community and academic library Contemporary Fiction collections and personal reading lists. ~ Midwest Book Review, Review
Here in The Womanpriest: A Novel, author Dr Stafford Betty has brought to the fore a deceptively woven and intriguingly veined mystery that not only centres around something very powerful but like a tree over the years, branches out into showcasing the human condition; via the guises of the aforementioned flawed priests (and their preying on children), the harsh treatment of the divorced and LGBTQ, deep-seated and toxic sexism, and archaic dogmas that just don’t seem to have a sell by date. Set in the second half of the century, from the off, Southern American fisherwoman Macrina McGrath - destined to become the first female pope - is up for the fight, no matter who it is against, and will leap any hurdles (physical or mental) on her journey to self-discovery. But she also has to face her own demons, of course, such as some deeply-rooted personal issues, both spiritual and secular conflicts, and more. Complete with quite a few twists and turns, and strewn with deeply-woven insights about the human condition, along with a deep examination within the souls of those she comes up against, the book is a genuine page-turner and one that even though I myself didn’t know much about going into, just couldn’t put down once opened (save for that night’s sleep, although I tried to stay awake and push through, honestly!). ~ Exclusive Magazine, Review
Professor Stafford Betty’s latest novel, The Womanpriest, describes the journey of a Catholic woman, Macrina McGrath, from youth in a southern American city to an undreamed of, seemingly impossible climax: election to the Seat of Perter in 2080 as the first-ever woman pope of the Roman Catholic Church. Alongside the story of her rise, her emotional ups and downs, her love for a man that tempts her to give up her mission, and a whole host of experiences that most of us will never have, Betty works in a little theology. It was this that interested me most. As Macrina ascends the Catholic hierarchy, she devotes herself to breaking down barriers and questions religious doctrines that are outdated. Why isn’t Catholic Christianity more inclusive, she asks, more accepting of those on the outside, more tolerant of other beliefs instead of condemning them? Over and over Macrina challenges the Church to become something it currently is not, something better, something more attractive and believable. She doesn’t shy away from hot-button issues. Why can’t priests be allowed to marry? What if women could be priests? Why is it so important that Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus, be a virgin? What if the Trinity were updated to include a Mother? What if belief in reincarnation were tolerated as a possible second chance for souls, including aborted babies, to experience earth? What if the Catholic Church were more accepting of the LGBTQ community? And why can’t the Church be less dogmatic in general? Betty, speaking through Macina, intrigued me with questions like these. Macrina avoids a damning critique of Catholicism. Her approach is to suggest reforms that are consistent with scientific evidence and a broader, more inclusive spirituality. This is the approach that we Catholics and former Catholics are already using to some degree. But for one like me who has rejected religion, not God, because of its absolutism, I appreciated Betty’s attempt to update a future Catholic religion not based so much on dogma and tradition but on Jesus’ teaching to love one another. I could join that type of Church, one less certain of truth, more willing to have faith that our Creator is so much more all-knowing than we can imagine. Betty uses Macrina as a means to take a spiritual journey into the religions of the world, the role of God in our lives, and the place of the Catholic Church in a world of multiple religious traditions. Through Macrina he creates a “priest” very different from those we see in today’s Catholic Church, an enlightened woman with a desire to remain deeply connected to the Church even when that same Church excommunicates her. The magic of this book is its success in showing her rise from condemned heretic to beloved pope in a span of 35 years. As one who likes to ponder God, religions, and the individual’s place in the universe, I enjoyed the spiritual journey The Womanpriest took me on. Throughout the book I was constantly engaged in my own thoughts and compared my own beliefs to those shared and discussed in the novel. Intellectually stimulated to ponder my relationship with God, I did quite a few “what ifs” of my own. As one who hasn’t been an avid reader of books of late, I found Betty’s narrative technique quite unusual. Many voices are brought together by Macrina’s twin brother Greg as he researches files and archives to chronicle her life. He collects emails, journal entries, sermons she gave, news articles about her, and memories of her from her parents and friends to complete the picture. It’s a challenging but effective way to bring her story to life—filled with soul-searching speculation; her love for Ezra, the Jewish mathematician she met while a professor at Amherst; the thrill of victory over an all-male bureaucracy; a chance to make changes in Church teaching that in the past she could only dream of; fun-loving adventure; humor and tears; and personal tragedy. I have read some of Professor Betty’s earlier work on afterlife research, but this was something new. If you are looking for a discussion of subjects related to faith, philosophy, and spirit, you are in for a treat. If you want a great story about a unique woman who shakes the world, you are likely to remember her for a long time. I encourage you to find it, read it, and ponder the universe in your own way. The Womanpriest does not disappoint. ~ Sal Moretti, reviewer, The Bakersfield Californian, 3 June 2023
In this daring and unusual story, Stafford Betty puts us not in the 20th Century shoes of a fisherman, but in the 21st Century shoes of a fisherwoman named Macrina, destined to become the first female pope. He takes us on a bittersweet, breathtaking journey of self-discovery and unflinching service to the church, the world, and the One who called both into being. Along the way, Betty wrestles with more pressing personal and social issues, more spiritual and secular conflicts, than would seem possible in a single book. Yet they hold together, work together, in the life of a captivating character large enough, strong enough, brave enough, to embrace them all. Here’s a roller coaster ride with ups and downs, twists and turns, that matter even more than they amuse. Take a seat, I urge you, and hold on. ~ Newton E. Finn, retired public interest attorney and community organizer, ordained American Baptist minister, award-winning author (Kogan certificate
Dr. Stafford Betty’s writing is captivating. He has found a style in which he can address theological, political, cultural, and gender issues in an assertive, yet thoughtful and scholarly way. His latest novel, “The Womanpriest,” offers an inclusive view of world faiths, while maintaining a solid grounding in Christianity. In a time of doubt and darkness in the world, Dr. Betty offers the possibility of hope. ~ David Atkins, Marriage and Family Therapist
Dr. Stafford Betty weaves mystery and intrigue into this powerful story, set in the second half of the century. Macrina McGrath, an American Southerner, challenges the limits set by the Catholic Church and after many roadblocks gains the priesthood for women. But this is only the beginning of her ascent. Betty builds into the story, with its many twists and turns, deep insights about the human condition. I could hardly put the book down. It would make a great series on Netflix. ~ Tina Antonell, Life Counseling and Coach, Mindfulness and Meditation Teacher
Although I am a long-lapsed Catholic, I still feel a certain affinity with the Church and very much appreciate the spiritual foundation and moral compass it provided me. Professor Betty’s engaging book prompted much musing and pondering over the history of the Church, its faltering prominence, and its possible future. It offers many feasible twists that I had not considered and that much of the world in the years ahead will probably see unfold—some with delight, others with dismay. A standout novel for thoughtful Catholics, ex-Catholics, and anyone interested in the story of a single woman who shakes the world. ~ Michael Tymn, author of The Afterlife Revealed and No One Really Dies