EILEEN LAKE IS CONGRATULATED BY THE BISHOP OF WILLESDEN on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral in London on 17 April 1994, shortly after being ordained—conferred with religious authority—as a priest. Lake was part of the first wave of women to become priests of the Church of England, beginning with a group of 32 ordained on 12 March 1994.
In the Church of England, positions of religious leadership have historically been restricted to men. In recent decades, however, there have been some changes on this front. In 1985, the church allowed women to be ordained as deacons—religious leaders ranked below priests. The institution ordained its first women priests nine years after that, though it was not until 2015 that it ordained the first woman bishop.
Authorities of other Christian denominations, including the Roman Catholic Church, have also been examining their stances towards female religious leadership. Last August, the current head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, created a commission to study the possible effects of allowing women to serve as deacons.
But, at least in the near future, the Catholic Church seems unlikely to ordain any female priests. In 2013, soon after Pope Francis took up his post, a journalist asked him whether women might one day be able to join the priesthood. “The Church has spoken and says ‘no,’” he replied. “That is closed, that door.”