by Alexandra Marie Daniels
In a coffee house on Alvarado Street in Monterey, California I sat down with documentary filmmaker Jules Hart to talk about her film Pink Smoke Over the Vatican. Pink Smoke, a story about the controversial movement for women’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church, is a subject I would normally shy away from. I have actively avoided formal religion for most of my life. But when my friend Rick Chelew, who made the film with Hart, emailed me and said “This is a perfect story for The WIP,” I was intrigued. Pink Smoke Over the Vatican is about the Catholic women and men who have taken a stand, despite excommunication, to put an end to 2,000 years of misogyny, sexism, and silence.
Despite ancient, archeological evidence of women as priests, bishops, and even deacons, the Roman Catholic Church succeeded for centuries in silencing women’s voices. In recent years, devout women throughout the world are responding to a calling to priesthood despite complete rejection from the Vatican. March 25, 2011 is the 17th Annual World Day of Prayer for Women’s Ordination.
The movement, Hart explains, “has grown exponentially.” There are approximately one hundred women priests worldwide. “But if you talk to the church,” she tells me, “there’s been no progress.” Despite the church’s denial, women in increasing numbers are choosing to listen to God over church hierarchy, whose laws have eradicated ancient history and have been rewritten to fit a misogynist paradigm by which men have total power and domination.One of the women interviewed by Ms. Hart is Dorothy Irvin, a PhD scholar who has spent the last four decades studying the early history of Christianity. “We have written manuscripts, reports on councils, [and] writings of early theologians,” Irvin explains. “We have lots of tombstones of women who were priests.”
Her research illustrates that women had leadership roles in early Christianity. The film shows mosaics on the walls and on the floors in the catacombs of North Africa. From the inscriptions, Irvin explains that Saint Augustine, “usually thought of as being so against women… apparently had them on his staff, ordained.”
Pink Smoke documents the voices of the few male priests who have advocated for women’s ordination. Among them is Father Roy Bourgeois of Georgia. He makes the fundamental point that “for our church to be healthy, we need women. We need their faith, we need their experiences, we need their compassion and we need their courage. If our church is to be vibrant and healthy, we need women priests.” For his open support of women’s ordination Father Roy was excommunicated.
Patricia Fresen, a South African excommunicated for becoming an ordained priest, compares canon law forbidding women to play any role in the church to Apartheid and illustrates how sexism, like racism, is wrong. “Canon law 1024 states, ‘Only a baptized male validly receives sacred ordination.’ That is exactly the same as saying only white people can live in the cities. Only white children can go to white schools.” She shares something she learned from Nelson Mandela. “If an unjust law cannot be changed, it must in the end be broken.”
All of the women in the film call the Roman Catholic Church their home and feel they cannot leave. Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, explains, “My faith is in my DNA. I’m an Irish Catholic woman and I am passionate about my faith… I am as much a Catholic as the Pope is.” Author and theologian Edwina Gately likens it to her nationality. “I often use the analogy of saying, ‘look I am British. This is my inheritance. This is who I am. I am a British woman. Now, I can’t leave being a British woman. I can’t say I am going to stop being British…”
These women will not be stopped. They will loose their incomes before they will lie, as the Church wants them to do. After being threatened by the church for supporting women’s ordination, Sister Louise Akers of Ohio, was determined not to be silent. “Two persons came to mind” she shares in the film, “One was a saint that says to us ‘Cry out as if you have a million voices. It is silence that kills the world’… and the other was my dear hero Martin Luther King, Jr. who said ‘Our lives begin to end when we are quiet about the things that matter.’”
Pink Smoke Over the Vatican illustrates that equality is vital to the future of the Catholic Church. Mary Ramerman of New York so eloquently expresses the global importance for women’s rights. “The church is called to be a light in the world. If the church allows discrimination of women, if the church allows women to be on the sidelines or to be inferior, to not be included in the decision making, then it implicitly gives that permission to the rest of society.”
About the Author:
Alexandra Marie Daniels is a writer, dancer, and filmmaker. She has made three films with the director Bernard Rose, including The Kreutzer Sonata (2008) and Mr. Nice (2010) and has worked with the director Martyn Atkins as a script supervisor on concerts such as Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood: Live from Madison Square Garden and The Crossroads Guitar Festival 2010. Currently, she is teaming up with Los Angeles based choreographer Sarah Swenson to create a film version of Swenson's Fimmine.