Award-Winning Independent Documentary Film
By Kate Conmy, MA.
Membership Coordinator of the Women’s Ordination Conference.
Last weekend I had the honor of joining over eighty Women’s Ordination Conference members and supporters in Claremont, California for a screening of “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” followed by a distinguished panel discussion. WOC board member Miriam Todoroff of Pilgrim Place hosted the event, along with Rev. Kathleen Jess, ECC, with local support from Theresa Yugar. “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” has recently been made available for purchase, but for the past couple of years the film has starred in women’s ordination movement circles, drawing hundreds to cinemas, churches, universities, and homes for a peek at the controversial and moving film.
Fr. Roy Bourgeois has taken the show on the road, touring and speaking throughout the world (from Rhode Island to Rome) on women’s ordination and the important stories in the film. Fr. Roy’s involvement with women’s ordination is well documented, however, notably, “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” is specifically mentioned in his First Canonical Warning from his Order, the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers, insisting that his public support and promotion of the movie was a Holy Offense. More than just good press, this is a testament to the power contained within this film.
“Pink Smoke over the Vatican” breaks ground by providing a necessary platform for the revolutionary women who have discerned, challenged, and ultimately claimed their Catholic faith as ordained women priests. The film follows the stories of several women as they recall their moments of illumination and calling by God to the priesthood, the pain of a faith that does not honor their gifts, and the high costs (and joys) of “shattering the stained glass ceiling.”
The endearing twinkle in the eyes of Patricia Fresen, one of the first women ordained a priest through valid apostolic succession in 2002, sheds light on the similarities between Canon 1024 (deeming only a male may be ordained into the priesthood) and the Apartheid laws in South Africa. Fresen’s story carries the film, as her courage to disobey the unjust Apartheid laws provides the lens of “conscience” for understanding the women’s ordination movement. When a law is unjust, and no longer serves its people, it must in the end be broken. As (now famously) Fr. Roy Bourgeois points out in the film, “Sexism, like racism, is a sin.”
An important theme emerges as the women describe their relationship with their Catholicism, as their dissent from the hierarchy may beg the question: Why stay? One male priest speaks from the Diocese of Pittsburgh (often to the laughter of the audience) for the hierarchy by stating that these women choose to leave based on their actions, that there is a tradition that must be respected in order to preserve the “unity of the Church.” The cost of unity is especially high, as the Vatican claims the “attempted ordination of a woman” is one of the gravest crimes, worse than pedophilia or sex crimes against children, and ground for automatic excommunication. Yet, the Catholic identity of these women is fierce, repeatedly described as an integral, even a cellular belonging:
“The Catholic Church is my family, where I find God, and my home. So I cannot leave.”
“My heavens, I am an Irish Catholic woman. I’m just as Catholic as the Pope.”
“I am Catholic just as I am British. It is who I am; I cannot become un-British just because I don’t like what the Queen says.”
In an era of scandal and global shame in the Roman Catholic Church—which the film does touch on—it takes a rare strength to stand by Roman Catholicism. The passion found in the women featured in “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” reminds us that Catholicism is a religion of radical justice, calling all of us to work on the margins, experience God through the spirit of all beings, and practice devotion and peace through loving all people, as Jesus did.
Scholar Dorothy Irvin of St. Joan’s Alliance, the world’s oldest women’s ordination organization, provides the historical context and firm bedrock for women’s leadership in the early Church, reminding all Catholics, that when you know your history, you cannot be lied to. Women were present, named, and presbyters in the early Church, and quite frankly, remain to be the leaders of a new way of Church for the 21st century.
When we work for women’s ordination, we are working toward a culture of equity, a society of justice, and a Church worth fighting for. “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” is a refreshing defense of faith, a rational call for revision, and an inspiration for all those who seek-justice.
Jules Hart, the director and producer of “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” has launched a website to promote the sales of the award-winning film as well as a forthcoming blog for conversations, interviews, and musings surrounding the women’s ordination movement. As one of the most effective tools in the women’s ordination movement, “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” has truly earned its reputation for inspiring Catholics and non-Catholics alike to stand for women’s equal participating in the Church and the world.