Friday, May 18, 2012

Pink Smoke Over the Vatican

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            I always knew there was a place for a woman at the altar besides in a coffin.
                              --Newly ordained woman priest

             When I was a young girl, I used to help after school by banging erasers together to get the chalk dust out. One day the Catholic nun who was my teacher said, "Let's stop now.  I want to show you something."
           We walked across the empty schoolyard, she in black habit and veil, a long rosary swinging from her waist, I in a uniform blue jumper and white blouse, hurrying to keep up with Sister's long stride. We entered the parish church by a side door. 
            The simple stone chapel that had served the town for decades was being absorbed into a modern design. Inside, by the dusty half-light of a building under construction, I could see a brand new stepped altar that would be visible from three sides by the congregation. I followed Sister all the way to the front, walking around scaffolds. When she bid me mount the altar with her, I was astonished.
            This was before the momentous changes of Vatican II, a time when a young girl knew she had no place on the altar where mass was said.  I had memorized the Latin responses, but unlike my brothers, I would never serve mass.  I was not a boy.
              Inside the new parish church, I hesitated about stepping on the altar. "It's all right," Sister said. "It's not consecrated yet."
            Vatican II called on all members to participate more fully in the life of the Church, carving an opening for the voice of the laity and communities of the faithful to be heard, although women priests was not on the agenda.  Nevertheless, by showing how the Church might remain the same even as it changed, Vatican II opened the door to fresh thinking that even today's conservative hierarchy is finding hard to overcome.  And let's not forget the beauty of synergy: Vatican II's effects unfolded at the same time a wave of feminism was breaking over much of the world.

    Pink Smoke Over the Vatican, filmmaker Jules Hart's compelling new documentary, uncovers the history of women priests in the Catholic Church from its beginnings, showing how an increasingly patriarchal institution squeezed out women from formidable roles over the centuries.  Churchmen wrote laws that said an exclusively male priesthood was so central to doctrine that it was a given, a rule that could not be broken. Nevertheless, some clear-eyed bishops have begun again to ordain women, believing that the unmistakable interior call to the priesthood, a vocation, is not restricted to one gender.
            Where there is smoke, of course, there is fire. The bishops who ordain women -- they can be counted on one hand -- are considered renegades. As insistence grows, especially from the laity, to ordain women openly and with joy, the Church digs in its heels, lashing out at the new priests and their supporters.

           When she was ordained, a South African nun who went to jail under apartheid for quietly accepting all races into the school of which she was the principal, was kicked out of the Dominican community that had been her home for decades.

Fr. Roy Bougeois, awarded the Purple Heart for military service in Vietnam and a Maryknoll priest for almost forty years, is being excommunicated for his support of the women, the most severe punishment the Church can inflict.
            This is a strong film, although for me, using the stereotypical "Pink" in the title is a minus.  So is a brief section, too facile, I think, suggesting priests' sex abuse crimes would have been fewer or non-existent had women priests been accepted in the Church.   I believe more gender balance in the priesthood would obviate many difficulties, enabling it to minister to, and with, the faithful better. The sex abuse crimes are not about "men," however, but about the arrogant, hurtful behavior of some priests and a hierarchical system riddled with corruption and impunity.
            You will learn from Pink Smoke and even laugh with it. No matter what you bring to the movie from your own history, it's difficult not to admire the women aspiring to ordination, to answering their call, and their Catholic brothers who support them.

Pink Smoke Over the Vatican - Eye Goddess Film