Pink Smoke Gets in Your Eyes | Gail Deibler Finke | July 29, 2011 | Ignatius Insight
Pink Smoke Gets in Your Eyes | Gail Deibler Finke | July 29, 2011 | Ignatius Insight
The woman next to me loved the
title: Pink Smoke Over the Vatican.
I know, because she said, "Great title!" with a knowing laugh.
There were a lot of knowing
laughs in the theater Saturday morning, when the one-hour independent
documentary about women's ordination had its Cincinnati debut. Perhaps the
biggest came when the narrator explained that the Congregation for the Doctrine
of the Faith is the modern day name for The Holy Office of the
Inquisition—which, though true, does sound a bit over the top. But not as
over the top as clandestine ordinations on ships by incognito bishops.
And that's what the film is
about: Women who want to be priests, some of whom claim to have been ordained.
Sympathetic bishops, they say, have helped them. The first "ordinations" of the
infamous "Danube Seven" were done in Germany in 2002—on a boat, so that
they were on no bishop's territory, and in secret, so the bishops involved would
not be found out. Since then, nine "ordination" ceremonies have been held, most
for "priests" but many for "deacons" and ten "bishops." Because no male bishops
are now involved, assuming any really were to begin with, the ceremonies are no
longer secret. They are also no longer held on boats, but take place in
synagogues, non-Catholic churches, and hotels. The Association of Roman
Catholic Womenpriests (RCWP) claims to have 100 women in training and plans to
have several more "ordinations" in 2011.
Director Jules Hart, whose
previous efforts for EyeGoddessFilms include a documentary about at-risk youth
"creating a totem pole as a symbol of peace and healing," says she
made the film because she was captivated by the stories of Catholic women
longing for the priesthood. On Saturday, about 200 people, most of them women,
crowded into the 220-seat theater to hear those stories. The manager told me
that made it one of the most successful private screenings the theater has ever
Pink Smoke is on the independent film circuit and may be coming
to a theater near you. If you go, what will you see? A lot of kindly
white-haired ladies, both on screen and in person—and some angry women
thrown in for balance. A lot of talk about feelings and justice, a lot of half-truths
and wishful thinking, and a couple of jabs at men. But it's what you won't see
that is most important.
Pink Smoke Over the Vatican begins with a lot of unsupported claims that women's
ordination was once accepted and common in the Church, but that evidence of
this was "all but eradicated" in a Dan Brown-type conspiracy of medieval men.
For the record—in case any readers are wondering—even this author
with a minor in medieval history can tell you that such a thing would be
The film then goes on to profile
several women RCWP claims to have ordained, including one "bishop," and their
supporters. Prominent among the supporters is Fr. Roy Bourgeois, the
excommunicated Maryknoll priest, who shakes his finger at the mean old Church
and calls the priesthood a "boys club." He is given almost as much screen time
as Patricia Fresen, a cheerful, grandmotherly South African woman who claims to
have been the third woman ordained a bishop. She had to leave the Dominican
order after (as the Church puts it) attempting ordination and refusing to
recant. Her delighted and bemused account of her episcopal "ordination" was,
for me, the highlight of a surreal film experience.
But not all of the women profiled
were so engaging. One was so angry she practically set the screen on fire, and
another barely managed to speak as she fought back tears of sorrow for her
oppressed sisters. On the whole, "priest" or layperson, the people profiled
talked about their feelings. They felt called to priesthood, they felt excluded from power,
they felt overjoyed at the idea of women at the altar, they felt felt FELT.
Next to all that emoting, plain
old facts didn't stand much of a chance. Pittsburgh's Fr. Ronald Lengwin, who patiently explained the
Church's teachings on priesthood, seemed rather pedestrian—especially
contrasted with Fr. Bourgeois, who is a genuine hero of the anti-war movement
and comes across as a loving and courageous uncle who can't repress a twinkle
of mischief in his smile.
Speaking of Fr. Lengwin—the
spokesman for the Diocese of Pittsburgh told me he did not know anything about
the film or his appearance in it. I can only assume that the clips used in the
film were from a general press interview he did in 2006, when "ordination
ceremonies" were still held on boats and one was held on one of the city's
Gateway Clipper fleet of old-time riverboats. "How did I do?" he asked me.
Beyond interviews, the film shows
women in floaty vestments being "ordained," shadowy women with candles walking
a labyrinth at dusk, women "priests" leading "creative" liturgies, and many
images of female saints whom (one is supposed to infer) were silenced by the
male-dominated Church despite their fame. Feisty women say things like, "They
can't have the church! It's the people's church," and that ordaining women
would result in "an explosion of love in the world."
Between the smiles and jubilant
cheers there is a good deal of mud slinging, much of it unsupported by
facts—claims, for instance, that allowing priests to marry would fix all
manner of social ills. Pink Smoke
also throws in Galileo (of course) and half-truths or outright lies about the
history of priestly celibacy, several actions of the last two popes, and (again
of course) the sexual abuse of minors.
What you think of all of this
depends, I suppose, on what you think of women's ordination. I think the
graphic of pink smoke wafting over St. Peter's was downright silly—the
same opinion I have of the spy movie antics of bishops in disguise, and the
claims of highly educated and privileged women to be downtrodden and oppressed.
But the rest of the audience thought it was great. The male companion of my
chuckling neighbor actually hissed when the film showed a photo of Cincinnati's
The women profiled in the film
say over and over again that "the people" want women to be ordained, and the
people in the theater certainly did. As far as I could tell, I was the only
skeptic willing to shell out $12 to see what the women's ordination folks had
to say. I was also one of less than a dozen people below age 50, so the future
of the "movement" doesn't seem too promising to this observer.
But the fifteen minutes after the
credits rolled were more telling than the film itself. To the thrill of the
audience, a real live "womanpriest" appeared for a question and answer session:
long-time peace activist Janice Sevré-Duszynska. It was her "ordination" that
Fr. Bourgeois participated in, excommunicating himself. Her 1998 arrest for
walking into the Lexington cathedral dressed as a priest and demanding to be
ordained is recounted in the film.
"I gave the bishops ten years," a
poised and cheery Ms. Sevré-Duszynska told the audience, referring to the
decade between her demanding to be ordained and her "ordination" in 2008.
During the intervening years, she said, she celebrated liturgies with an
interfaith group in Lexington. "I felt my community was ordaining me" when the
ceremony finally happened, she said, "because we are all baptized into the
priesthood of Jesus."
A quick look at RCWP literature
shows that this radical view, and not the film's toned-down message of gender
equity, is their real goal. "We stand in solidarity with liberation theology
for structural change and systemic justice...." the brochure I picked up says.
"Our women priests serve... inclusive house churches and parish communities
where all are welcome at the Eucharistic table and to receive all sacraments."
So they don't just want to be
priests, they want to dismantle and remake the entire Church. This is far
different from the film's relatively tame, "It isn't fair!" message. The
movie's not called Pink Stole,
it's called Pink Smoke Over the Vatican. Pinkness conquers all.
The women I saw, on screen and in
person, talked a little bit about the Holy Spirit, a lot about how they felt, a
lot about justice, and a lot about power. What they didn't talk about much was
Jesus Christ. Remember, Sevré-Duszynska said: "I gave the bishops ten years."
She demanded that the bishops do her bidding. When they didn't "give" her
priesthood, she took it—or a facsimile of it. RCWP and other
organizations like it wrap themselves in gauze and pink smoke, but behind that
gauze and smoke is a fist.
Related Ignatius Insight Articles and Excerpts:
Women and the Priesthood: A Theological Reflection | Jean Galot, S.J. | From Theology of the Priesthood
Who Is a Priest? | Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P.
Priest as Pastor, Servant and Shepherd | Fr. James McCarthy
Liturgical Roles In the Eucharistic Celebration | Francis Cardinal Arinze
The Priest as Man, Husband, and Father | Monsignor John Cihak
The Real Reason for the Vocation Crisis | Rev. Michael P. Orsi
Pray the Harvest Master Sends Laborors | Rev. Anthony Zimmerman
Priestly Vocations in America: A Look At the Numbers | Jeff Ziegler
Clerical Celibacy: Concept and Method |
Alfons Maria Cardinal Stickler | From
The Case for Clerical Celibacy
The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba
Marmion | From Christ, The Ideal
of the Priest
Gail Deibler Finke is a freelance writer based in Cincinnati, where she lives with her husband and two
children. She blogs for the Son Rise Morning Show, and is finishing her
master's degree at the Athenaeum of Ohio. Despite studying at a seminary, she has no plans to become a priest!
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