Just as sexism is a sin, it is also a sign: the Church must change.
Sign of Peace
Just minutes after touching ground in Rome, Erin and I spotted a familiar face behind a handwritten “Ordain Women!” sign near the baggage claim of the Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport: Fr. Roy Bourgeois welcomed us with his huge grin and his famously embracing energy, seemingly untouched by jetlag. For the next week (October 15-20, 2011) WOC would lead an international convergence of twenty Church-justice activists and scholars to Vatican City to challenge the “grave scandal” of women’s ordination in the Roman Catholic Church. Although perhaps unusual circumstances for my first trip to Rome, I knew I was traveling in good company.
Sign of Protest
Erin Hanna, Donna Rougeux, Ree Hudson, Fr. Roy Bourgeois
Following the Italian premier of the documentary film, “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican,” and an international press conference, we traveled to Via della Conciliazione where our group marched, singing, “Here I am Lord…” toward the Vatican, and the Basilica of St. Peter. Although WOC has held vigils in Rome many times before, joined by vested women priests Ree Hudson and Janice Sevre-Duszynska, and deacon Donna Rougeux, we attracted new attention this year. As we approached the gates of St. Peter’s, the security presence quickly outnumbered us and we were relegated to the corner across the street. The Vatican officials claimed that the women priests’ vestments were “a sign of protest” that would not be allowed passed the gates. During our ad hoc negotiation with the fairly friendly but obtuse Vatican security officers, we explained our peaceful intentions of delivering our petition in support of women’s ordination, garnered by over 15,000 signatures. The head of Vatican security hit the nail on the head when he conceded that Fr. Roy, as a male priest, could go wherever he wanted, but no one else would be permitted to do so. Naturally, in the face of a familiar foe, sexism, Fr. Roy refused to go alone.
Sign of Things to Come
In the shuffle, one reporter asked Fr. Roy and the women priests to unfold their banner and pose for a photograph. The sign, in English and Italian read: “God is Calling Women to be Priests.” A plain clothed Italian Police Officer shifted the tone of our delegation when he grabbed the sign from the hands of the priests and in a sweeping effort, grabbed our beloved WOC banner, reading “Ordain Catholic Women” and a small Call to Action banner, both folded on the sidewalk. For organizing this scandalous demonstration, Erin and Miriam Duignan of womenpriest.org were put into a police car and with blue lights blazing sped to the police station in Piazza Cavour. With a little less fan-fare, Fr. Roy was directed to a second police car to met Erin, Miriam, and lawyer Bill Quigley and his wife Debbie Quigley at the station shortly afterward.
Sign of the Cross
After several hours’ detention inside the Rome police station, the three were released after they signed statements promising to return to Italy if the investigating magistrate decided to try them on the charges of protesting without a permit, reported Bill Quigley. The banners were seized as evidence and not returned. However, the following day Fr. Roy, Bill Quigley, and Therese Koturbosh of Women’s Ordination Worldwide did meet with a top Vatican official and deliver our petition, and the signatures of over 200 priests who signed the CTA sponsored “Clergy for Conscience” statement.
Sign of the Times
The Holy See
While this private meeting took place, some of the group gathered inside the Vatican City gates, watching the pomp of the Papal blessing to crowds of people. I have never felt so connected to my Catholicism, surrounded by “trouble-makers,” grimacing at the Pope, than at that moment. With tears in my eyes, I could clearly see the true distance between the hierarchy and the people of the Church, as the trio met us and shared the highlights of their meeting. The Pope’s words, just a murmur evaporating into the warm air while the consequence of conscience, the treatment of a priest standing for justice just about sank my heart. Suddenly all of my months working at the Women’s Ordination Conference clicked into place. The Vatican is a vestige of power, filled with fading symbolism and wealth that is desperately trying to rule an empire that no longer exists. We are a threat to this massive power structure because we are still here. We are here because we know at the heart of Catholicism is social justice, community, and Eucharistic nourishment; and moreover, because we know the heart of Catholicism is beating strongly within the trouble-makers, the women priests and their communities, and especially in the tiny WOC office. If being a Catholic means being detained with those who stand up for human rights, sign me up.