Local Lifestyle

Monday, May 21 2012 11:38 AM

VALERIE SCHULTZ: Film documents battle for women to be priests

By The Bakersfield Californian

There are things we Catholics are not supposed to consider. Sometimes those things may take up residence in our souls, however, and we feel nudged by the Spirit to ponder them. Such is the issue of the ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood.

A patriarchal wind has long blown from Rome, engulfing both women and men. In spite of a shortage of vocations to the priesthood, any discussion of ordaining Catholic women has been labeled a "grave scandal" by the Vatican, a description that perhaps applies more aptly to the decades-long crisis of sexual abuse of children by ordained men, for which the church hierarchy is still trying to atone. On Holy Thursday of this year, Pope Benedict XVI used his global pulpit to reprimand priests, especially those in Ireland and Austria, who have spoken up in support of the ordination of women, and to denounce any discussion of the topic as "disobedience."

Related Info

'Pink Smoke Over the Vatican'

What: screening and panel discussion

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: CSUB Student Union Multi-Purpose Room, 9001 Stockdale Highway

Thus it is that when the documentary "Pink Smoke Over the Vatican" is shown in Bakersfield, there will not be a local priest or sister participating in the panel discussion following the screening. Produced and directed by Jules Hart, this 2011 award-winning documentary explores the controversial ordination of women to the Catholic priesthood. The women priests, in answering their calling, have been excommunicated from the church, a penalty that, as loyal Catholics obedient to the Holy Spirit, they reject.

Cal State Bakersfield's Institute for Religion, Education, and Public Policy is sponsoring the Bakersfield screening of "Pink Smoke Over the Vatican." (Full disclosure: Author is a board member of IREPP, and part of the panel.) The event, at 7 p.m. Monday in the CSUB Student Union Multi-Purpose Room, is free to the public and open to all. IREPP is fortunate to welcome Dr. Juanita Cordero, who is an ordained Roman Catholic woman priest, here to present the film and lead the panel discussion. Dr. Cordero was ordained in 2007 and pastors a house church called the Magdala Catholic Community in Los Gatos. She will also preach at Grace Episcopal Church, located at Stockdale Highway and Real Road, at the 10 a.m. service on Sunday.

Many Catholics wrestle with imposed silence when they feel compelled by conscience to speak of the forbidden. This is especially wrenching if one has taken a formal vow of obedience. It is not, however, an unfamiliar scenario in church history. Many a saint was first condemned as a sinner for his or her disobedience to authority. Father Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest for many decades, has written that "when we betray our consciences, we separate ourselves from God ... Sexism, like racism, is a sin. And no matter how hard we try to justify discrimination, in the end, it is not the way of God." Father Bourgeois, who is interviewed in "Pink Smoke Over the Vatican," has recently been dismissed from his order for his refusal to recant his public support of women priests.

Women, of course, played leadership roles during the brief time of Jesus's ministry, as well as in the days of the early church. A woman was the main witness to the risen Jesus on the first Easter morning. St. Paul tells us, in his Letter to the Galatians, that "there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28.) The denial of the possibility of a woman's vocation to the priesthood is a tradition that came about much after the time of christ. And traditions can change.

We Catholics presently exclude half of the human race from discerning or living out their calling. But we need to talk. Catholic women are the souls of patience, waiting for the male hierarchy to catch up with our hearts. With aching hearts, we try to explain to our daughters why, of the seven sacraments, only six are actually open to them. We pray for the inclusion that comes with wisdom. The best of us are faithful to the work of Christ, taking the next indicated step on the path of a holy life in God. And some of us, like Dr. Cordero, are brave enough to break new ground upon which to build the future of the church by being ordained.

When a new pope is chosen by a papal conclave, white smoke rises over the Vatican to signal the news to the faithful. The pink smoke in the film's title symbolizes a vital message to the church. As Catholics, we believe that the Holy Spirit is at work in our midst. Sometimes the Holy Spirit comes upon us as fire. Or as a breath. Or as a dove. Or as a gentle knock on the door. Or maybe even as pink smoke.

These are Valerie Schultz's opinions, not necessarily those of The Californian.

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