On January 17th 1998, her 48th birthday, Janice Sevre-Duszynska resolved to present herself for ordination at the cathedral in Lexington Kentucky. “I was with all the candidates for priesthood, sitting in the pews. ” She recalled, “I stood up, I threw my coat away, and I went towards the Bishop. ‘I’m called by the Holy Spirit to ordination. I ask this for myself and for all women, ’ to which he said, ‘Get back to your seat! ’ Instead I prostrated in the nave with a tiger lily in my hands. The people came acting like I was a crazy woman. I hoped that some of my friends would show their solidarity. Nothing happened at that time. They weren’t ready.” For her entire life, Janice spoke loudly about her vocation to the priesthood to everyone she knew. With the people that suggested she entered the convent, she disagreed because nuns are secular laity, they cannot preach and cannot consecrate the Eucharist.
In the summer of 2002, seven catholic women (from Austria, Germany and United States) were illicitly ordained priests, on a ship cruising the Danube River. Shortly thereafter, three women were ordained bishops in great secrecy, so that they could carry on female ordinations without interference by the Vatican. Since then, several similar ceremonies have been held by RCWP, a group of suffragettes performing religious disobedience in favor of women’s ordination. Today, the movement counts more than 215 ordained women priests and 10 bishops worldwide.
The Vatican considers female ordination a serious crime, anyone who participates automatically excommunicates themselves. For this crime, employees of the Catholic Church lose their jobs, pensions, support. The severity of the sin of the attempted women’s ordination is at the same level of a crime such the sexual abuse of minors by priests. Despite this, most of them do not want to leave the Church, but transforming it, through a model that is very frightening to the Vatican: feminist spirituality is rooted in equality and inclusivity, inherently nonhierarchical, and honors collaboration and compassion over power. Women Priests did not shape a new cult, but organically gathered people from the grassroots, the people who no longer feel welcomed by the Official Church. Most of them are mature women, many are former nuns, missionaries and theologians. They work in social justice, in ecological movements, in non-profit organizations.
The Roman Catholic Church have fought fiercely against feminism. The Vatican’s Holy See is one of the last governments in the world to be led exclusively by males. Thus, it came as a surprising historic opening when on the 12th of May 2016, Pope Francis promised in front of an audience of 900 nuns that he would open a commission to study the role of women deacons (the first step in being ordained) in the dawn of Christianity and the possibility to apply it today. This is a critical moment in history for Roman Catholicism. The Church increasingly feels like an obsolete model, far removed from the spiritual needs and realities of today. The fate of the Church seems to hinge between: the current establishment disappearing into a cult of a few conservatives, or a deep renewal in its administrative and religious shape. At the center of these debates and these possibilities, is the battle for a renewed priesthood that would include women as well.
Since 2012, I have been working on this web documentary and book project. I met so far more than 70 women priests in the USA and Colombia, photographing and interviewing them.
17401 photos. 4 years. 35 cities. 3 countries. 1 continent: The Americas.
I chose to document the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement because it’s the religion of my childhood, but also because I want to stress the importance of civil (and religious) disobedience. We live in a society where obedience is rewarded anywhere. In my opinion, the dialogue with the past is vital, but it must be a critical dialogue. We are in charge to shape the future starting from the primacy of individual consciousness.
IN THE MEDIA (selected):
- Photos of Forbidden Female Catholic Priests and Feminist Spirituality, VICE
- 'Some women disobey': Rome poster campaign challenges Catholic ban on female priests, THE GUARDIAN
- Portraits From the Forbidden Priesthood of Women, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC
- Ribelli di Dio, INTERNAZIONALE