The priesthood of women is prohibited in the Roman Catholic Church.
Since 2002 illicit ordinations of women priests and bishops are happening. Roman Catholic Women Priests movement counts over 150 ordained women priests, many mature theologians and former nuns, and their numbers continue to grow. All have been excommunicated for breaking the Vatican law.
Disobeying a patriarchal law to follow the call of God, they ask for the spiritual equality of men and women to be recognized. Inspired by prophets and mystics, against clericalism and power, they open their communities to divorced, gay, and all those whom the Church does not invite to their Eucharistic table. I was shown a model of world where if there is no justice for the smallest and the weakest, then there’s no justice at all.
To me those women are a symbol. They are showing us the primacy of conscience and how to renew our own tradition.
Since 2013 I met more than 70 women in United States and Colombia. This year I will travel to Germany and South Africa.
Alta Jacko is born on Good Friday, April 6, 1928 in Chicago, Il. Now she’s a widow with eight children, four girls and four boys, sixteen grand children and four great-grand children. She is also an ordained priest in the Roman Catholic Church since 2009. Jacko, who is an art and music teacher, earned her master's degree in pastoral studies from Loyola University, a Jesuit Catholic school. She says being a priest is what she was called to do. She’s 85 years old, beautiful, strong and really tall. When I ask her about disobedience to the Church, Alta sayes: “The Holy Spirit is calling women. it's not a one morning you wake up, no! your whole life is a preparation to the ordination and beyond. So with that strength, that courage that I have no choice as an African American woman, I have to go forward and follow the Holy Spirit.”
During our 6 hours interview she’s been so strong, so tough. “It was told to me that I was given the gift of seeing. It’s not just seeing, seeing, like we see with our eyes, with our glasses, or with like a… it’s a deeper seeing. A seeing within. I’m teaching to change and to recognize change. It’s not the law. It’s not the law. It’s not… it’s you! It’s all about you and your belief. The signs of the times are all around you”
Diane Dougherty in her garden, Atlanta U.S. 2013
Diane was ordained on the 20th October 2012, at the age of 67.
She's a former nun of the order Sister of the Humility of Mary in Pennsylvania.
From the interview with her: "Never. I never wanted to be a nun. Never, never, never, because I didn’t… I didn’t wanna dress like that, I didn’t wanna be a nun like that… I knew in my heart this was not for me, but there was no other model. In 1963 I entered and then I stayed there, and it was Vatican two so we were changing, we built a chapel. I stayed there 28 years.
When you become a nun, you have to change your name. Yes I did. I was Sister Bryan Marie for about a year and a half, but then we changed back to our baptismal name because your vocation comes from your baptism; that’s the theology. The men made you change your name because they wanted you, as a woman, to give up all identification of who you are for the church. That was the old theology. That was their theology that was imposed on us."
Photo captured in Washington DC, 2013, during the annual reunion of the american association ARCWP for the priesthood of women in the catholic church.
The photo has been taken underwater during a massage in the pool between Donna LeMaster Rougeux and Dotty Shugrue. The colors and the background have been altered to obtain daylight tones.
This image makes me think of the crucifixion. When i found it inside my camera I was very surprised, especially of the details such the red marks on Donna's feet. It was a small miracle. The camera saw what nobody else did.
Janice Sevre-Duszynska's mother, of polish origin, Kentucky 2013
Janice was ordained Roman Catholic Woman Priest in 2008, excommunicated and than arrested by Italian police in Vatican in 2013. At first when Pope Francis was elected she hoped that the time was coming for the change, but today she doesn’t believe it anymore. Many women have told me: “We’re doing this for the future, we’re not going to see the change in our life time"
Sandra Torres, former sex worker in Popayan, Colombia 2015.
In 2015 I travelled to Colombia to meet roman catholic women priests living there. Blanca Cecilia Santana Cortés is a candidate to priesthood. Blanca especially works with “mujeres de la prostitution”, sex-workers, and with afro-colombian women that live in extreme poverty. She educates them to fight for their rights and to be feminists. I met many of the women Blanca is helping and supporting.
Sandra is 8 months pregnant of her third child. The father is a elderly man and customer. We met her in the studio where Blanca works and does manual lymphatic drainage. Sandra was excited that I was going to photograph her. She stands by the Coca plant that somebody planted in the middle of the building. I asked Blanca if Sandra is still working as sex worker and she answered me that she did until a month ago. Since she was very pregnant, she was able to ask more money to the customers. This thought horrified me, suddenly I stumbled against a candle and spilled hot wax all over Sandra’s belly. Blanca helped her remove the wax and gave her clothing for the baby that was going to be born soon. I took the photo in silence.
Rosemary Smead, the day before her ordination 2013, Louisville Kentucky.
Rosemary is a former Carmelite nun with a theology degree at Marquette University. The ordination, to my surprise, was guarded by a policewoman with a large weapon. I heard her saying "security reasons”.
Rosemary was 70 years old when she was ordained priest.
I met Janice Sevre-Duszynska during the ordination of Rosemary. The same day she invited me to follow her at home in Lexington. For two weeks I sat with her at sunset in the porch that face a big wild garden. As she spoke, in the fresh grass the black shadows of bare branches moved like the hands of a clock and extended up to touch us.
She's 65. She had two husbands and two children, one husband had been violent with her, an 18 year old son died in a motorbike accident. Twenty-five years have passed since that day. Showing me the poems written in that period, she added: "I walked through hell, I did not run away, I did not destroy another person, I sat on this deck and I cried"
Gabrielle changed his gender performance only few years ago. Since that moment she wasn't welcome anymore by the family and the parish. The First Metropolitan Community church in Atlanta welcomes all "wandering Catholics".
The following text if from an homely of Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan, 22nd June 2013. She read this text during an ordination: "Like Mary of Magdala, contemporary women still encounter disbelief and rejection from church authorities. Women are still second class citizens in our own church. Sexism, like racism and classism, is a sin that breaks our hearts today. More than ever we need the experiences and wisdom of women if our church is to become more whole, more balanced, more human.
We are ordained in apostolic succession because our first bishops were ordained by a male bishop with apostolic succession, therefore our orders are valid. We are disobeying an unjust, man-made canon law, 1024. Women priests are visible reminders that women are equal images of God and that our God has a feminine face."
Portrait of Cheryl Bristol in Washington DC, 2013
Cheryl lives in an apple farm close to Detroit. She's one of the few women I met that are not devoted to social justice or missionary work. Cheryl is a mystic. Her call is to talk with God and live her visions.
When the women get ordained they don’t perceive any salary by the association, they must be financially independent, and they get automatically (but sometimes also with explicit letters) excommunicated by the Vatican. To be excommunicated means for them to lose any retirement fee or salary, any support or housing, any job that they or their relatives might have from the Church. It means also to not be able to get the sacraments in any parish and to not be buried in the same cemetery of their family.
Visiting Disney Downtown in Florida, with women priest, January 2015. (God seems to be hidden everywhere)
“Disobedience is a dialectical concept, because, actually, every act of disobedience[...], unless it is empty rebelliousness, is an act of obedience to another principle. I am disobedient to the idol because I am obedient to God. [...] The question is not really one of disobedience or not, but one of disobedience to what and to whom.” Erich Fromm
Janice in her kitchen, Lexington Kentucky 2013
She desired her entire life to be a priest. She spoke loudly about it to everybody she knew in the Church. She went to bishop conferences showing banners to ask for women ordination.
In 1998 she resolved to present herself for ordination at the Cathedral of Christ the King on Jan. 17, her 48th birthday and the day C. W. Howell Jr. was being ordained a priest in Lexington. "When I decided on it, my body shook like an earthquake for three hours," she said. "Even thinking about it, I was aware of just how much strength it would take.” Than she told me about the action: ”I was in the cathedral, all the candidates for priesthood sat there. I stood up, I threw my coat away, and I went towards him: “Bishop Williams! Bishop Williams! I’m called by the Holy Spirit to present myself for the ordination. My name is Janice and I ask this for myself and for all women” and he went: “Get back to your seat, you’re disrupting the service!” instead I prostrated in the nave with a tiger lily in my hands. I prostrated myself to the altar and that’s when he said: “Get back to your seat , you’re interrupting the service!” I stood up and I added: “I’m all the oppressed women in the bible. I am Sarah, I am Annah, I’m Elizabeth, I’m Veronica, I’m the woman that touched the end of Jesus garments , I’m the woman who poured oil over Jesus’s head, I came here today with the help of my patron saint, saint Joan of Arch, hoping you’ll ordain me for all women. Will you ordain me?” and than he didn’t and that’s when people came acting like I was a crazy woman trying to move me away. I didn’t appreciate it. I hoped when I was prostrating that some of my friends priests would make a circle around me and show some solidarity. Nothing happened at that time. They weren’t ready”
Betty shows me a photo of herself when she was as nun, Sister of the Humility of Mary in Pennsylvania. Louisville Kentucky, 2013.
Betty entered the convent before Diane and the two became friends.
Also Betty left the convent, after more than 20 years. today she's 90 and she's asking for women priesthood. She has always been a feminist nun.
Talking with Diane, they also recall an infinite list of episodes where the nuns weren’t treated like adults and weren’t treated with justice by the hierarchy: “This pastor said “Well, all of you can leave”. All the nuns could leave. (…) This clericalism just keeps coming back like a recurring motif, and I thought: who do they think they are? That is not the church, that’s not Catholic. And I don’t have to be obedient to it, because that’s just wrong. I don’t have to be obedient to it. And I have to start speaking out against it. I wrote a lot at that particular time to the priests who were in the parishes, trying to explain what was happening, but these men are… they just go along with the flow, but the flow has to come from the bishop’s office. The Gospel is not served! The Gospel is not served!”
In 1965, there were over 180,000 Catholic religious women in the United States. In 2014 there were just 49,883.
Portrait of Denise Menard Davis in her bedroom, march 2015.
Denise will be ordained priest the 1st august 2015. Denise is grandmother and currently studying in seminary and gaining a theological degree in New Mexico. Angela Bonavoglia, author of “Good Catholic Girls" book, said: “If you forbid a woman to represent the divine and the highest level of representation of the divine in the church, and if she cannot have power, real power and if you have an institution controlling women most intimate decisions, that doesn't end there: those positions have an influence on the way women are treated in the world, they contribute for the discrimination against women toward the view of women a second-class people and they also are devastating to women in their souls”.
Blanca agreed to bring me to Buenaventura, one of poorest cities in Colombia, where Olga and herself had been working for 10 years. Buenaventura is on the Pacific see and is a slum build around an harbor. One day we were in the San Francisco neighborhood. "Pay attention. This is my people, this is my land, I want to introduce it to you". We visited all the people that she used to work with many years ago.
That evening Blanca couldn’t talk and couldn’t eat. She went to sleep in the bed in front of me, her back towards me. For hours I looked at the contours of her body, like a black onyx stone against the golden curtain reflecting the streets light. She never moved. Only the day after she shared with me how difficult is to see sometimes that you cannot do enough, that things don’t change.
Mercedes has been a mentor to future woman priest Blanca for 20 years. Mercedes runs a missionary organization to help female victims of violence in Buenaventura, Colombia.
Diane Dougherty, that sponsors gay rights and ecology, when we visited the files of intentional communities in Atlanta Georgia. 2013
From a talk with Mary Ellen Sheehan: “the Earth has evolved to the point of creating its own self-consciousness and that’s what we are. We are the Earth looking back on itself, that’s what we are. And I believe that in my heart and soul, in my heart and soul, in my heart and soul. The Earth has rivers and streams and we have veins. Our skin, the layers of our skin actually match the layers of the Earth. I don’t quite understand how but I know there’s a connection with the Earth. There’s a forest path around the woods, around the mountain, and there I walked every single day. There’s something about the energy of the trees and that’s where I pray and that’s where I talk to my parents, and I know they’re still here in a way but I don’t understand it. And when I went on the search for the meaning of wisdom, I came to a conclusion that wisdom is being comfortable with mystery. So it’s like even though I don’t understand, it’s still a calling for me to be comfortable with mystery, that’s okay that I don’t understand it. But the dead are still here somehow, they’re here somehow.”
Bridget Mary Meehan in her home in Sarasota Florida, 2015
Bridget Mary is bishop since 2009. For over twenty years she's been a nun, a Sister for Christian Community. Today she serves in the catholic communities Mary Mother of Jesus in Florida and Virginia. She celebrate liturgies and offer sacraments inside her communities. Bridget Mary is the author of over 20 religious books and she's a focal point about women ordination for newspaper and TV.
"Does that mean they can take away our faith? my faith is in my DNA. I'm an Irish catholic woman and I am passionate about my catholic faith. I'm as much a catholic as the pope is."
Blanca Cecilia Santana Cortés, Jumilito. I called it jungle, she called it community fields. 2015
She's a candidate to priesthood. She’s 50 years old and got married only few years ago with the love of her entire life, Quan, that is 64. They both worked as missionaries for more than 20 years in the poorest cities of Colombia and South America. They decided to not have children, because they wanted to dedicate their lives to serve everybody in need.
She has a very strong personality, but wrapped in sweetness and joy. Blanca behave like a funny angel most of the times, but carry inside her such a fire! I wasn’t’ surprised when she told me this story: Because of her desire to become priest, she joined few years ago the Episcopal Seminar in Quito, Ecuador. She recalled a teacher that began his class saying “Now I’m going to shock you. Jesus never existed”, she quietly stood up in class and said “I am, and we are, women of experience and knowledge, adult women, and we are not shocked easily. Now you can go on with your hypothesis.” After 6 months they sent her away, without even a certificate
Ordination of Rosemary Smead, on the 27th of April 2013 in Louisville, Kentucky.
Liturgies are strictly roman catholic, not protestant, but changes are applied to the language according to feminist and liberation theology.
Jane Via said in an interview: “I learned of the emerging feminist studies in the post Vatican II era as women earned their doctorates in religious studies and began to become researchers and authors in theological studies. Just a phenomenal amount of studies was done on scriptures, on systematic theology, on every dimension of religious studies as it pertains to women in the history and in terms of envisioning what might be more authentic in light of the historical Jesus. Reading feminist theology and participating in local groups helped me to understand the radical importance of inclusive God language to the transformation of the church from a patriarchal monarchical classicist institution to the pilgrim people of God.”