"If un unjust law cannot be changed, must be broken."
- Patricia Fresen, Bishop, south-african
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 have no spiritual authority, 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.
EXPLORE THE PROJECT
I’ve been working on the WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT since 2012. I have visited 35 communities across United States, Canada and Colombia. The aim of the project is to create an historical archive of this movement; because their ordination is valid (although illicit), one day these women will be remembered as the first Roman Catholic women priests in history.
The documentation is composed of photos, video/audio interviews and archival material. It is important to record the lives of who decided to rebel against the Vatican, and what shaped their understanding of the world: mystical experiences, lesbian love, child abuse, grief for a dead son, love for a male priest, working for the secret services, doing missionary work in South America, living the Vietnam War, etc.
The project aims to offer a counter-narrative to stereotypes. Photographs in the media often depict religious people as exotic, extreme and obsolete, but this is ironic considering that 84% of humans identify with a faith group.
In a moment of very needed change, these photos show us a forbidden reality that could become the future of the Church. It’s important to see what female spirituality looks like and the kind of communities women’ leadership creates: inclusive, not hierarchical, not dogmatic, and open to people of every race, gender and economical status. Women priests are not just female clericals, and for this reason they are very frightening to the Vatican. This is an attempt to show the lives of these women focusing on their transformative role within their patriarchal religion. How is it that we accept the denigration of women within the practices of world religions? Every day their needs and gifts are dismissed.
17401 photos. 4 years. 35 cities. 3 countries. 1 continent: The Americas.
I'm planning to continue my documentation in Europe and South Africa in 2018. Through these additional chapters, we’ll perceive how this is a worldwide issue. Women of different colours and different social status share equal discrimination and share the same dogmas from the Vatican. With the Vatican commission about Women Diaconate (the first step towards priesthood) planning on delivering their outcome this year, I feel great urgency to inform widespread audiences and open a discussion about this topic.
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
The Women Priests Project has been mentioned by over 60 media in the last few years. It has been featured by TV, radio, magazines and newspaper all over the world including China and New Zealand.
These are a few selected articles:
- 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
- 2018 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT for Ukrainian Art Institute Chicago, USA
- 2017 “You Gave The Virgin a New Heart” from WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT for Spazio 1929 Lugano, CH
- 2017 “You Gave The Virgin a New Heart” from WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT for Festival Polesine fotografia, IT
- 2016 “You Gave The Virgin a New Heart” from WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT for Gallery Fonderia 20.9 , IT
- 2016 WOMENPRIESTPROJECT for Festival of ethical photography, IT
- 2016 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT for La Casa Internazionale Della Donna and the local government of Rome, poster installation in the districts around the Vatican
- 2015 “You Gave The Virgin a New Heart“ from WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT inside Take Ten exhibition at ICP, USA
- 2017 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT for Muse Project during CONTACT Festival, Toronto, CA
MULTIMEDIA PUBLIC SCREENING
thanks to Slideluck Editorial
- 2018 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT multimedia projection for Santander Photo Festival, Spain
- 2018 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT multimedia projection for Triennal of Photography Hamburg
- 2018 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT multimedia projection for FORMAT International Photography Festival, UK
- 2017 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT multimedia projection for Just Another Photo Festival, Kolkata, India
- 2017 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT multimedia projection for FOTOMATCH Festival, Bari, IT
- 2017 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT multimedia projection during la Nuit de l'Année, Festival of Arles, FR
- 2016 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT multimedia projection and project presentation at Camera Torino, IT
- 2015 WOMENPRIESTSPROJECT project presentation at ICP, New York, IT
Follow up -> ... www.womenpriestsproject.org