White smoke emitted from the Sistine Chapel on Wednesday signaled the selection of a new pope. Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, is the first South American and Jesuit member to lead the church. Taking the name Francis, the 266th pope is the first non-European pontiff in more than 1,200 years.
While the world’s Catholics rejoiced in the news from the rain-soaked Vatican, a group of Catholic women were shooting pink flares into the Roman sky to protest the exclusion of women from the priesthood. Women Can Be Priests, an intercontinental activist group, had little impact on the joy radiating from the Sistine Chapel. But members hope their demonstration at Rome’s Piazza Garibaldi and in five locations in the United States will promote a theological shift in the treatment of women.
“The pink smoke is a sign of the voices we’re mourning who are excluded from the current conclave,” Therese Koturbash, the international ambassador for Women Priests, told CBC News.
The international protest is the latest in a line of peaceful demonstrations to push back against the Vatican’s doctrine.
The Catholic Church only ordains men as priests in order to promote its belief in the sanctity of Christ’s return. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the 12 [apostles] an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ’s return. … For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.”
Koturbash sees three historical reasons why women are not allowed to be priests: “We were considered unclean during menstruation, inferior to men intellectually and physically and the origination of all sin.”
The Women’s Ordination Conference has petitioned the Catholic Church for more than 30 years to ordain female priests. The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP) has ordained more than 100 female priests and 10 bishops, but their mission has never been a priority for any Pope, including Pope Francis. The Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet said the issue of women in the church is important, but not vital. “Obviously these questions are, have their importance, but it is secondary, you know, and it has been always secondary,” he told CBC News.
The Vatican excommunicates all women priests and declared the ordination of female priests a “grave sin” similar to pedophilia in 2010.
Still, Koturbash remains hopeful. “Already there have been so many changes that have happened in the church, that it wouldn’t be a big step to start including women,” she told CBC News. She also thinks women priests will be ordained in her lifetime.
Should women be ordained in the Catholic Church?