Why do we need feminist spirituality

The following lecture was given by Nausicaa Giulia Bianchi to present her documentary www.womenpriestsproject.org at the International Center of Photography on March 30th 2016 during the panel “Women in Photography”.

Watch the lecture here (starts around 50:20 mins)

Rev. Dorothy Shugrue (archive photograph, she’s the tallest girl)

To all the young women here, I know why you came.

I think you’re afraid of the future.

Today I met a child in the elevator that told me: “It’s only 15 minutes, even a child like me can do it. You need to focus on endurance, speed and breath.” I thought he really meant this presentation, but than he clarified: “I’m running tonight”. But I realized later, during the day, that this advise was valid for my entire career.

Endurance, speed and breath

Or in other words: Strength, patience and spirit


Rev. Alta Jacko in Chicago, 2013

So this is my story: In 2012 I was living in New York investigating the feminist movement today. For my research, I sent many letters to interview all sort of experienced women in the fields of art, religion and politics.

One day, I was invited to visit a community in Atlanta by an Irish American woman, Diane Dougherty, a former catholic nun about 70 years old. She defined herself a woman priest, and I knew very well that there’s not such a thing according to the Vatican. In fact she has been kicked out, because she was ordained.

Before leaving for Atlanta, my mother called me from Italy to give voice to my family’s concerns: “Giulia, This is against the Church. Giulia, Could you possibly go to Hell for this?”

And I wondered: how could a religious woman go against her own religion?And who does she think she is to do so?

Diane was not the only one. I visited about 70 Roman Catholic Women Priests across the U.S., South America and now Europe.

I asked them their story and reasons.

The desobedience started in the summer of 2002 in Europe, seven women were ordained priests by male Catholic Bishops, on a ship cruising the Danube River.

According to the Vatican this is a serious crime: Canon Law 1024, that is Vatican law, states that “only a baptized man can validly receive ordination”. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (in Rome) issued an order of excommunication. It says that anyone who participates in the ordination of a woman to the priesthood automatically excommunicates themselves.

In 2010 the Vatican put the crime of women ordination in the very same category as pedophilia’s crimes by priests. On the other hand, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops counted nearly 6,500 Catholic priests , in the U.S. only, that have been accused to have sexually abused over 17,000 Catholic children, since 1950… but they were not excommunicated, not even punished.

For the crime of women priesthood, if the people involved have been employed by the Catholic Church, and it’s often the case, they lose their jobs. Pastoral Associates, Professors, Chaplains, nurses, and even nuns, lose pensions, support and housing, issued by any Catholic organization, including schools and hospitals. They are forbidden to receive the sacraments and cannot be buried in a catholic cemetery with their own family.

So, why would they go through this?

They are theologians, missionaries, lawyers. They work in social justice, in ecology, in the education and assistance of refugees. They are building all-inclusive communities all around the world. They’re working hard to make this society more loving and just. And they want to transform the Church.

Today, the Roman Catholic Women Priests movement counts over 215 ordained women priests and 10 bishops, and the number is growing worldwide. This is just the tip of the iceberg of thousands of religious women asking for spiritual equality.

Rev. Diane Dougherty in Atlanta, 2013

So, why does this story matter at all?

These are some global statistics from the U.N.:

(but remember photographs are better than numbers)

1 in 5 women in the world have been sexually abused as child

200 million women alive today have undergone female genital mutilation

10 thousand child-brides every day are forced to marry an old man

and millions of girls every day are missing

as the result of infanticide, abortion,

and the simple neglect for being born a female

2/3 of the poorest people are women and girls.

They are the most vulnerable and most invisible,

the most hungry and the most desperate people.

Women are half of the population, but every day women’s agenda, needs, experiences, gifts are dismissed and ignored.

84% of women around the world identify with a faith group, in other words, they are religious.

So tonight I’m here asking you:

Can a woman really represent the divine?

Can a woman be priest, or pope?

And… Can a woman really be president of the United States?

Bishop Bridget Mary Meehan

How is it that we have come to accept the natural denigration of women within the practices of world religions?

Why our religious leaders don’t stop the violence against women?

As women, we don’t even know what religion would look like if there was a true partnership between men and women.

We see God today only is his masculinity, God The Father, according to our own, old and new, patriarchal ideas. If God is casted as all masculine, macho, warrior, dictatorial, perfectionist, distant, all knowing, all rational, all powerful, this narrow image shape our understanding of the entire world as based on power and punishment, and therefore based on inequality and violence.

This is a God drawn to make the powerful more powerful and diminish the rest of us. This is a God that keeps everybody under the control of the 1%.

And last: If God is male, male is God.

Do we need a feminist understanding of God? Yes, feminist. The F-word.

Truth is that every major spiritual tradition carry within them, deeply rooted in ancient scriptures, a feminist understanding of God.

God as mystery, presence, spirit, pure energy, pure life, pure passion for life, ungendered, in all beings, girls and boys and animals, not able to be defined.

FEMINISM is the radical notion that women are people too.

But it doesn’t end here: women are people, and blacks are people, and Hispanic are people, and the old are people, and the sick are people, the blind are people, the handicapped are people, the children are people, the gay are people, and every minority, and every person under the sun not in power are people.

The particular injustice of being a woman, is the paradigm that allow us to understand all injustices, everywhere.

A feminist spirituality must therefore be rooted in equality and inclusivity, be not hierarchical, be not based on power but collaboration and compassion.

A feminist spirituality comes with a sense of co-creation and responsibility in the world, and with the necessary respect for all people.

When many don’t criticize injustice for fear of losing their privileged positions in corporate, or religious, or political systems, than someone else, maybe you and me, has to be willing to call for justice and equality.

Rev. Denise Menard in her bedroom in NYC, 2015

To all the young women here, I know why you came.

I think you’re afraid of the future. We’re living in a time of change.

Someone must create new way of thinking about the future, especially through art.

Someone must ask accountability to the people in power, especially through journalism.

Someone must do it, maybe you and me.

Two are the things that probably worry you the most: the first is money (the market), the second is your own motivation.

But two are the things that you need the most right now: the first is patience, the second is trust. The audacity of patience and trust.

Don’t give up.

I’m here tonight to promise you that

if you will investigate what your soul sincerely craves,

If you will allow yourself to be under pressure and go really deep,

If you’ll keep exploring and creating,

If you’ll treat everybody with compassion and dignity,

if you’ll do the work for humanity and history,

than a lot of people will help you.

Just don’t give up.

Thank you for listening

Caitlin in San Francisco dressed as a dead bride, 2015

Note: I want to thank sister Joan Chittister (that I quote several times in this lecture), the associations of roman catholic women priests and all the other people that helped me in my research for the project You Gave the Virgin a New Heart.

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