A powerful collection of photographs featuring female Catholic priests who are working illicitly will be plastered across the city of Rome today. The metre-high images are designed to put pressure on the Catholic Church to reconsider its stance on ordaining women priests, a decision that Pope John II ruled out 22 years ago. One of the posters (below) features a former nun, now working as a bishop, with the phrase "Some women disobey".
The images were created by feminist Italian photographer Giuila Bianchi who was contacted by Diane Dougherty, a female priest, in 2012. Bianchi was immediately taken with Dougherty after she learnt she was working with transgender people. Bianchi told The Guardian: “She called me and her enthusiasm was just so amazing. She said she was Roman Catholic working with transgender people and I thought: ‘Oh my God, this is impossible. I was raised Catholic and I know there is no such thing as women priests and that gays are not accepted. Can you imagine transgender? What the hell is she doing?”
According to Kate McElwee, co-executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, there are about 150 renegade female priests around the world
Bianchi began to photograph the female Catholic priests for a book. According to Kate McElwee, co-executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, there are about 150 renegade female priests around the world and “many of them were ordained following the elevation to the priesthood of a group of seven women, known as the Danube Seven, who were ordained illegally in 2002 by an Argentinian bishop". Next week will see the Vatican’s annual jubilee for priests in the city. McElwee is organising the jubilee for women priests to run at the same time and hopes these posters will be part of the celebration of female priests.
Pope Francis has suggested that a conversation could take place around the possibility of women being decreed as deacons, but the likelihood of the Catholic Church, McElwee believes, of allowing women priests could take another 100 years.
The images are expected to be particularly shocking in Italy and will be placed in St Peter’s Square and the neighbourhoods around the Vatican City. Unlike American Catholicism, which sees the influence of many “radical nuns”, Italy is believed to be more traditional and orthodox, with “some [nuns], it is said, still busy ironing priests’ shirts".
The movement to see women ordained in the Church is supported by non-Catholics who recognise the influence of the Church on millions of people, as well as the many Catholic schools educating young women. But, Bianchi, a Catholic herself, has said she doesn’t want to cause anger. She wants to start a conversation: “I just want to inspire. I don’t want to make anyone angry. I didn’t want it to look like activism. I like to think of people passing by the posters and raising questions in their mind.”