Filmmaker, Jules Hart, found compelling story in women fighting for ordination.


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At age 12, Kathleen Kunster watched an Irish priest consecrate bread during a Mass at St. Rose of Lima parish in suburban Los Angeles.

The priest, who was in his 30s and spoke with a thick brogue, asked anyone who thought he wanted to be a priest to tell him. Ms. Kunster, a seventh-grader who attended Mass regularly, told him she felt called to the priesthood. The priest replied that women could not be ordained, because, "They can't be father to the people."

The answer made no sense to Ms. Kunster, who thought, "I could be a mother to the people."

Ms. Kunster, who lives in Guerneville, Calif., is one of many women who recount their call to ministry in the documentary "Pink Smoke Over the Vatican," which will be screened Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Dormont's Hollywood Theater. The film focuses on an international movement to ordain women to the Roman Catholic priesthood, which has been gathering steam since 2002, when women participated in a ceremony aboard a boat on the Danube River. Roman Catholic canon law states that only a baptized man can receive the sacrament of holy orders.

"Pink Smoke" includes footage from a July 31, 2006, ceremony held in Pittsburgh aboard the Majestic, part of the Gateway Clipper fleet, as it cruised the three rivers. As the ritual concluded, Ms. Kunster, now a registered psychologist working at a California clinic, was among eight women who held hands and danced with three other women they called bishops.

Those three women say they were ordained in secret by a male priest. They believe they are part of the apostolic succession that began when Jesus Christ ordained Peter.

At the end of the Pittsburgh ceremony, more than 350 invited guests cheered and applauded after one of the women announced the ordination of eight women priests and three female deacons. But leaders of the Catholic Church, represented in this film by the Rev. Ron Lengwin of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, say that by their very actions, the women excommunicated themselves.

Nearly all of the women featured in the film belong to an organization called Roman Catholic Womenpriests. With the exception of two Latina women who were recently ordained and Alta Jacko, an African-American woman based in Chicago, Roman Catholic Womenpriests is made up of highly educated white women who are middle-age or older.

After Friday's screening, Jules Hart, a California-based filmmaker who spent seven years and $150,000 of her savings to make "Pink Smoke," will participate in a discussion about it. The film's title refers to actions by the Women's Ordination Conference in the days leading up to the elevation of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI. Conference members burned pink smoke to remind people that women played no role in the papal election. The Vatican sends white smoke into the air to announce the selection of a new pope.

Ms. Hart, 56, lives six miles inland from Carmel by the Sea and said she felt compelled to make "Pink Smoke."

"I absolutely had no interest in the subject. I'm not Catholic. I was raised as a Christian Scientist," a belief system founded by Mary Baker Eddy.

"I'm not a stranger to a woman representing the divine. I didn't have a problem with envisioning women as priests," Ms. Hart said during a telephone interview.

Since the age of 5, Ms. Hart has been interested in spirituality. One day, Dana Reynolds telephoned her, said she was going to be ordained a deacon and asked Ms. Hart if she would be interested in telling her story. Initially, Ms. Hart said no, but the two women hit it off during their telephone conversation and met in person. Later, Ms. Reynolds became a bishop with Roman Catholic Womanpriests but has since retired for health reasons and lives in Dallas.

When Ms. Hart realized that more than 2,000 years have passed without a woman's voice being heard in the Roman Catholic discussion of doctrine or interpretation of Scripture, "I really started to get how important an issue this was," she said.

"Pink Smoke" has been screened at eight film festivals. Last year, it was shown at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. Michael Moore, who is Catholic, showed it at his Monday night documentary film series in Traverse City, Mich.

Ms. Hart requested an interview with the Diocese of Pittsburgh, which was besieged by media from around the world in 2006 when the women gathered aboard the Majestic.

"They had to respond to this blitz. They were getting requests from their parishioners to get tickets for the ordination boat," the filmmaker recalled.

During the seven years that she worked on the film, Ms. Hart became convinced that the women "had stories that were important and needed to be told."

She was moved by the courage of Patricia Fresen, who was a Dominican nun in South Africa for more than 40 years. Ms. Fresen, who defied the law of apartheid in South Africa by opening a school for children of both races, believed her order would support her ordination because she believes that ordaining women is, like racism, a social justice issue.

But the Dominicans insisted she recant her ordination. Ms. Fresen refused and left the order and her home in South Africa, where she had taught young men learning to be priests how to preach.

"She gave up everything and went to Germany and had no money, no health insurance," Ms. Hart said.

Roy Bourgeois, a priest with the Maryknoll order, also appears in the film and urges the church hierarchy to stop engaging in what he calls "the sin of sexism." He was excommunicated by the Vatican in 2008 for attending the ordination of a woman.

The experience of making "Pink Smoke," Ms. Hart said, "made me trust more in my own guidance as a spiritual being. It made me realize that filmmaking is what I want to do with my life."

Making the film has cost her financially and so far, she has only recouped about 10 percent of the $150,000 she spent.

"Like every good filmmaker, I'm facing bankruptcy. I may lose my home that my parents left me. It's crazy. Why would I do that? It just was what I needed to do. I'm praying that that's not going to happen.''

If she does lose her home, Ms. Hart said, "I'll probably move to LA. I'll have a new start.''

The women who appear in the film took a big risk, too.

"Believe me, they get death threats. People do not like what they are doing," Ms. Hart said.

The film is available for $19.99 through Amazon.com and at www.pinksmokeoverthevatican.com.

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Marylynne Pitz: mpitz@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1648.


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