Q & A with Luc Novovitch, Director of God’s Daughters
Diane prays with a member of the Holy Wisdom community after giving her communion in her home.
Roman Catholic Womenpriests have been in the news a lot lately. Even though automatic excommunication is the penalty for womenpriests as well as those who ordain them, they show no signs of backing down. Luc Novovitch, a former photojournalist for Reuters, AFP and Gamma, recently made a documentary about two ordained Roman Catholic Womenpriests. God’s Daughters will premiere this Monday, June 2, at the Capitol Theater in Olympia, Washington.
Mary Valle: You’re a noted photojournalist. Why did you decide to move into documentary filmmaking?
Luc Novovitch: Filmmaking allows me to develop and present stories in a more efficient way. Still photography has a serious handicap when it comes to the narrative aspect of a story, but film is a linear, sequential presentation of moving images, which make different demands of the viewer. There is also a dimension absent from photography that is an extraordinary tool too: sound. A film allows subjects to present their own points of view. Audio is also the unrecognized heavy lifter in film. A film with bad audio will have a hard time capturing the viewers’ attention, even if the story is extraordinarily well-filmed.
MV: Why were you interested in Roman Catholic Womenpriests?
LN: My main interest was not the religious aspect per se. I was struck by what these women stand for and how they live what they preach. They are all-inclusive, open, in sync with the times, and they fight for equal opportunities and gender equality. Their concerns go well beyond religion. They happen to be Catholic, and they do not want to leave their church. They won’t even consider becoming a splinter group or establishing a new denomination. Womenpriests are questioning the monolithic and vertical male organization of the traditional Catholic Church in the 21st Century, a church with 1.2 billion followers and a leadership which seems stuck in time.
MV: I really like how you let the subjects speak for themselves without voice-over. A lot of Gods’ Daughters simply shows the womenpriests Diane and Kathleen in action. Why did you choose to make the film this way?
LN: I didn’t want to do an exposé or express my own ideas. I wanted to be as objective as possible, even if we never can be completely objective. That is why I didn’t want any voice-over or anything that could lead the viewer. My idea was to show how these women live, what they do, think, express. How they see their priesthood and how they live it. How they interact with people. Their goals and expectations. Expressed in their own words, with their own actions. And then let the viewers make up their own minds. It is not a “for or against” piece. In this respect, I think it works, because comments from the first screeners are all over the spectrum.
MV: Even though womenpriests face excommunication, there’s a sense of hopefulness amongst the women in your film, despite the Pope saying “the door is closed” to womens’ ordination. How do you think they maintain that hope?
LN: Their faith is a major element. They also believe that their cause is bigger than themselves and that what they are doing is for the benefit of all. The womenpriests have a rare tranquil certitude that they have chosen the right path. They realize that it is a very long-term process. And they are, most of them, realistic. They do not expect any overnight change.
MV: I was struck again by the thought of “anything that women do, men do better.” That is, traditionally female activities such as teaching, nursing, wearing dresses and cooking become respected and worthy when men do them, again, traditionally, as professors, doctors, clerics, chefs and so forth. The scenes of Kathleen baking bread for the Eucharist in her kitchen reminded me of that—I think of the elaborate rituals in the Catholic Mass with the priest cleaning the chalice with fine linen using silver or gold implements. It’s like a bizarro-world “meal” if you think about it. Here’s a man in a dress doing some mock meal-preparation, serving and cleaning and that is sacred and women are flat-out not allowed to do it. Do you have any thoughts about that?
LN: That brings me back to this monolithic and absolutist organization and way of doing things by the men who think they own the institution. They don’t even respect their own manuals, texts, and history. The official Catechism contradicts their rules. Baptism itself bestows de facto priesthood upon someone:
1268 The baptized have become ‘living stones’ to be ‘built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.’ By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission.
MV: The Womenpriests movement is radical but also faithful. Why do you think it’s so threatening to The Powers That Be, who, with their one-billion-strong membership, still manage to keep the eye of Sauron on them?
LN: The leaders are what they are, but they realize that their power resides in a strictly enforced and blind obedience from their subordinates, but also to some extent from all who believe. We have to be honest: the Catholic Church has never be a beacon of progressive or even open-minded thinking. They decided centuries ago that it was a men’s affair, and they will cling as long as they can to their power. Womenpriests must be a direct threat. They are open, simple, and authentic in their faith. They favor a loose and open organization. And they are qualified to be priests. One needs a Master of Divinity to be considered as a candidate. And if admitted, it takes years before being ordained. Womenpriests are capable and serious, and that is competition for the male-dominated church! What is also very telling about the Vatican is that they are losing followers in places that used to be bastions of Catholicism. South America is seeing an unprecedented migration of believers from the Roman Catholic church to other denominations. People are leaving the church of their ancestors to join other, frequently evangelical, churches.
MV: Anything else you’d like to add?
LN: Yes. I’d like to point out that I am not Catholic. I am not even Christian. But I do believe in what these women stand for.
Mary Valle lives in Baltimore and is the author of Cancer Doesn't Give a Shit About Your Stupid Attitude: Reflections on Cancer and Catholicism. She blogs on KtB as The Communicant. For more Mary, check out her blog or follow her on Twitter.