SANTA CRUZ -- A documentary that explores the controversial movement of women becoming priests in the patriarchal Roman Catholic Church will play in Santa Cruz on Feb. 2 during a screening at Peace United Church.

"Pink Smoke" tells the stories of several women who have risen up against the long-held Catholic church rule that prohibits female priests and how they've been automatically excommunicated from the church they love for their efforts in achieving gender equality.

After the film, there will be a discussion with Father Roy Bourgeois, a priest of 40 years who was dismissed for his support of ordaining women.

"The Vatican and Maryknoll can dismiss me, but they cannot dismiss the issue of gender equality in the Catholic Church," Bourgeois wrote in November 2012. "The demand for gender equality is rooted in justice and dignity and will not go away."

"Pink Smoke" -- named for the colored smoke a group of women released in protest outside the Vatican when Pope Francis was named in March 2013 -- hits home for Santa Cruz resident Christine Fahrenbach. She is set to become ordained in the Roman Catholic Womenpriests on Feb. 8.

Fahrenbach, 58, was raised outside Chicago in a staunchly Catholic family, attended parochial schools and studied theology at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.

She also holds a master's degree in divinity from the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley.

Following her faith, Fahrenbach taught religion classes at the all-girls Mercy High School in San Francisco in the 1980s.

All along there was a burning desire to be a priest, something she felt as a child.

"If we ever played church, I was always the priest," Fahrenbach said during an interview in her Santa Cruz office. "I've known it since I was a small child, like knowing you're gay. I learned to live with it, with a lot of stress."

Fahrenbach, a lesbian who works as a psychologist, spent time exploring other religions, such as Buddhism, in her attempt to accept the Catholic church's exclusion of female priests. But she never found one that fit as well as Catholicism, she said.

She regularly attends Episcopal services in Capitola, but still considers herself a devout Catholic.

Fahrenbach applied a few years ago with the Roman Catholic Womenpriests, a controversial group that offers the priestly ministry to qualified women around the world. All female priests must have a master's degree in theology.

The women are not recognized by the Vatican and hold mass only within small ministry groups outside the traditional church. Fewer than 150 female priests exist worldwide.

Still, becoming a priest fulfills a calling for Fahrenbach she can't ignore.

"There is a lot of meaning to it," Fahrenbach said. "Just because the Catholic church isn't going to accept women priests in my lifetime didn't mean my call didn't feel true to me."

Follow Sentinel reporter Shanna McCord at Twitter.com/scnewsmom

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