The day when Charlotte (Karin Viard), chancellor in a diocese, is called upon to certify the death of Father Foucher, she is far from suspecting what she will discover. This priest, much appreciated by his parishioners, was actually a woman. Stunned, Charlotte immediately announces it to her bishop (François Berléand) who advocates discretion. Determined to discover the truth, the Chancellor embarks on an incredible investigation. Such is the starting point of this transgressive adaptation to the screen of women in black, novel by Anne-Isabelle Lacassagne (Éd. du Rouergue). “When my book was released in 2017, I was working in the catechism service of a diocese, in the Paris region. Its launch did not cause a stir, no doubt because it is written in a humorous tone and that he shows respect for the Church, confides the author. Some priests and parishioners even laughed at this fiction. But other readers felt embarrassed because I address the question frankly. women’s access to the priesthood. My departure abroad for family reasons has relieved more than one…”
Seduced by the audacity of the work, the producer Josselyn Bossennec proposes to adapt it to the cinema, on a screenplay by Nicolas Silhol (The dazzled). And entrusts the realization to Virginie Sauveur who wanted to bring to the screen “a heroine going from amazement to admiration when she understands that the woman hidden under the clothes of the priest has transgressed the rule, in order to freely access his vocation”, explains the filmmaker. Adding: “The look that Jesus cast on women, the poor and the excluded has filled me with admiration since the catechism sessions of my childhood. Christ is non-judgmental and displays a freedom of speech of a power extraordinary. I question the Church in this spirit: Why are women not allowed to celebrate the Eucharist and preach the good word? By continuing to forbid them to do so, does the Church not miss the march of women’s emancipation?
A film that can shock
For practitioner Anne-Isabelle Lacassagne, opening up possibilities, through imagination and laughter, allows us to question our representations of the sacred. “By daring to question tradition and conformism without any self-censorship, the director goes even further than my novel. Listening to outside voices that challenge us – at the risk of clashing with us – seems necessary to me if we want a Church open to the Company.” Shaken, some faithful will certainly be when discovering this film where the clerks give in to panic in a caricatural way, for fear of scandal. Unbeknownst to them, the heroine chooses to circulate the word to let the truth emerge.
Over the course of the comedy – of which we can regret the exaggeration and the accumulation of too many narrative plots – questions emerge: why does this partisan film not further explore the path of women who have chosen religious life? “The heart of the subject lies in the possibility, for women, of celebrating the Eucharist. However, nuns are not authorized to do so”, replies the filmmaker. “I have noticed that some women feel a real call to celebrate this sacrament and to preach”, adds Anne-Isabelle Lacassagne. Theologian, Anne-Marie Pelletier, sees in the female diaconate the opportunity for a greater participation of women in the life of the Church. The problem is also “that of access to an authority of the word of women weighing on an equal footing with that of men in the field of theology, of moral discernment, as in that of preaching. As such, I see in delegated, shared preaching, a big issue”, specifies the eminent exegete.
A priest is first a baptized
But are minds ripe to accept a new sharing of responsibilities within the Church? “Even in my former diocese, which was very egalitarian (employing a chancellor and a bursar), otherness in decision-making was not obvious. Faced with male decision-makers, women often yielded. This is why I am in favor of a mix in pastoral councils (lay people and clerics, men and women, volunteers or not)”, remarks Anne-Isabelle Lacassagne. But above all, we must value the baptismal priesthood, eclipsed by the ministerial priesthood, according to Anne-Marie Pelletier, “in order to recognize baptism as the principle of Christian identity, the foundation of all Christian life, even before there is a question of distinguish states or functions in the Church. The pope, a bishop, a priest is first of all a baptized person. No one can claim a higher dignity.”