Filmmakers: Allie Light, Irving Saraf, and Carol Monpere
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 53 min
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The Sermons of Sister Jane: Believing the Unbelievable presents the story of one nun’s struggle against the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Her activism begins with her attempts to stop sexual abuse and corruption within her local diocese. The film chronicles her quest in battling the abuses rampant in her church, as she first contacts the bishop, who ignores the evidence she presents, and later a representative of the Vatican, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI). When her attempts to deal with Church officials fail, she contacts the press, stirring controversy. Her struggle with the Church hierarchy is not limited to the lack of recognition of the sexual abuse occurring in her parish, but it also includes disagreement with the Church’s teachings on issues such as birth control, homosexuality, the ordination of women, and even the Virgin Birth.
Through its presentation of the story of a single woman, The Sermons of Sister Jane demonstrates the conflicts of faith the wider Catholic Church is experiencing. The documentary juxtaposes images of lay Catholics practicing their faith with interviews with Sister Jane, connecting her discontent with the Catholic leadership and the unmet needs of the people of the Church. With a membership that is more supportive of same-sex marriage than the general population and whose women overwhelmingly utilize contraception, the Church suffers from a large disconnect between the beliefs and practices of the laity of the Church and the official teachings of the Church. Sister Jane is part of a larger movement of Catholics hoping to move away from condemning sexuality and to shift focus to helping the most marginalized populations in society. The Sermons of Sister Jane shows her courage to speak against the Church hierarchy and support social justice through her work with the community dining room at Plowshares, presenting a narrative of Catholic faith that is a much-needed break from the usual coverage of conservative Catholic leaders spouting words of condemnation.
Sister Jane states that “Jesus walked among the poor, the outcasts, the lepers, not the high priests,” spurring her audience to reject the Church hierarchy and instead pay attention to those in need. The format of structuring the documentary around interviews with Sister Jane gives her authority and shifts from the patriarchal Church’s exclusion of women to an alternative model in which women are leading and given a voice. The Sermons of Sister Jane is a powerful documentary exploring the potential for progressive activism in faith communities, women in the Catholic Church, feminist theology, and gender studies in religion.
Ashley Vogel 2013.