We never thought it would end up on a hard wooden bench inside a police station in Piazza Cavour. Maryknoll priest Fr. Roy Bourgeois, young Erin Saiz Hannah of Women's Ordination Conference in the US and Miriam Duignan from Womenpriests.org from the UK were sitting there when my wife and I arrived. They were being detained by the Rome police.
It started when the Rome police spotted the three women in long white church liturgical garments robes, the man in a roman collar dressed all in black, and their supporters walking several blocks down the middle of Via della Conciliazione directly towards the Vatican, the headquarters of the institutional Roman Catholic Church and the Basilica of St. Peter.
The group sang Alleluias and carried a long purple banner Ordain Catholic Women, a big red and white banner proclaiming God is Calling Women To Be Priests" (in English and Italian), and a black and white Call to Action banner
The group wanted to deliver a petition, printed on pink paper, signed by more than 15,000 people who asked the Vatican not to expel Fr. Roy Bourgeois, 72, from the church for saying that women are called to be priests in the church. Fr. Roy faces expulsion from his Catholic community, Maryknoll, for refusing to recant his belief that women can and should be allowed to become priests. Bourgeois, a decorated Vietnam veteran, has been a faithful member of the Catholic missionary group, Maryknoll, for 44 years. For twenty years, he has worked with School of Americas Watch in the US, a group of thousands who challenge the role of the US military in training human rights abusers among Latin American militaries. Along with the petition was a list of hundreds of priests who asked that Fr. Roy not be expelled just for speaking out about a matter of conscience.
As the tour busses and other traffic veered around the marchers, pedestrians on the street cheered. The huge dome of St. Peter's Basilica dominates the area which is thronged with pilgrims and tourists, and saturated with souvenir shops and vendors selling religious medals, holy cards, statues, refrigerator magnets, flags, and postcards.
The police presence quickly outnumbered the group and stopped them as they tried to enter Vatican Square.
Protests were not allowed in the Vatican said the police. But we are here to deliver a petition, the group responded. But you are carrying signs said the police. We can put the signs down responded the group. But the women are dressed like priests and that is a protest the police insisted. But we are legitimately ordained priests they told the authorities.
After much back and forth with Vatican authorities the police said Fr. Roy could go into Vatican Square because he was a real priest. When Fr. Roy insisted all the priests, men and women, should be allowed to enter, an undercover policeman violently grabbed the banners away from those peacefully holding them and the authorities arrested Fr. Roy, Erin Saiz Hannah who the police decided organized the event, and Miriam Duignan, who was acting as the translator.