As white smoke over the Sistine Chapel captured the world's attention, smoke of another hue at the Vatican has gone largely unnoticed.
According to Reuters, protestors in Rome set off pink smoke on a hill above the Vatican on Tuesday, as they called for the ordination of female priests and a more prominent role for women in the Roman Catholic Church. CBC News reports that the protest was organized by the Women's Ordination Conference.
"The current old boys' club has left our Church reeling from scandal, abuse, sexism and oppression," said Erin Saiz Hanna, the group's director, who was at the pink smoke protest. "The people of the Church are desperate for a leader who will be open to dialogue and embrace the gifts of women's wisdom in every level of Church governance."
In 2008, all female priests and priests involved in the ordination of women were excommunicated from the Catholic Church by the Vatican. Many priests -- both female and male -- have been punished in recent months by church leaders for their support of female ordination.
For years, advocacy groups like Hanna's have been pushing the Holy See to lift this ban. A few years ago, a documentary entitled "Pink Smoke Over the Vatican" spurred a heated debate about gender discrimination in the Catholic Church. The film claimed to tell "the stories of the determined women and men who, through the forbidden and illicit path of female ordination, are working to end the underlying misogyny and outdated feudal governance that is slowly destroying the Roman Catholic Church," according to the movie's website.
Therese Koturbash, who was also at the Tuesday protest, told CTV News that "Catholics must challenge the status quo."
“The interesting thing is, if you are a woman who is ordained you are immediately excommunicated. I still haven’t heard of a pedophile priest who has been excommunicated,” she said.
Earlier this month, a New York Times/CBS News poll revealed that a majority of Catholics in the United States believe that their church and bishops are "out of touch." Seven out of 10 of those polled said women should be allowed to become priests.
According to Reuters, the Vatican pink smoke protest is only one of many similar international demonstrations that have either already taken place or are being planned in the coming days. For instance, groups in Louisiana and Florida have taken to the streets in recent days to stage "pink smoke" protests of their own.
Last week, the Agence-France Presse reported that Janice Sevre-Duszynska, a female priest who was also at the Rome protest on Tuesday, had been detained in the Vatican by Italian police for staging a demonstration about women priesthood.
"As the cardinals meet for their conclave to elect the new pope, women are being ordained around the world," Sevre-Duszynska, who was ordained in 2008, told the AFP at the time. "There are already 150 female priests in the world. The people are ready for change."
In February, following Pope Benedict XVI's retirement announcement, the Catholic Network for Women's Equality said in a statement that it hoped a change in leadership could usher in a new era of women's equality in the church:
We call on Catholic Church leaders to ‘walk the talk’ of recognizing women’s equal dignity as baptized persons. Under Pope Benedict’s leadership we have witnessed the criminalization of those who support women’s ordination, an about-face on the use of inclusive language in the English mass, the bullying of nuns in the United States and the arbitrary removal of the woman who directed the largest Catholic aid organization in the world.
Structural changes are necessary in order to ensure that the gifts of women are brought to all levels of church ministry and leadership. Pope Benedict’s resignation is an opportunity to renew the Catholic church in order to address the complex questions of a new millennium.