When the Vatican censures American nuns for “radical feminism,” three sisters stand up for their spiritual convictions. Will a hard-line hierarchy dominate the 21st century Church or will the sisters’ values of social justice and inclusion prevail?
February 2009: The Vatican launches two surprise investigations of American nuns, aiming to stamp out “radical feminism” and ensure sisters follow a conservative interpretation of doctrine. What does it mean for the sisters to be both devoted to and in conflict with a powerful religious institution? Feminists in a patriarchal faith? Why stay? RADICAL GRACE follows three extraordinary nuns who faithfully honor their vow of obedience to God, even when it means angering the Church hierarchy. SISTER SIMONE CAMPBELL bikes through D.C. streets to a sparsely attended press conference on Capitol Hill. Holding a picture of a family on food stamps, she urges Congress to continue funding social programs. A savvy lobbyist and attorney, Simone works in the public spotlight. After publicly opposing U.S. Bishops by supporting healthcare reform, her organization is named in the Vatican’s censure of American nuns. Simone overcomes her fears and organizes a Nuns on the Bus cross-country tour, leveraging her notoriety from the censure to spotlight social needs. Standing on a fire escape at St. Leonard’s Ministries, SISTER JEAN HUGHES shares a cigarette with her client, Marcus, before they walk over to her sexual health class. Tough and self-possessed, Jean works in Chicago’s West Side, providing services for men and women re-entering society after leaving prison. When faced with a mysterious illness and her own mortality, Jean encounters a new understanding of God and a calling to stand up to the Vatican. But how much can one sick old woman do? Does that mean she shouldn’t try? SISTER CHRIS SCHENK rolls a suitcase down a broken sidewalk. She makes the sign of the cross and enters a run down church. Chris travels from parish to parish, organizing everyday Catholics to advocate for more inclusive Church governance. “We want our Church structures to reflect how God is. The wholeness of God. The Love of God.” Chris is a spunky theologian, willing to go head-to-head with the Vatican on their own turf. During Pope Francis’ election, Chris travels to Rome to visit sites of secret women leaders from early Christianity and to advocate for modern women’s equality. But can anything really change while the Church is still ruled by an all-powerful monarch? The film depicts not only the nuns’ struggles but also their joyful irreverence. As Simone says, “The Holy Spirit is making mischief!” RADICAL GRACE is a universal story about the strength of the human spirit vs. a powerful institution.