What strikes me most about Sister Jeannine is that she can take on her enemies without rancor. She’s a gentle revolutionary with the grace, patience and fortitude to try to change an abysmally stubborn institution rather than just walk away, which is what I and so many others have done. After sixteen years of Catholic school, I had hoped to never see or hear another nun. This one is irresistible. Albert Maysles volunteered to shoot this project after falling in love with her and her story. Her humble refusal to be silenced got us both in the gut. It was a New York Times article in 2000 that inspired me into action. Her words, “I refuse to collaborate in my own oppression,” heartened me so much as a woman, an artist, a journalist, a recovering Catholic and an American I had to make the movie. The world should know about this nun, I thought.
What drives people who are not appreciated or wanted to stay with an exclusionary institution and fight to change it? What is so compelling about the church for these people? How does her ministry bring estranged families together and help people find personal peace, and if it is so profoundly healing and positive, why did the hierarchy shut her down?
The delicate question of Sister’s own sexuality emerges as an intriguing sub theme here. She sees herself as a bridge builder between the gay community and church hierarchy and decided long ago not to come out as gay or straight. As we get to know her better within the film, she appears to be closer to revealing this intimate aspect of herself, enhancing the drama.
I wanted Tom Fontana to come on board as executive producer to help us raise some money for the project, and because, instinctively, I felt his sensibility would be an asset to the film. I later learned he has a sister who is a nun and a brother who is gay, making this ideal creative match even more potent.
In addition to its artistic and entertainment value, I think IN GOOD CONSCIENCE will do much to erase prejudice and fear. As an occasionally homophobic heterosexual, doing this film has challenged my own irrational fears and forged for me a new understanding, compassion, and alliance with gay people. In many ways, the church has stifled my sexuality too. Indeed, having a vagina and breasts relegates me to utter and permanent second-class status in the eyes of the church. Kinship in these injustices also inspired this film.
As a television journalist for more than twenty years, objectivity (alleged objectivity, anyway) is a longtime practice. But this subject — hypocrisy and injustice in the Catholic Church — is one that severely tests my objectivity. At the same time, it’s my conviction that fairness and an honest examination of the issues and answers will make this film strongest, and prove most useful in a world fractured by hatreds. IN GOOD CONSCIENCE is shaped and informed by who I am, but not crippled by a poisoned agenda.