While most people are abuzz over the abundance of black smoke from the chimney of the Sistine Chapel, signaling an inconclusive vote for a new pope, several more are talking about the pink smoke rising into the Rome sky.
Catholic women from Great Britain, America, and Australia have taken their protest against women's exclusion from the priesthood to Italy, where they are using flares to release pink smoke.
"The Catholic Church should be a healthy and vibrant place with equality, with both men and women called to the priesthood. Jesus did not exclude women. Jesus encouraged women and actively sought to include them," said Miriam Duignan, communications coordinator of the association, Women Can Be Priests. "So why do the cardinals who are supposed to represent Jesus make a point of actively excluding women, of telling them to be quiet? And of criminalizing anybody that speaks out in favor of women priests?"
While other denominations have begun to ordain women, the Catholic Church maintains its belief that "only a baptized man validly receives sacred ordination." The Catechism of the Catholic Church goes on to say that "...the college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve [apostles] an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return [...] For this reason the ordination of women is not possible."
The Vatican does not appear to be thinking about changing this rule anytime soon. In 2010, it declared that ordaining females into the Catholic priesthood would be a "grave sin" akin to pedophilia. Then it lashed out when the Obama administration called for Catholic institutions to offer contraception as a part of female employees' health coverage. U.S. bishops have even targeted the Girl Scouts of America for "suspected deviant thinking and positions that stand opposed to Church teaching."
But Therese Koturbash, the international ambassador of the organization Women Priests, remains optimistic.
"Already there have been so many changes that have happened in the church, that it wouldn't be a big step to start including women," she said. She also believes that women will start serving as priests during her lifetime.
According to the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests (ARCWP), there are more than 124 female priests and 10 bishops worldwide. However, the Vatican considers them excommunicated from the church.
Janice Sevre-Duszynska, an ARCWP member who attended the Rome protest wearing white priestly robes, expressed interest in meeting the new pope. She said she would ask him for a follow-up to the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, which discussed relations between the Church and the modern world.
"I would say to him that we need a new Vatican council with no bishops being invited, no cardinals, no priests, but just getting the people from local parishes, and people who have come out of prison and homeless centers," she added.
For now, it does not seem that the new pope will put women's issues on the forefront of any new policies. The Canadian cardinal Marc Ouellet, a candidate for the papacy, said that the issue of women in the church is "secondary."