7 women “apostles” are applying for male-only ministries in the Church with the aim of challenging the “immense injustice” of Catholic sexism.
– “It is time to give equality to women in the governance of the Church, to give women a voice”
Today, July 22 – on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene – the 7 women have gone this morning to the Nunciature in Paris to present the pope’s ‘ambassador’ in France, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, with dossiers in which they set out their profession of faith, the ministry for which they wish to be considered candidates and the type of service they are capable of assuming.
The women – part of the “All Women Apostles!” collective – are hoping, too, to have a personal audience with Migliore, the only man authorised to pass on the women’s candidacies to Pope Francis.
According to a press release published today by “All Women Apostles!”, each of these 7 candidacies being presented today to ministries such as preacher, deacon, priest, bishop or nuncio “is the fruit of its own call and discernment, hitherto stifled by the discrimination against women in the Catholic Church”.
While each call and process of discernment has been unique, all the candidates have in common the inspiration they have taken from Frenchwoman Anne Soupa, the 73-year-old biblical scholar, theologian, journalist, writer and women’s rights campaigner who applied in May to succeed Cardinal Philippe Barbarin at the helm of the Lyon archdiocese.
“By carrying out this action on 22 July, the feast of St. Mary of Magdala, these women place themselves directly under the patronage of this woman whom tradition has consecrated as ‘the apostle of the apostles'”, the collective explained in its statement today.
“Mary Magdalene, an exceptional personality mentioned in the four Gospels, is the first to recognise the Risen One and to announce the fulfilment of Christ’s promise to the apostles who were frozen in fear”, “All Women Apostles!” continued.
“While [the apostles] lived in fear, cloistered on the upper floor of their house, it was Mary Magdalene who – in a reversal of traditional roles that should not escape us – ran with mad daring and hope to meet the promise of life.
“It is in this same gesture that we, baptised women of the Catholic Church, run to face the prohibitions of the Church of men, to affirm our attachment to the Church of Christ and to announce the vows we make for her.
“More broadly, we wish to carry out actions that allow us to do justice to all sisters in Christ, whatever their origin, their civil status, their gender and sexual orientation or their profession”, the group concluded.
Among the women seeking to shatter the stained-glass ceiling today is Loan Rocher, a transgender woman applying for the position of deacon. Rocher seeks to be ordained by the Catholic Church because “women have charisms equal to those of men”.
“It is time to give equality to women in the governance of the Church, to give women a voice”, Rocher urged.
Another of women apostles stepping up today is Catholic priest Christina Moreira from Spain, who declared: “Like Mary Magdalene, I am taking this step in prophetic witness to a feminist model of radical inclusiveness and justice in the Roman Catholic Church that recognizes and celebrates women’s equal spiritual authority”.
– Full text of the manifesto of the “All Women Apostles!” collective
(Source: All Women Apostles!; unofficial translation: Novena)
We Christians have co-created the collective “All Women Apostles!” made up of women committed to the Church and supported by a diversity of baptised people. This collective aims to link people and movements of lay men and women committed to the equality of women in the Church, because the absence of women in positions of responsibility – whether in the governance of our parishes, our dioceses, the Vatican or as ordained ministers – is as much a scandal as it is a counter-witness to the Church. This immense injustice is not a minor problem but hurts the whole ecclesial body.
Our gesture is neither the demand of a trade union nor a declaration of great principles, but a salutary act of disobedience to the Church’s dogma.
Although the objections have been raining down since Anne Soupa’s declaration, they are still very fragile: she has been accused of playing the game of “clericalism”, that is to say, of sustaining the hierarchy of the clergy at the risk of serious abuses of authority.
While we share the mistrust of clericalism, this argument only serves to reinforce the inertia of the institution, which is reluctant to make the structural changes it needs.
Moreover, it seems necessary, in view of the urgency of the situation, to initiate reforms from somewhere. That against women is one of the most visible and violent forms of discrimination.
In order for the Church to be able to fulfil its mission, it must allow women access to the various ordained ministries as well as to the high positions of responsibility of the institution, even in order to support those reforms which are indispensable for an effective synodality of power, which is the responsibility of all baptised men and women.
We are not mistaken: if women were able to be ordained that would not confirm a hierarchical functioning. The access of women to ministries and responsibilities questions precisely the present structure of government of the Church, the meaning of ordination as well as the meaning of equality between baptised women and men; it would certainly be a bang on the table for change that would allow the reform of the present Roman Catholic Church, which has been bled dry.
Resistance has also focused on the mode of action chosen by Anne Soupa: “in a Catholic regime, one does not run for office: one is called!” But since Mary of Magdala and the women deacons greeted by Paul in his letters, who is there to call women in the Catholic Church?
We have been waiting for 2,000 years, while God continues tirelessly to call some of us. Let us remember Samuel: three times he answers, “Here I am!” to the wrong person, before he realises that it is not human beings who are calling him, but God.
Our approach is not “claiming a position” but “answering a call”. The obstacle to opening these ministries and offices to women, and more broadly to non-ordained men and women, is neither theological nor spiritual: it is political and cultural.
Long and painful have been the decades during which baptised Catholic women have politely asked for real equality within their Church. They are not received; hardly listened to. We are being asked to be satisfied with a new commission on the women’s diaconate, while the previous one failed in 2016 and even its own members do not believe in a favorable outcome. And still we are being asked to be patient.
But today, faced with the urgency of our Church’s situation, we have no choice but to tackle these obstacles.
And this is no small task: the silencing of women for centuries by the Church still persists in a subtle way. Many of the women we have met do not dare to apply for membership for fear of losing their teaching jobs in Catholic institutions or of being marginalised in their parish and diocesan activities. Others, despite an inner call, are afraid to take the leap in the absence of a role model. Finally, others are saddened by the lack of attractiveness of the ministries, would like new ways of carrying out these services and are reduced to reinventing practices on the margins of the Church.
The multiple of pitfalls facing women reveals profound challenges for the Church: breaking out of the clerical-lay divide; an excessively vertical and non-transparent governance structure; the confusion between power, the sacred and the masculine; the coupling between priestly functions and functions exercised in decision-making bodies; and discrimination against people because of their gender or lifestyle.
We are aware that, although the stakes are high, the profiles of the 7 candidates of 22 July 2020 do not yet reflect the plurality of the women who make up the Church, despite our efforts to make that happen. This lack is the result of structural injustices, both social and ecclesial. Though we repent of it and want this to change in the future, we want to affirm today that we are sisters in Christ to all the baptised, whatever their origin, their marital status, their gender orientation, their sexual orientation or their profession.
We exhort women who feel, in one way or another, challenged by this impulse to dare to imagine something else for the Church and to act. In complete freedom, let them dare to address, for example, a terna to the Nuncio for dioceses whose episcopal see is vacant; to propose candidates for the cardinalate; or to suggest other actions that would make it possible to associate the People of God with the appointment of its clergy.
If, not surprisingly, the ecclesiastical institution did not consider it useful to give an official response to Anne Soupa’s candidacy, we know that perseverance in faith and action will bear fruit in places we do not yet dare to hope for.