Cardinals have gaslighted women seeking equality in the Church, blaming their desire for “power” on their “clericalism”.

– Cardinal López: “I make my ring and cassock available to the woman who wants to wear them, but that won’t add anything”

The cardinalatial ridicule of the push of many Catholic women around the world for greater responsibility in the Church and a greater participation in the institution’s decision-making processes came June 24 in a webinar organised by Spanish Catholic website Vida Nueva.

Vida Nueva spoke to cardinals Cristóbal López, Juan José Omella and Pedro Barreto of the dioceses of Rabat (Morocco), Barcelona (Spain) and Huancayo (Peru) respectively about Pope Francis’ ‘Plan for Resurrection’, a text the pontiff wrote for Vida Nueva on his ideas for the post-COVID-19 economic, social and ecclesial recovery.

One among many definitions of ‘gaslighting’ is the act of undermining another person’s reality by denying facts, the environment around them, or their feelings.

And that’s exactly what Cardinal López did to those Catholic women seeking more involvement in their Church when he said that rather than concentrating on who has ‘power’ in the Church “women, like men, have to rediscover baptism and the dignity of being children of God baptism gives us”.

“Our joy is not in being bishops or cardinals, ordained or not. Our joy must come from being children of God”, López explained.

“I, being a cardinal, am no more than anyone else… We must overcome clericalism, which is also present among women, and which consists in believing that being a priest, a bishop or a cardinal are like stepping stones that lead upwards”, Cardinal López insisted.

“I make my cardinal’s ring and my red cassock available to the woman who wants to wear them, but that will not add anything. If she wants to be a complete woman, it is enough to be a woman and to be a Christian, who does not base her feeling of fulfilment on believing that she is not complete if she does not have the priestly order”, the cardinal doubled-down.

– Cardinal Barreto: “I do not believe that women in the Amazon region have the dream of becoming priests”

In the same way as Cardinal López, Cardinal Barreto also offered up to women his red hat and his cardinal’s ring, and recalled that if the women who serve the Catholic Church in Latin America were to walk away, the Church “would have no strength whatsoever”.

Barreto, too, highlighted the “important” role played by the women who “do absolutely everything” in his diocese, and also praised those women in the Amazon who are “priestesses, not in the liturgical sense but in the sense that they strengthen family life [and] offer a service of love, of concern for the poor”.

“Women in general have a lot to offer and they are doing so”, Barreto insisted.

But he added: “I do not believe that women in the Amazon region have the dream of becoming priests. No, they are fighting for the dignity and equality of all, so that the human rights of both men and women in the region are respected”.

The Peruvian cardinal furthermore explained that “any ‘responsibility’ we might have in the Church is service, and disinterested service, one that does not seek attention, as so many women serve in the Church and the world today”.

– Cardinal Omella: “Let’s take the step to make the promises a reality… otherwise they’ll say it’s just words”

Of the three cardinals who participated in the Vida Nueva online panel, it was perhaps only Cardinal Omella who got closest to how Catholic women really feel about being excluded from the centres of Church power and decision-making, when he admitted that today “we have a mistaken concept of the priestly, episcopal or cardinal ministries being about power”, when “they’re not power, they are service”.

“Jesus Christ is very clear about this in the Gospel”, Omella explained.

“We can all serve, from the joy of being a child of God, and a woman serves just as much as a man if she has love and does not seek power and respects the other”, the Barcelona archbishop stressed.

Omella recalled also that in some Vatican congregations, “when a cardinal visits, he submits himself to the religious or laywoman who is the secretary” of the department because “she is the one who has the responsibility”.

“Fabulous, let’s continue along this path”, Omella urged.

But the Barcelona archbishop realised that the proposal of giving women cardinals’ hats and rings without changing underlying power structures sounds trite, and for that reason pleaded that women be given more effective “responsibility” on the ground.

On the Church’s vague promises of more power for women, “let’s take the step to make it a reality in our dioceses and parishes… because otherwise they will say that it’s just words. We want to commit ourselves not only to giving the zucchetto [the bishop’s and cardinal’s cap], but to actually giving women responsibilities”, Omella concluded.

More on Novena on the push for gender justice in the Church:

“Total exploitation”: Former Vatican journalist hits out at priests’ treatment of nuns

German Bishops’ vice-president insists women priests debate “not over”, wants to take issue to “European Synod”, Pope

German theologian claims ‘Querida Amazonia’ seeks to end “clerical monopoly”, clear way for women cardinals

German laywomen warn bishops: “It is not for anyone to deny us vocations just because we are women”

German laypeople cry: “Anyone who is against the ordination of women is against the equality of women and men”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.