French Catholic feminist ‘apostles’ have expressed their “perplexity and immense disappointment” with the new Archbishop of Lyon.

– “Where are the signs of openness, of the end of a clerical self-segregation?”

Toutes Apôtres! (“All Women Apostles!”) – a collective formed in July this year “to link people and movements of lay men and women committed to the equality of women in the Church” – released a statement October 22 to voice its strong displeasure with Pope Francis’ appointment that same day of Monsignor Olivier de Germay as the new Archbishop of Lyon.

“Where are the signs of openness, of the end of a clerical self-segregation?”, the collective wondered with respect to de Germay’s nomination.

The group also expressed concerns about the archbishop-elect’s ties to the highly-secretive and ultraconservative Opus Dei movement.

De Germay – who has been the Bishop of Ajaccio on the French island of Corsica in the Mediterranean since 2012 – will succeed Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, whose resignation as Archbishop of Lyon Pope Francis accepted in March this year.

Barbarin had been under heavy scrutiny since at least 2016, when accusations began to pick up steam that he had covered up the sexual abuse of dozens of children perpetrated by a priest of his diocese, Bernard Preynat.

In March 2019 the cardinal received a six-month suspended prison term for not reporting child abuse, but that sentence was later overturned on appeal in January 2020.

But precisely because of that background involving Barbarin, Toutes Apôtres! wondered whether the conservative de Germay would be the right person to lead a diocese “hurt by crimes and divisions”.

– “If the Catholic Church does not appoint women to real responsibilities, it will disappear”

All Women Apostles! was founded on the inspiration of Anne Soupa, the 73-year-old biblical scholar, theologian, journalist and writer with 35 years of experience in campaigning for lay and Catholic women’s rights who in May this year put her hand up to succeed Barbarin.

And indeed, Toutes Apôtres! decried the missed opportunity of the Pope not appointing Soupa to the post, lamenting that “it would have been exemplary to show the power of the Gospel, the Good News equally shared between men and women”.

“Pope Francis apparently preferred to comfort some conservative Catholics”, the collective deplored, also asking: “When will we see the nomination [as bishop] of a member of the People of God by election?”

Following Soupa’s lead, seven female members of Toutes Apôtres! filed applications on July 22 – the feast day of St. Mary Magdalene – for positions in the Church traditionally reserved only for men, including bishop, priest, deacon and nuncio, or papal ambassador.

All of them were invited to private audiences with the nuncio in Paris, Celestino Migliore – except for Soupa, as the collective pointed out in its October 22 press release.

Soupa herself criticised the nomination of de Germay in her place, and denounced that the appointment of the new male archbishop “perpetuates a macho and clerical mode of governance that contributes to widening the gap between civil society and the Church”.

“However, if the Catholic Church does not appoint women to real responsibilities, it will disappear”, Soupa warned.

Soupa also deplored that nothing in de Germay’s background “suggests that he is aware of the urgency of gender equality”, as she lamented too his support for Pope John Paul II’s ‘Theology of the Body’, which among other things places strong emphasis on traditional marriage, opposes contraception, reaffirms compulsory clerical celibacy and defends the “complementarity”, but not equality, of men and women.

That ‘Theology of the Body’ “is neither a theology nor a reflection on the body”, Soupa said.

– “The many voices of women must be heard, for they will no longer be silenced”

Along with Soupa, another member of Toutes Apôtres!, Sylvaine Landrivon – a candidate for bishop and a resident of the Lyon archdiocese – also said she was very troubled by de Germay’s appointment.

“Lyon has been suffering for years from the gaping wounds left by the pedocriminality, which plagued the Church that St Irenaeus [second Bishop of Lyon in the second century – ed.] wanted to be so beautiful”, Landrivon lamented.

“Our community needed to heal its divisions, to regain the sense of welcome that made its reputation for more than a hundred years thanks to the heroes of Social Catholicism. We hoped for a doctor, for words of ‘care’, as the diocese needs so badly to be appeased.

“In that sense, Anne Soupa showed the way: the way for another Word, for a governance which would depart from self-segregation and deleterious silence. Pope Francis has decided otherwise. The many voices of women must be heard, for they will no longer be silenced”, Landrivon concluded.

More on Novena on the French female “apostles”:

After meeting nuncio, French women “apostles” aspiring to ordination lament Church “still robbing itself of 50% of the genius of humanity”

Would-be female archbishop Anne Soupa: “When there are more women in positions of responsibility in the Church, there will be less abuse”

Female candidates for male-only Church roles in France: “Jesus never wanted a hierarchical structure that would exclude women”

7 women ‘apostles’ claim place in male-only Catholic hierarchy: “The Church is in a deep crisis, and we need to open up its doors”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.