“The situation of women in the Church is scandalous”, a female candidate to be the next Archbishop of Lyon has deplored.
– I want women to ask: why not me? Why can’t I be a bishop?”
73-year-old theologian and lay activist Anne Soupa spoke to German Catholic news agency KNA hours after she submitted an application to the nuncio Monday to succeed Cardinal Philippe Barbarin at the helm of the French diocese, after Pope Francis accepted Barbarin’s resignation early March under the shadow of clerical sex abuse cover-up allegations.
“I expect the Church to become aware of [women’s] grievances”, Soupa explained as to why she put her hand up for episcopal office.
“Women are the big losers in the Church today… I want women to become aware and ask: why not me? Why can’t I be a bishop?”, the theologian said.
To judge by the amount of attention she’s received with her application for bishop, Soupa is halfway towards achieving her goal.
“The media coverage was great, I was pleased”, she said. “Sure, the reactions are varied – from criticism to praise. But the debate helps to create awareness of the issue. The Church in France is rather critical of the media. There was no reaction from the Church itself – but I didn’t expect that either”.
– “Our Church just keeps going with the same model, even though it doesn’t work”
Going deeper into why she wants a bishop, Soupa pointed to one word – clericalism – and explained that Pope Francis has been fighting against the plague of the self- and community exaltation of priests throughout his whole pontificate to date, along with calling “for a better distinction between administrative functions and ordained ministry”.
“The leadership of a diocese also includes spiritual tasks. These can also be carried out by lay people, male or female”, the French theologian said.
“The Church in France has so far taken no measures against clericalism. Our Church just keeps going with the same model, even though it doesn’t work”, she denounced.
Although the French Bishops took the unprecedented step last autumn of inviting laypeople to participate in their plenary assembly, Soupa said that gesture did not go far enough, as discussions at that meet were limited to environmental issues and did not touch on the sore point of the “institutional structure” of the Church.
In Soupa’s opinion, part of the reason why the French Church has been slow to reform is that it doesn’t have a strong lay body like the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) – which along with that country’s Bishops is driving a “synodal path” regeneration process – or a united group fighting for Catholic women’s rights, like ‘Maria 2.0’ in Germany or other groups in Switzerland, for example.
“I am convinced that we have to go further in responsibility for lay people in the Church. Why shouldn’t laypeople be able to lead a diocese?”, Soupa asked.
– Desire to right the “chaos” in Lyon, reform an out-of-date diocesan administrative structure
As for why, finally, she chose the archdiocese of Lyon in her push to become a bishop, Soupa first of all recognised that she is not “perfect” for the role, as she neither is “for any other thing in my life”.
However, the theologian said that “the archdiocese of Lyon is symbolic of a failed administration”.
“There was chaos there; four bishops failed to restore order, especially with regard to the cases of abuse. They did not see the problem of pedophile crime”, Soupa lamented, adding that, due to Cardinal Barbarin and his predecessors’ lack of leadership, “Lyon is the result of an administrative structure that no longer fits in with the times”.