To put a stop to clericalism and abuse in the Church, and to encourage other women to fight for their equality in Catholicism, a female theologian has put her hand up to be the next Archbishop of Lyon.
– An application to the nuncio
73-year-old biblical scholar, journalist and writer Anne Soupa announced May 25 on Twitter that she would be running to succeed Cardinal Philippe Barbarin in the see of the French city.
According to media reports, Soupa even went as far as to send to the Pope’s nuncio in Paris a creed, a reform program and her resume, flanking those documents with a press release.
But what makes Soupa, a highly-respected figure in the French Church, think that Church authorities will take notice of the candidature of a woman to one of the most important French dioceses? The idea is not as outlandish as it may seem.
Pope Francis finally accepted Barbarin’s resignation in Lyon in March, two months after the overturning of the six-month suspended sentence the cardinal received in 2019 for the cover-up of the crimes of a pedophile priest.
The archdiocese of Lyon is therefore in sore need of a healing figure who can win back trust.
And who better than Soupa – who has made great strides for the causes of both lay and female equality in the Church, having founded both the Catholic Conference of the Baptised – France’s biggest lay association – and the ‘Skirt Committee’ for gender justice?
– “That Catholicism excludes half of humanity is not only contrary to the message of Jesus, but also harmful to the Church”
In her press release today explaining her candidature to the Lyon see, Soupa made reference to her many achievements in Catholic life, but she also lamented the fact that even in 2020 “no woman heads any diocese, no woman is a priest, no woman is a deacon [and] no woman votes the decisions of the synods”.
That Catholicism excludes “half of humanity” in this way, Soupa said, “is not only contrary to the message of Jesus Christ, but it is also harmful to the Church” insofar as that leaves the institution prone to abuse.
Insisting that she is neither a “stranger” to Catholicism nor an “apparatchik”, Soupa said her 35 years worth of experience “on the ground” in the Church made her more than qualified for an episcopal position.
“Everything entitles me to say that I am capable of running for the title of bishop; everything makes me legitimate. And yet, everything forbids me to do so”, the French theologian reflected.
“So it’s a crazy move, but the craziest thing is that it sounds crazy when it isn’t”, she added.
– “Saying ‘no’ to the ban on women bishops is a duty for me”
Soupa went on to deplore that “if my candidacy is prohibited by canon law, it is simply because I am a woman, because women cannot be priests, and because only priests, by becoming bishops, lead the Catholic Church”.
But she added that “say[ing] ‘no’ to this prohibition is a duty for me, both for this Church I love and for all the Catholics of whom I am a sister”.
Instead, shouldering her “responsibility to be a ‘servant of the Word’ and to give an account of the hope that is in me”, Soupa said she would still “dare to run for office in the Catholic Church”.
“Is there only one model for a bishop, that of a single, elderly man, all dressed in black? What a gain it would be to dare to offer other faces to this office!”, the theologian exclaimed.
Soupa also observed as justification for her candidature that “being a priest is one thing, and governing is another”, and that “Pope Francis has asked theologians to better distinguish priesthood and governance in order to make a place for women”.
“I note that nothing has been done in this regard for seven years”, Soupa lamented, before asking: “Is there only my candidacy to respond to the Pope’s call?”
– “The office of bishop existed long before canon law!”
In support of her candidacy, Soupa affirmed that “governing a diocese only requires being a priest because canon law has so decided it”.
“But the office of bishop existed long before canon law!”, she observed.
“The Twelve companions of Jesus were not priests”, the theologian went on, adding that “Peter was even married”.
“Since ancient times, the bishop… has been a supervisor, a protector who observes and watches over the cohesion and doctrinal rectitude of a group of communities. How could a lay person not fulfill this function?”, she asked.
– Bishops in Lyon “have failed to protect their communities”
As for why she was applying specifically to Lyon, Soupa stated simply that the last four shepherds of the archdiocese “failed in their primary task of protecting their communities”.
“The shepherds let the wolves enter the sheepfold and the predators attacked the young”, Soupa decried, asking:
“How can the legitimacy of the episcopal body be restored today? How can the Catholics of the diocese of Lyon, laity and priests, who all aspire to a true, liberated word, in a united community, be able to trust again?”
– Hopes that other women will follow suit
To bring back that trust is exactly why Soupa said she is running for Catholic office, and also to end the “clericalism” that continues to be nourished within the Church despite the Pope’s frequent protestations: “abuses of all kinds, the sacralisation of the priest, a spirit of division…”, she lamented
But not that Soupa’s candidature is of her own initiative: not only did she admit that she was taking the step of putting her hand to be bishop “because some of my loved ones have led me to it”, but also because she hopes that it will inspire other women to follow her example.
“I hope my action will be useful for all the women who today are constrained and restricted in their desire for responsibility”, Soupa concluded her press release, before inviting her sisters in the Church “to apply wherever they feel called, whether it be to become a bishop or to any other responsibility which is currently forbidden them”.