“Sometimes I have the impression that Jesus’ view of women was much more open than ours”, a French bishop has admitted.

Driving the news

“Having women in leadership positions is no longer an issue in society, but it must be recognised that it remains one in the Church”, Bishop of Oran Jean-Paul Vesco told La Croix, in conversation with biblical scholar and theologian Anne Soupa.

“Women can have important responsibilities in the Church today”, the prelate explained, recalling that “they join the episcopal councils, receive mission letters [and] become diocesan treasurers”.

“But the blockage happens as soon as one approaches the sacred, when women priests and bishops are mentioned”, Vesco acknowledged.

“Maybe it’s just a lack of habit? Or is it because it denies a complementarity to be preserved symbolically? I have met Anglican women bishops and I must say that it seemed strange to me to see a woman with a staff, attributes that I associate more with the masculine”, the bishop reflected.

Go deeper

Vesco admitted that for him, as a bishop, “the question of female priesthood… is not open as three popes have closed it in succession”.

But he did accept that, on women’s equality, “there are so many other things that can and must progress”.

“Is it that the Word of God cannot be commented on by a woman at Sunday Mass? This is really a question that touches me. Today, we have women trained in theology. Why can’t we ever hear them preach?”, Vesco asked.

“How is it possible to deprive oneself of the feminine resonance of the Word of God?”, the bishop questioned.

“This confiscation of the Word, even more than the confiscation of power, is for me an amputation of the ecclesial body.

“I dream of an instituted ministry that would allow [women to preach], just as much as lay men trained in theology”.

Why it matters

Vesco insisted there is “a complementarity between men and women in life” that must be respected in the Church.

But he said he could “very well imagine” a “symbolic complementarity” which would mean “new women’s ministries, different from those of men, but equal in responsibility and symbolism”.

“Throughout Christian history, the hierarchical Church has taken precedence over the assembly of the baptised”, the bishop denounced.

That’s the reason why “the challenge is not to ‘clericalise’ women, but to declericalise the Church”, he said.

What’s next

“Women need more space” in the Church, Vesco continued.

But for that to become a reality, the relationship between men and women must be “fully evangelised”, the Church’s “misogynistic tradition” must be overcome, and the all-too-prevalent “will to keep power to oneself” on the part of Church leaders must be defeated, he said.

On male-female relations in the Church, Vesco explained that “it is as if a magnificent canvas has been covered with layers and layers of paint over the centuries”.

“They must be removed one by one, and not with a heavy scraper, so as not to damage anything”, he said.

For the record

Biblical scholar Soupa insisted, for her part, that women “need to feel more free and capable” in the Church.

“The current challenge for the Church is to recover its great emancipatory tradition”, the theologian explained.

She recalled that “in the Gospels, Jesus considers women being a right on their own. He advocates human rights by banking on women’s rights”.

“This is fundamental because the salvation of the Church is through the full integration of women.

“It is not a concession keeping pace with the spirit of the times.

“It is a coherent return to the original message — to the egalitarian tradition”.

“The essential thing is not whether or not there are female priests”, Soupa continued.

“The problem is that the Gregorian reform (10th and 11th centuries) linked responsibilities and ordained ministry.

“We have to unravel this”, the biblical scholar and theologian insisted.

Next on Novena:

Women take charge as theologians, “deaconesses” in Switzerland, France

Women, lay ministers now majority in Belgian Church but still barred from power

German bishop says he “can imagine” women priests

Overworked and underpaid, French Catholic women experience flipside of Church ‘equality’


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