The French Bishops’ head is showing signs of having understood the demands for greater rights of Catholic women and laypeople, saying “the Church cannot act as if human beings were children who must be held by the hand”.

– “Bishops and priests are in principle neither more learned nor closer to God than the laity”

Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, the president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF), made the remarks in an interview with Noosphère, the magazine of French Association of the Friends of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, as La Croix reports.

Though the conversation with the Archbishop of Reims, 58, took place May 18, it has only just been made public.

But it was worth the wait: right from the outset, the French Bishops’ head calls for changes in the model of ecclesial governance which sees bishops and priests constantly on top of laypeople, unwilling to let them follow through on their own instinct and initiative.

Although this patronising of laypeople was “the way the Church functioned in the past”, it’s no longer possible “in a society where a majority of the people have received higher education, where religious faith has largely been chosen or freely embraced”, the CEF president acknowledged.

But greater freedom and dignity for laypeople isn’t just a matter of sociological changes, but goes directly to the heart of the Gospel and the Church’s theology, de Moulins-Beaufort went on.

He explained that in Catholic teaching all the baptised “find themselves on an equal footing before Revelation, since bishops and priests are in principle neither more learned nor closer to God than the laity”.

That’s why, for the French Bishops’ head, “the voice of all the baptised laity, from the moment they try to embrace Christianity, should be able to count as much as that of the clergy”.

– In the Church “our governing bodies should always be shaped by men and women, priests and laity”

How then to actually act out the equal dignity of laypeople in the Church, and go from theory to practice? For de Moulins-Beaufort, there are two keys that can lead to greater co-responsibility: synodality and fraternity.

“The challenge for the reform of the Church is that we live synodality at all levels, and it must be rooted in fraternity”, the French Bishops’ head stressed in that sense.

He added that in the Church “our governing bodies should always be shaped by a concrete fraternity in which there are men and women, priests and laity”.

– ‘Yes’ to female deacons and cardinals… with a ‘but’

Greater leadership for women in the Church, therefore, is an important part of de Moulins-Beaufort’s vision for the future, since, in his opinion,  “nothing prevents them from holding many more important functions in the workings of the institution, with everything being a matter of competence”.

The CEF president revealed he was even in favour of the reintroduction of the women’s diaconate, provided that that led to a “more decentralised and more fraternal” Church.

However, the French Bishops’ head said that greater synodality must come before the extension of more rights to and the ordination of women, since “until there is progress on fraternity, I fear that dealing with the issue of ordained ministries will only make the structure more cumbersome and impede progress”.

The Archbishop of Reims gave an example of that dynamic. Although he said he personally could imagine “that the Holy See will one day be led by the pope surrounded by a college of cardinals in which there will be women”, he quickly added a proviso: “if we have not first dealt with the way in which men and women should work together in Church structures constituted in fraternities, it will be useless”.

– Veto on women voting at synods “leaves me completely flabbergasted”

Nonetheless, and despite de Moulins-Beaufort’s conditions for the female cardinalate, the prelate said that in his judgment there is no reason why women’s voices can’t be immediately heard now, particularly in synodal formats.

“In a complete synodal form, the voice of women should especially be heard more, given that the apostolic succession is reserved to men”, the CEF president stressed.

The veto of women voting on synods in Rome, in particular, is a prohibition the French Bishops’ head said he can neither understand nor abide.

“To say that only bishops vote would seem logical. But from the moment that priests and non-ordained religious brothers are allowed to vote, I don’t understand why women religious are not allowed to vote”, the archbishop explained.

De Moulins-Beaufort admitted that the ban on women voting in those Vatican synods “leaves me completely flabbergasted”.

More on Novena from the French Church:

French Catholics line up behind Pope, issue stirring call to faithful to commit to Franciscan reforms

French archbishop welcomes woman’s bid for episcopacy, warns it would be “grave not to engage it seriously”

Vatican female deacons commission member: “Why not include women in the college of cardinals?”

French Church pedophilia commissioner warns of link between “hierarchical function” and “systemic” abuse

French Catholic women push bishops for German-style ‘synodal path’ “to envision the Church of tomorrow”


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