French Catholic women are pushing their bishops for a German-style ‘synodal path’ in which “to envision the Church of tomorrow”, saying that “the future of Catholicism depends on synod-like dialogue between clergy and laity”.
– “In a rapidly changing world, the Church needs to leave the beaten path”
“We all need to work together to envision the Church of tomorrow, a Church capable of accompanying the existential questions of our contemporaries”, a total of five French Catholic women wrote in an impassioned plea to their pastors June 8 in La Croix.
The five women – Monique Baujard, director of the French Bishops’ National Family and Society Service; Marie Mullet-Abrassart, president of the French Scouts and Guides; Véronique Fayet, president of Secours Catholique-Caritas France; and journalists Véronique Prat and Dominique Quinio said that the issue in terms of shaping the “Church of tomorrow” is not the continued relevance of the Gospel, but whether the way the Gospel is proclaimed still reaches an increasingly less religiously-literate society.
“In a rapidly changing world, the Church needs to leave the beaten path”, the Catholic women asserted, recalling that even Pope Francis has recoginised this reality in his repeated calls for a Church that “goes out of itself”.
But to find new ways, the Church needs new inspiration, and the women said there’s one big hurdle for Catholics in coming up with new ideas.
“… We are like prisoners of our imagination and must admit that it’s an imagination that has been shaped for centuries by men and for men”, the French women lamented.
They decried the fact that everything from scriptural interpretation and theology to reading the signs of the times to governing and preaching in the Church “has been the exclusive prerogative of men for centuries”.
The Church is at a crossroads, then. As long as men are not prepared to share with women their power in the Church, theology will be used to maintain the status quo of inequality, the Catholic women deplored.
– “Invent other places of Church” to defeat clericalism, abuse and an outdated organisational structure
But the status quo today in the Church is not just one of discrimination against women, the French Catholics said, but one instead stained by “many different types of abuse”.
“Sexual abuse, the abuse of power and conscience, and abusive spiritual relationships” have caused and fed into unhealthy situations of different types of control and power imbalances, and “there are endless examples and they have provoked disgust among many Catholics”, the French women denounced.
They continued by deploring the clericalism that sees priests and founders of communities “put on a pedestal, making them above all suspicion”. Situations, they lamented, that are the very antithesis of the Church’s call to foster “fraternal relationships that take into account each person’s fragility”.
Beyond the abuses of power, too, in the women’s opinion the Church is still hamstrung by an outdated “territorial vision of the Church, modeled on parishes” which “attract fewer and fewer people” and leave religious people still hungry for meaning and community.
In the face of these two realities, then – the imbalances of power and the outdated organisational structure – the Frenchwomen called on Catholics and their leaders “to invent other places of Church” and to experiment with new ministries including for “governance, the Word and hospitality”.
– “Popes have never instituted a real dialogue with women”
Circling back to their call for more creativity, the French Catholic women wrote that “inventing the Church of tomorrow requires being able to speak about this imagination, the existing gaps with the reality that Catholics experience and to work on its transformation”.
But even being able to speak is difficult in the Church as it is set up today, they continued, decrying that “the Church lacks forums for dialogue”, especially on the place of women, for which reason some female believers have to resort to “confrontational and provocative” measures like that of Anne Soupa, the 73-year-old theologian who is running to be the next Archbishop of Lyon.
“… The popes have written much about the so-called ‘feminine genius’ and the role of women in the Church. But they have never instituted a real dialogue with women”, the French Catholic women denounced.
– “One dreams of going further…”
Beyond the provocations, however, there are other possible ways forward, the Catholic women recalled, praising as an example of that the German ‘synodal path’ reform process, which “allow[s] bishops and lay people — and thus women — to listen to each other and consider each other’s arguments” on key topics such as sexual morality, the role of women, the exercise of power and authority and the celibacy of priests.
In France, the closest the Church has yet come to a German-style synodal path has been the November 2019 “synodal exercise” in which laypeople were invited to a Bishops’ plenary assembly to reflect with the prelates on ecology.
That focus on the care for Creation “is a very important subject that challenges our lifestyles and can, in turn, also help renew the Church”, the French Catholic women affirmed.
However, “one dreams of going even further today – that the bishops in France would also prepare a national synod to face head-on some of the problems the Church is facing”, they reflected.
“Many Catholics are ready to work with them in imagining the Church of tomorrow”, the women concluded.