The “most urgent” issue for the Church today “is to correct its gender imbalance”, an Irish nun has pleaded.

– “The time has come for women to claim their God-given role”

“For two thousand years male leaders of the Church have tried for no good reason to keep power and control in their hands. The time has come for women to claim their God-given role… to share equality in the Church”, Sister Cora Richardson wrote in a September 12 letter to the editor of the Irish Times, republished on the ‘We Are Church’ Ireland website.

Nun Richardson is a Missionary Sister of the Holy Rosary who spent years caring for AIDS patients in South Africa.

As an example of strong Christian leadership, Sister put forward the witness of Mary Magdalene, the “apostle to the apostles” who announced Jesus’ resurrection to the male disciples.

Mary Magdalene has also inspired women in France to take a step forward and offer themselves for traditionally male-only roles in the Church such as deacon, priest, bishop or nuncio, that last being an ambassador of the Pope’s in different countries around the world.

– “Church leaders have to accept that the patriarchal/ecclesiastical world is obsolete”

Though the Irish Times deleted the reference from Richardson’s text, the Irish nun praised European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, too, as an example for the Church to follow.

Von der Leyen is leading the College of European Commissioners with the largest female representation to date, with 11 women and 15 men.

“Church leaders have to accept that the patriarchal/ecclesiastical world is obsolete if there is to be a future for the Church”, Richardson warned priests and bishops.

The nun pointed to the fact that “intentional communities that support the leadership of women are increasing daily and returning to the theological essence of the Eucharist”.

That was a reference to the fact that the official Church continues to ban women from celebrating the sacrament of the Mass – in distinct contradiction, as Richardson pointed out, with Jesus’ promise that “where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them”, regardless of whether those “two or three” are ordained or not.

– “Will you wake for pity’s sake!”

Sister Richardson reserved her harshest words in her letter for those in the Church who continue to assume that John Paul II’s declaration in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that “women can never be ordained” is the final word on the subject.

Many in the Church, from bishops to archbishops to historians to theologians to Catholic women themselves, question the definitiveness of that teaching of the Polish pope.

Recalling that she has been a missionary religious “for over 60 years”, Richardson said that veto on women’s ordination “seem[s] to me to be ‘codology dressed up as theology'”.

That verdict of the nun’s was a reference to words spoken last year by former Irish president Mary McAleese – also a canon lawyer and theologian – who in November 2019 decried the “invisibility and powerlessness” of women in the Church.

Sister Richardson closed her letter to the Irish Times with an admission: “I have never felt called to be ordained, but I feel called to stand up for the many women e.g. St Therese of Lisieux, who do”.

“As the poet, Christopher Fry put it in ‘A Sleep of Prisoners’: So many thousand years to wake, But will you wake for pity’s sake”, the nun concluded.

More stories on Novena on equal rights for women in the Church:

German Catholic students criticise patriarchal language for the divine: “God is just as much woman and mother”

“Get a grip”: Church reform groups blast Vatican for bullying Irish priest in favour of women’s ordination, gay marriage

Vatican digs itself into hole trying to defend gender inclusiveness of Pope’s new encyclical ‘Brothers all’

Cardinal Hollerich: “It is clear” that current opportunities for women in Church are “not enough”


Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.