“When there are more women in positions of responsibility in the Church, there will be less abuse”, a would-be female archbishop has affirmed.

– Anne Soupa, trailblazer

In May 73-year-old biblical scholar, theologian, journalist, writer and Catholic women’s rights advocate Anne Soupa sent an application to the nuncio in Paris to become the next Archbishop of Lyon.

Seven female “apostles” followed in Soupa’s footsteps in July, and on the feast of St. Mary Magdalene handed in their resumés to the pope’s ambassador in the French capital with the hope of serving in the Church in the roles of preacher, deacon, priest, bishop and nuncio – ministries traditionally reserved only for men.

Four of those women subsequently received phone calls from Nuncio Celestino Migliore inviting them to talk about their applications, but not Soupa as of yet, as the Catholic women’s rights pioneer revealed in an interview September 6 with Spanish website Vida Nueva.

“It is true that I did not ask for an appointment. It is also true that the position I am applying for is very important, especially considering that women cannot even access the diaconate”, Soupa explained.

That said, Soupa clarified that if Nuncio Migliore were to call her, “I would ask him to appoint me Archbishop of Lyon. Very likely he would answer me with objections, to which I would try to respond in the best possible way. And I would draw his attention to the question of women in the Church in general”.

– Church abuse “sustained by clerical self-segregation”

Soupa told Vida Nueva that the idea of her applying to become Archbishop of Lyon “was a proposal of my son’s”.

“At first, I thought it was crazy”, the biblical scholar admitted. “Then I realised that it was a good way to advance the cause of women; not to stay with the complaints, but instead to make concrete proposals”.

As for the diocese of which she has applied to be pastor – that of Lyon, still hurting from the March resignation of Cardinal Philippe Barbarin in a cloud of suspicion over his alleged inaction on priestly pedophilia – Soupa explained that “the choice of Lyon was quite natural”.

“The see is vacant and it is the French diocese that has suffered the most from abuse”, Soupa said of the Lyon local Church.

“I have been saying for a long time: when there are more women in positions of responsibility in the Church, there will be less abuse. Why? Because the system of abuse is sustained by clerical self-segregation”, she emphasised.

– “It is not me who provokes, but rather the male authority that persists within the Church”

Not a few Catholics have seen Soupa’s application to become an archbishop as a provocation. “Of course it is”, Soupa herself told Vida Nueva, “but I have no other option”.

The Frenchwoman compared her plight and that of women in the Church in general to that of the paralytic in John 5:1-18, “who wanted to go down to the pool of Bethesda to be cured, but never arrived in time because no one helped him get into the water”. “It’s the same thing”, Soupa explained.

“The nuncio will never call a woman to be a bishop”, she denounced, adding that “in reality, it is not me who provokes, but the male authority that persists within the Church despite the evolution of society”.

“With my candidacy, I wanted to open a path in consciences, to invite others to do the same”, Soupa reflected.

As for whether and when things are likely to change for women in the Church, Soupa was rather pessimistic. She said that Francis’ early August appointment of six laywomen to the Vatican economic council “shows that the Pope does not intend to change everything; he does not touch the system, he only introduces small changes”.

Moreover, Soupa lamented that the pontiff “even sometimes sends contradictory signals”. For example, on the issue of the women’s diaconate, which the Pope breathed new life into in April this year with the creation of a new expert commission on the matter after the 2016 failure of the first one to come to a unanimous agreement.

“It’s a way of buying time”, Soupa said with regard to the Pope’s inaction on Catholic women’s rights.

She added that the Pope was already working on the separation of ordination and governance – necessary for women to take on more responsibility in the Church – as early as his 2013 apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, but “in seven years, there has been almost no progress in this regard”.

The power of decision-making in the Church “remains with the bishops alone”, Soupa lamented.

More stories on Anne Soupa, on Novena:

Theologian warns Catholic women have had enough of being “silenced, subordinated and excluded from decision-making”

“You have the knowledge and experience”: support for female candidate for archbishop in France arrives from other side of world

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

“A prophetic sign”: Spanish female theologian backs woman candidate for Archbishop of Lyon

Female candidate for Archbishop of Lyon deplores: “The situation of women in the Church is scandalous”


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