French Catholic women are experiencing the flipside of Church ‘equality’ as they take on more and more important roles in Catholic life but don’t receive the recognition they deserve.

Driving the news

Mary Massardier, a 75-year-old pastoral worker with the sick in the Diocese of Mende, spoke to La Croix about the women like her who are coming to “run” the French Church.

“What dominates in all this is joy”, Massardier said of her service also as a hospital chaplain and parish funeral team and Sunday School volunteer.

“I practise the love I have for Jesus”, she added.

“Without women, it would be a disaster”.

Go deeper

If it’s true that the Church in and beyond France would collapse without the contributions of women, then it’s also true that there’s a danger of overloading them, the backbone of Catholic life.

La Croix spoke to ‘Claire’ – an alias – who participates in her parish in the commune of Longeville-lès-Saint-Avold (Moselle), not only in the rosary team but also as a church cleaner.

“I do it above all for the parish and for the village”, the 60-year-old said of this last task.

“Sometimes I tell myself that I am overdoing it”.

Another woman who didn’t dare give her name complained to La Croix that “a young priest who had just left the seminary arrived in our parish and wanted to revolutionise everything without taking our opinion as we know our community well”.

“I love priests deeply but I am not servile”, the woman said, adding that she has learned to “manoeuvre” with priests so as to make sure they listen to her.

Why it matters

Father Gérard Reynal, parish priest of Beaulieu and Meyssac in the Diocese of Tulle, acknowledged to La Croix that the Church was in danger of overloading women, who in many places are the only faithful left.

“The risk is that we may no longer realise that women often accept subordinate tasks because it suits us well”, the priest admitted.

But for all the women like ‘Claire’ and the other anonymous woman to whom La Croix spoke, there are other women like Marie-Claude Chesneau, 74.

Chesneay said that in her volunteer work, in a parish in Villebon-sur-Yvette (Essonne), “I always had the feeling that I was listened to, as much as a man”.

What’s next

They’re two sides to the same coin.

Some Catholic women are just happy to be listened to more than in the past, but others know all too well that doing more and more for the Church is too often a thankless task.

How best, then, to show appreciation for these women, the staples of countless Catholic communities?

Would ordaining women deacons be enough? Ordaining them priests and bishops, and making them cardinals?

How else to better listen to women?

It’s a pressing question, and one Church leaders will have to think about if don’t want to test women’s patience any longer.

Next on Novena:

Spanish women quit Church en masse in protest over Catholic “sexism”

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