A Spanish female theologian is backing a woman candidate for the position of Archbishop of Lyon, saying that her self-nomination is “a prophetic sign”.

– “Actions speak louder than words”

Feminist theologian and political scientist Isabel Gómez Acebo explained in Religión Digital how she overcame her initial doubts and finally decided to support Anne Soupa, a biblical scholar, writer, journalist and gender-justice campaigner who put her hand up May 25 to succeed abuse-tainted Cardinal Philippe Barbarin at the helm of the Lyon archdiocese.

Lamenting that Soupa’s candidacy should seem so “outlandish” despite her eminent qualifications, Gómez Acebo praised the French theologian as “a serious person who has thought through all her steps” and who wanted, in putting herself forward for the role, “to sound a wake-up call [in] an uncomfortable, transgressive and provocative prophetic sign that points up the situation of women in our religion”.

Steps like Soupa’s are necessary because “actions speak louder than words”, Gómez Acebo continued, denouncing that in the Church “we hear every day about the value of women, but no step forward is ever taken in order to make use of our gifts of government”.

– “Women are distancing themselves from Catholicism”

Gómez Acebo also wrote that Soupa’s timing is right in the sense in which civil society is changing and the world is seeing more and more female leaders in everything from politics to business.

This shift in women’s roles in the wider world, the Spanish theologian said, “is painting the Church as an obsolete institution” far removed from the concerns of wider society and its people.

That’s an image, Gómez Acebo wrote, “that is not good for anyone, since the Church is left without hands to sow the Word and women are distancing themselves from Catholicism: something that should be of concern to us if we appreciate the value that our community brings to the people who make it up”.

Gómez Acebo went on to decry the fact that Church leaders don’t take sufficiently into account the “cultural dimension” in which Catholicism is embedded.

“Our society changes, and while it is true that the institution cannot be watered down in the world, we Christians live within its parameters: a fact to which we must respond”, Gómez Acebo explained.

“Vatican II invited us to read the signs of the times and, if we do so, we will have to change or make some adaptations to our laws [to address] something that is not being fulfilled and that is being demanded”, as is the case with gender justice in the Church, the theologian insisted.

– “The time has come for the woman to no longer be the handmaid”

Gómez Acebo also praised Soupa for her choice to present herself as candidate for the Lyon archdiocese precisely: a diocese, the Spanish theologian recalled, that “has suffered a lot” with the abuse claims in which Cardinal Barbarin was embroiled and which revealed in the local Church “a sick structure and a perverse system that far from helping [abuse] victims silenced them”.

To overcome the “sacralisation of the priest” and “utter clericalism” that led to the child sex and cover-up scandals in Lyon and other places, Gómez Acebo proposed a vision of the Church as “an authentic community… formed by men working with women, with people with different charisms, regardless of their sex”.

“The time has come for the woman to no longer be the handmaid, the servant, of the man; the time has come to take bold decisions, [to become] ‘a Church that goes forth’, to lose our comfortable life to embrace an existence far from protective walls but closer to the people of our time”, Gómez Acebo concluded.

Aware as the theologian was that Soupa’s appointment as archbishop might not come to fruition, but hopeful as she was too that “it will serve, like one more drop, to fill the glass of the demands of women in our Church”.

More stories on Novena on the push for gender justice in the Church:

Cardinal Marx joins chorus of voices for more women’s leadership in Church, says matter “urgent”

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

Belgian Jesuit calls for women cardinals: “It is vital that the world not always be seen through male eyes”

More than 4,500 sign in support of female theologian Anne Soupa’s bid to be next Archbishop of Lyon (with video)

Anne Soupa, female candidate for Archbishop of Lyon, deplores: “The situation of women in the Church is scandalous”

To put a stop to clericalism and abuse, female theologian Anne Soupa puts hand up to be next Archbishop of Lyon


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