A theologian has warned that Catholic women have had enough of being “silenced, subordinated and excluded from decision-making”.

– “There is a strong grassroots movement for change”

British theologian Tina Beattie reflected with The Guardian August 30 on the push of seven French female “apostles” to enter into Church ministries traditionally reserved only for men and on the example that inspired those women – that of 73-year-old theologian and biblical scholar Anne Soupa, who has put her hand up to become the next Archbishop of Lyon.

Beattie – professor of Catholic studies at the University of Roehampton in London – explained that more and more Catholic women are constructing “movements and networks of solidarity and strength within the Church, and not allowing themselves to be defeated by what comes out of Rome”, which has repeatedly stressed its ‘no’ to women’s ordination.

On women’s marginalisation in the Church, Beattie said “there is a strong grassroots movement for change now, but it doesn’t always take the same form”.

“Among women in western liberal democracies, campaigns for leadership and ordination are very strong”, whereas “in other areas, there is more emphasis on exposing and challenging clerical abuse of women – nuns in particular; domestic violence; abuses of power within the clergy”, the theologian explained.

– “The Catholic faithful do not share the Vatican’s disdain for women”

Beattie’s perception of a swell in grassroots support for female-favourable change in the Church was shared by Miriam Duignan of Women’s Ordination Worldwide, who told The Guardian that “there is definitely a growing movement within the church over the role of women in leadership positions”.

“The Catholic faithful do not share the Vatican’s disdain for women, and are ready to see them fulfil their vocations to all ministries in the same way that male candidates can”, Duignan added.

Duignan observed that the application of Soupa to be the next Archbishop of Lyon – which prompted the French female “apostles” to also take a step forward – has “triggered something in people – there is an outpouring of support”.

As of this Tuesday, Soupa had received on her website over 17,500 signatures of support for her bid to succeed abuse-tainted Cardinal Philippe Barbarin as head of the Lyon archdiocese.

– A plea to the Pope to be more “brave and outspoken” on Catholic women’s rights

While the support from Catholics in the pews for greater responsibilities for women in Catholicism is heartening, many advocates for a gender-equal Church are calling on Pope Francis to do more to advance the cause of women than just re-opening an old commission on women deacons or appointing laywomen to the male-majority Vatican economic council.

Theologian Beattie lamented the Pope’s inaction on the women’s rights issue, and said Francis “could have been as brave and outspoken about women as he has been about so many other subjects”.

Soupa is also disappointed that the pontiff hasn’t opened more doors for women, although in a June interview with France24 the would-be archbishop hinted at a more sinister reason for the papal inertia.

“Why has the pope not done more on this issue? I believe Pope Francis’ efforts are being thwarted by currents within the Church … strong and powerful reactionary currents”, Soupa denounced, before warning:

“Pope Francis has yet to walk the talk … The Church cannot operate without women … [they] are the future of the Church”.

More on Novena on pushes of Catholic women for equal rights in the Church:

Female candidates for male-only Church roles in France: “Jesus never wanted a hierarchical structure that would exclude women”

Ex-Vatican journalist stands up to sexism in Church: “The Gospels were the first feminist book in history”

“The discussion is still alive”: German archbishop, Austrian bishop want more debate on ordination of women

Theologian denounces “patriarchal and priestly worldview in which churchmen have been educated to feel doubly superior” to women


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