by Sarah Mac Donald in THE TABLET, 24 November 2020

A French theologian who last May put her name forward as a candidate for the position of Archbishop of Lyon has described the Church’s ban on women priests, deacons and bishops as “an abuse of power”.

In an online address to reform group ‘We Are Church Ireland’ this week, Anne Soupa paid tribute to Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg for his “courageous” admission in September that he is open to the idea of women’s ordination.

The 73-year-old mother of four and grandmother of eight has been active in the French Church for 35 years as a Bible scholar, theologian, journalist and author. She co-founded two church associations.

“It is against this abuse of power that I rose [up]. My greatest hope is that women, everywhere, stand up and make their voices heard also.”

She said the hierarchical Church, by demanding absolute obedience, “denies the place of conscience and obstructs the freedom of the children of God. To obtain obedience, they exploit with the toxic emotion of guilt-tripping.”

Soupa said her candidacy was characterised as a gesture of disobedience because Canon 375 of the Code of Canon Law requires that bishops be priests, and Canons 233 and 235 states that only men can be priests.

“I don’t want to be priest, I don’t need it, and I want to show that it’s time to entrust the Church to lay people.”

She said the issue was “exclusionary masculinity, celibacy, lifelong vows, and especially clericalism, which is an abuse of power.”

In the Catholic Church, the bishops see themselves as the successors of the apostles. But how do they know that they are the only ones?, she asked.

“It’s the same in a family. The first born isn’t the only heir. In the past, and still in many patriarchal cultures, the first born – especially sons – appropriated everyone’s heritage. In several religious foundations, we see that inheritance is also commandeered.”

She added that the designation of the twelve male Apostles was another form of appropriation. “It fails to show that all are called to serve Christ through responsible ministries. The twelve apostles were representative of the twelve tribes of Israel which signified the call of all the people.”

The hierarchical Church forgets that up to the 2nd century, bishops were not priests, she highlighted. “The priest in the modern sense, the sacerdotal one, the priest who celebrates the mass, appears in 250AD. And the first bishops, Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, appeared 100 after Jesus Christ. For the first 150 years bishops were lay people.”

Anne Soupa put her name forward as a candidate to replace Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, who was convicted of failing to report clerical sexual abuse in the diocese. That charge was overturned last January.

Despite his acquittal, Cardinal Barbarin asked Pope Francis to allow him to resign for the sake of the archdiocese. His resignation was accepted in March.

On 25 May Anne Soupa filed an application to become Barbarin’s successor.

On 22 October the Vatican announced that Bishop Olivier de Germay of Ajaccio, Corsica had been appointed Archbishop of Lyon.

Soupa’s gesture drew substantial public support and led to the creation of the movement Toutes Apôtres or All Apostles. The women in the movement have presented their candidacies for the positions of bishop, nuncio, parish priests and female deacons to Mgsr Celestino Migliore, the papal nuncio in Paris. 

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