La Croix, May 2020
A woman has proposed herself as a candidate to be Archbishop of Lyon.
Even if she does not use the word, theologian Anne Soupa has again assumed the role of provocateur.
The 73-year-old journalist and biblical scholar, one of France’s best known activists for a greater role for women in the Catholic Church, sent a letter to the papal nuncio in Paris on May 25 stating her desire to head the ancient diocese.
She included a detailed cover letter and her curriculum vitae.
A communication coup
It was a communication coup for Soupa, co-founder in 2009 of the Catholic Conference of the French-speaking Baptized (CCBF).
Her candidacy has already received support from France’s most prominent advocacy group for clergy sex abuse victims, la Parole Libérée. “It’s not going to happen. I know that,” Soupa said.
“But I want it to be possible for us to imagine a woman becoming an archbishop without it being a joke,” she added.
An author of nearly a dozen books, Soupa hopes her initiative will further help fight against “the way women are kept invisible within the Catholic Church”.
The Archdiocese of Lyon, one of the most important sees in France and usually headed by a cardinal, has been without a spiritual leader since early March when Cardinal Philippe Barbarin resigned.
The 69-year-old cardinal was convicted last year for failing to report a priest pedophile to French authorities. Although the conviction was overturned this past January, Barbarin had lost the confidence of many in the archdiocese and Pope Francis allowed him to step down.
Soupa said the “Lyon context” was not what prompted her to launch her candidacy to be archbishop.
“I see that we are continuing as before for this next appointment, following the same models,” she insisted.
The woman theologian said there is an “intellectual laziness” in the way bishops are chosen.
“As the pope invites us to do, it is appropriate to dissociate governance from ordained ministry,” she said.
“Above all, I want to raise awareness”
She said she’s never been tempted to leave the Church, despite all its “internal problems”.
Her goal with this new initiative is to address all Catholics, and just those who are practicing.
Soupa said she would meet the nuncio, Archbishop Celestino Migliore, “with pleasure” and explain her candidacy to him, if necessary.
“Above all, I want to raise awareness,” she said.
“Some will tell me that I have a lot of nerve to do this,” the theologian admitted.
“All right, but I feel like asking them, after this first reaction, what they really think about it. In the end, I hope they say to themselves: a lay person at the head of a diocese, why not?” she said.
Officials in the Archdiocese of Lyon pointed out that the appointment of the next archbishop depends solely on the pope.
They told La Croix that the archdiocese does not want to dismiss the “symbolic” character of Soupa’s initiative, which is aimed at promoting the place of women in the Church.
They said the archdiocese continues to look for ways to do that, pointing out that a woman named Véronique Bouscayrol has been the archdiocese’s chief financial officer, its “number two” position, since November 2018.