Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF), says he can imagine a day when there will be women in the College of Cardinals.
And in very long and wide-ranging video-taped interview with Noosphère, the magazine of French Association of the Friends of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, he admitted to being “completely flabbergasted” that non-ordained religious brothers can vote at the Synod of Bishops’ meetings, but women cannot.
The interview, which was organized on May 18, has just been made public.
The 58-year-old archbishop, whom Pope Francis appointed to lead the Archdiocese of Rheims nearly two years ago, spoke on a variety of issues.
Regarding ecclesial governance, he said the Church “cannot act as if human beings were children who must be held by the hand”.
“This is the way the Church functioned in the past,” admitted de Moulins-Boufourt, who recently completed the first year of an initial three-year term as CEF president.
But he said that’s no longer possible “in a society where a majority of the people have received higher education, where religious faith has largely been chosen or freely embraced”.
This is especially true since, according to the theology of the Church, all the baptized “find themselves on an equal footing before Revelation, since bishops and priests are in principle neither more learned nor closer to God than the laity”.
“The voice of all the baptized laity, from the moment they try to embrace Christianity, should be able to count as much as that of the clergy,” the archbishop said.
On the subject of the place of women in the Church, he considers that “nothing prevents them from holding many more important functions in the workings of the institution, with everything being a matter of competence”.
Furthermore, he is not opposed to the re-establishment of the women’s diaconate, on the condition that it leads to “more decentralized and more fraternal” organization of the Church.
Synodality and fraternity
“The challenge for the reform of the Church is that we live synodality at all levels, and it must be rooted in fraternity,” he insisted.
“Our governing bodies should always be shaped by a concrete fraternity in which there are men and women, priests and laity,” the archbishop added.
“Until there is progress on fraternity, I fear that dealing with the issue of ordained ministries will only make the structure more cumbersome and impede progress,” he argued.
But de Moulins-Beaufort said he personally could envision “that the Holy See will one day be led by the pope surrounded by a college of cardinals in which there will be women”.
“But if we have not first dealt with the way in which men and women should work together in Church structures constituted in fraternities, it will be useless,” he warned.
“In a complete synodal form, the voice of women should especially be heard more, given that the apostolic succession is reserved to men,” the CEF president continued.
He admitted that he found it incomprehensible that women were invited to participate in recent synodal assemblies in Rome, but were not allowed to vote.
“To say that only bishops vote would seem logical. But from the moment that priests and non-ordained religious brothers are allowed to vote, I don’t understand why women religious are not allowed to vote,” he said.
“It leaves me completely flabbergasted,” the archbishop exclaimed.