ROSARIO, Argentina – Three Spanish-born cardinals on Wednesday offered up their “red hats and cardinal rings” to any woman who wants to be a member of the Catholic Church’s most exclusive club. Yet, there’s a catch: they argue that there’s a need to rediscover the priesthood as Jesus perceived it, saying “it’s about service, not power.”

“Women, like men, have to rediscover baptism and the dignity of being children of God that the baptism gives us,” said Cardinal Cristobal Lopez, archbishop of Rabat. “Our joy is not in being bishops or cardinals, ordained or not. Our joy must come from being children of God.”

“I place my cardinal’s zucchetto, my cardinal’s ring and my red cassock to the woman who wants to wear them because this give her an illusion,” he continued. “But know this: It won’t add anything to who they are. If they want to be fulfilled, it’s enough with them being women and being Christian.”

The prelate was speaking at a panel organized by Spanish magazine Vida Nueva, that also included Cardinal Juan Jose Omella, archbishop of Barcelona, and Cardinal Pedro Barreto, of Huancayo, Peru. Despite their current locations, all three were born in Spain, and all three were made cardinals by Pope Francis.

The comments came as Lopez answered a question posed to him regarding the role of women in the Church. As he spoke, the other two smiled and nodded.

“Do not base your feeling of fulfilment on believing that you are not complete if you do not have the priestly order,” the cardinal said, doubling down. “We have to rediscover the dignity of the daughters and sons of God.”

Echoing Pope Francis, Lopez argued in favor of a change in the Church’s ecclesiology, to remind Catholics that “we are God’s people and in that being the people of God we all have the same dignity.”

“Women have it too, and being a cardinal does not make me more nor less than a woman,” he said. “We must overcome clericalism, which is also present among women, and which consists in believing that being a priest, a bishop or a cardinal are like steppingstones.”

Barreto also offered up his red hat and cardinal’s ring, but said in the end what matters is to acknowledge the central role that women have in the Catholic Church, both in Latin America, the ground he knows best, and beyond.

“If they moved away from the pastoral work and the service that they provide for the love they have for Jesus and the Church, the Catholic Church would have no strength whatsoever,” he said.

Women in his diocese, he said, “do absolutely everything,” and they are the ones who give the church strength and joy. In the Amazon region, which he knows well, women have a “very important role.”

“Women in general have a lot to offer and they are doing so,” he said. “I do not believe that women in the Amazon region have the illusion of becoming priests. No, they are fighting for the dignity and equality of all, so that the human rights of both men and women in the region are respected.”

“Any ‘responsibility’ we might have in the Church is service, and disinterested service, one that does not seek attention, as so many women serve in the Church and the world today,” Barreto said.

Omella agreed with the other two prelates, saying that today, “we have a mistaken concept of the priestly, episcopal or cardinal ministries being about power,” he said. “They’re not power, they are service.”

“Jesus Christ is very clear about this in the Gospel,” he said. “What happens is that we have interpreted and lived it wrongly throughout history, unfortunately.”

Omella also mentioned that in many offices in the Vatican, it’s a woman, working either as secretary or under-secretary who actually leads the office and does all the work. So when a cardinal visits the global headquarters of the Catholic Church, he said, they should be open to “submitting” themselves to a woman, despite the name that might be in the office of the head of a dicastery or congregation.

“Words are nice, and we all agree, but we need to take a step so that they become a reality in our dioceses and our parishes: we want to commit ourselves not only to giving the zucchetto, but to actually giving women responsibilities,” he added.

During the 75-minute conversation entitled “Council of Cardinals: A resurrection plan” – taken from a reflection Pope Francis gave the magazine – the three cardinals spoke about many issues, including global inequality, poverty and the “avalanche of solidarity” produced by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.

“The inequality among continents will never be solved with a 600-million-euro handout to the development of Africa – it’s ridiculous,” said the Morocco-based prelate.

“In the meantime, European multinationals take every year 20,000 million Euro from Africa,” Lopez said.

He also went after the United Nations, saying they don’t even have the “authority” to tell “the president of the United States, Donald Trump: ‘this isn’t so, this will be good for you but not the world.’”

Barreto argued that while the world is suffering from the spread of coronavirus, there’s also a “spread of hope and solidarity,” something that he sees first-hand in Huancayo and all of Peru, where “we’re valuing life and the environment,” and where “we are in a path of resurrection and life.”

Omella noted that through the pandemic he’s seen a “growth in the desire many have of praying, of receiving Communion, of being heard by a priest.”

“There’s a hunger for God and for encountering others,” he said. “This spiritual bread has been offered from the great response given by priests and catechists.”

Follow Inés San Martín on Twitter: @inesanma