ROME – In a recent interview, Archbishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF), came out as an apparent champion of women’s rights, saying he was “flabbergasted” that women religious do not have voting rights in synods.
Sister Mina Kwon, a nun who participated in the 2018 Synod of Bishops on youth – during which non-ordained male religious were allowed to vote but women religious were not – said she agrees with Beaufort, and praised his “courage” in speaking out on women’s issues in the Catholic Church.
Speaking to Noosphère, the magazine of French Association of the Friends of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Beaufort said he supports the empowerment of lay people generally, saying “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.”
On women, he insisted that, “nothing prevents them from holding many more important functions in the workings of the institution,” and said he believes that the reestablishment of the women’s diaconate could lead to a “more decentralized and more fraternal” Church.
“The challenge for the reform of the Church is that we live synodality at all levels, and it must be rooted in fraternity,” he said, adding that, “Our governing bodies should always be shaped by a concrete fraternity in which there are men and women, priests and laity.”
“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 said, adding that one day, he can envision a situation where the Holy See is “led by the pope surrounded by a college of cardinals in which there will be women.”
However, “if we have not first dealt with the way in which men and women should work together in Church structures constituted in fraternity, it will be useless,” he said, adding that for the Church to be truly “synodal,” the voice of women “should especially be heard more, given that the apostolic succession is reserved to men.”
Beaufort said he was dumbfounded by the fact that women have been invited to participate in recent Synods of Bishops but have not been allowed voting rights.
“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, adding, “It leaves me completely flabbergasted.”
Though voting rights in a synod are typically afforded only to ordained clergy, during the October 2018 Synod of Bishops on youth, The USG voted two lay brothers as representatives: Brother Robert Schieler, superior general of the De La Salle Brothers and Brother Ernesto Sánchez Barba, superior general of the Marist Brothers. Despite the synod rules requiring the USG representatives be ordained, the two men were allowed to vote in the synod.
Beaufort’s interview had been filmed May 18 but was only made public a few days ago.
Speaking to Crux, Kwon, director of the Counseling Center in College of Medicine in the Catholic University of DAEGU, supported Beaufort’s remarks, saying she is convinced “that the Lord wants a change in the Church.”
A participant in the 2018 Synod of Bishops on young people, Kwon said that already on that occasion she saw a process of “walking together” with men and women, young and old, ordained clergy and laypeople, and that from this experience, she became convinced that “the synodal path is the hope of the conversion and reform” in the Church.
“Women in the future Church should get a vote in the Synod of Bishops,” she said, insisting that this is not merely a women’s issue, but one of “equality and inclusion” based on Jesus’s teachings.
“Historically and spiritually, Jesus’ early community included men and women, and treated all equally,” she said.
She pointed to a meeting between members of the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), an umbrella group for women religious, and the Union of Superiors General (USG), an umbrella group for men religious, during the 2018 synod.
In this meeting — which Kwon said was an example of collaboration between men and women — she said all parties involved agreed that “the voice of women should be more heard, and the question of the presence of the sisters in the synod also should be raised. What a hopeful collaboration!”
Quoting Saint Oscar Romero, she stressed that she doesn’t want to be “anti-anybody, against anyone,” but rather wants “to be the builder of a great affirmation: The affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us.”
Kwon praised Beaufort and other figures such as Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich who have been outspoken on women’s inclusion in the Church, saying she acknowledges “their courage” for “powerfully” addressing women’s issues.
Speaking of her local context in South Korea, Kwon said sisters need to take more initiative, and oftentimes, an audacity in seeking renewal is stifled by the “old habits and rigid hierarchy” in the Church in Korea.
“Clericalism or outdated traditions often bring the absence of women religious in leadership or decision-making,” she said, recalling the Korean martyrs as examples of how the first Christians in the country “took the risks of new adventure to reform of attitudes and mentalities against a very rigid status hierarchy of society.”
“Sadly, their descendants rebuilt the other type of hierarchy after long period of persecution,” she said, noting that “still not all women religious work in equal conditions.”
“We, women religious, need more initiative to improve on the matter of women and children in the Church,” Kwon said, insisting that “all things are invited to the process of evolution. None are exempt from the obligation to grow for maturity, and Catholic Church is also no exception to this rule.”
This maturity, she said, “is an intrinsic requirement of the Church. We all need to ask ourselves question: What are the places where women religious can flourish within the church? And what would Jesus do in our modern time?”
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