Working to give women a greater role in the Catholic Church

By Youna Rivallain, 27 June 2021
A female parishioner distributes ashes during Ash Wednesday at St Patrick's Cathedral, Parramatta. Image: Mary Brazell/Diocese of Parramatta


Catherine Ulrich of Switzerland takes stock of efforts the past two years in her country to promote the role of women in the Church

“I’m not angry,” says Catherine Ulrich. “I just want things to move.”

Ulrich works for the Catholic Diocese of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg (LGF) in Switzerland and is a member of the Network of Women in the Church.

She’s one of the figures of the women’s movement in French-speaking Catholicism who are calling for more decision-making power within the Church.

It all began with a discussion group on the abuse of power in the form of daily sexist attitudes in the LGF diocese.

In the Network of Women in the Church, diocesan employees and volunteers provide each other with support.

“Sometimes, these are not necessarily explicitly sexist attacks by priests. But since most of the people who teach catechism are women, we are the ones who get the brunt of it,” says Ulrich.

“We were tired that, no matter what we did, there was always a man above us in the hierarchy to change our decisions,” she points out.

A lack of diversity in the Church

Ulrich has been involved in the large Swiss diocese since 2001, first as a volunteer and then as an employee in various positions.

“Our big problem is the lack of complementarity for the priests, who live alone in their rectories,” she argues.

She deplores situations where consecrated persons keep to themselves, talk only among themselves and pray only among themselves.

Among the various vectors of her commitment to more women in decision-making positions is the desire for priests to be confronted more with people different from themselves, to help both groups grow.

Until two years ago, Ulrich only gravitated around this discussion group.

But then on June 14, 2019, a massive national strike for women’s rights was organised in Switzerland.

This sparked her and others in the Network of Women in the Church to step up their efforts.

Protestants in Geneva organised a strike under the banner “Quelle place pour les femmes dans l’Église?” (What is the place for women in the Church?) and invited Ulrich and her fellow Catholics to join them.

They agreed.

The members of the Network of Women in the Church sat down around a table to think about their demands.

“Without touching on the question of ministry, ordination or even the diaconate, we wanted to have concrete demands that could change things, without coming up against canon law,” Ulrich recalls.

The women agreed and asked to have more responsibility and decision-making power within the Church.

They also denounced clericalism, and the lack of diversity so often noted by Ulrich.

“A revolution that’s underway”

Two years later, she welcomes the progress made by her diocese and the Swiss Catholic Church.

Bishop Charles Morerod of Lausanne, Geneva and Fribourg just this last May replaced his episcopal vicars with lay people. Two women are among the new appointees.

“Doors have been opened at several levels. It’s a revolution that is underway,” says Ulrich.

“I don’t know if it will work, but there is a real desire to change the system,” she adds.

A strike for women’s rights took place last September in Switzerland.

And a few months later, the Swiss Bishops’ Conference discussed the place of women in a working group session called, “On the road to renewal of the Church in Switzerland”.

13 women and 13 bishops from French- and German-speaking Switzerland participated.

The working group continues to meet and is preparing to work with universities.

As for Bishop Morerod, Catherine Ulrich says he is listening.

But she quickly points out that change cannot come only from priests and bishops.

“It is not the bishops who must move, but all of us who must understand that a woman is just as legitimate as a man in these positions of responsibility. Our goal is to arrive at a Church that does what it says.”

Reproduced with permission from La Croix International and Youna Rivallain.


Read Daily
* indicates required