Seven protesters, including one Irish woman, were detained by police in Rome over their protest at the Vatican calling for women’s inclusion at all levels of the Catholic Church.
Miriam Duignan joined six other women in St Peter’s Square on Monday to draw attention to the lack of any female presence at a consistory – a closed-door gathering of the church’s cardinals – convened by Pope Francis.
The seven held up parasols with messages such as “ordain women” and “sexism is a cardinal sin” as the world’s cardinals filed in for the first of their two-day extraordinary meeting.
Ms Duignan, a spokesperson for the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research in the UK, said she hoped the protest would stir the collective conscience of church leadership to open its doors to women who long to be heard and to serve their church as equals in Christ.
“I chose to be present at the consistory as a member of Women’s Ordination Worldwide to help shine a light on the Vatican’s cover-up of the history of women’s founding role and leadership in the early centuries of the church,” said Ms Duignan.
The London-based advocate for women’s ordination told the Irish Independent that expert theologians, including some in the Vatican, have concluded “there is no scriptural justification for the banishing of women; it is a choice and it can and must be changed”.
She added: “The Roman police were encouraged to remove us from view and to hide our words and witness from the world”.
Though they greeted numerous cardinals as the prelates passed inside the Vatican’s gates, most of the high ranking clerics “clearly did not want to engage or dwell on the messages on our red parasols”.
“The Vatican is desperately afraid of campaigners drawing attention to their discrimination against women and so choose to intimidate anyone who dares to publicly challenge them,” Ms Duignan said.
According to Ms Duignan, the small group of protesters was quickly moved out of sight by a “huge police presence” of 20 officers.
However, one Italian prelate congratulated Ms Duignan when he learned the protest was for women’s inclusion and ordination.
Referring to the call in many recent synod reports for women’s equal participation at all levels in the church, including ordination, Ms Duignan said: “People see that such an influential institution cannot be allowed to function with an all-male leadership that bans women from having a say in any of its policies or teachings.”
Asked about the collapse in priest numbers in the Church in Ireland, she said: “It is glaringly obvious that to deny women the opportunity to fill this role, despite a desperate shortage of priests, is an injustice to all Catholics”.