They called for female leadership at the Vatican. They were arrested.
The seven women stood outside the gates of the Vatican dressed in cardinal red, each carrying a scarlet parasol emblazoned with a phrase of female empowerment. “Ordain Women.” “Reform Means Women.” “It’s Reigning Men.” They were there to greet the 197 cardinals arriving Monday morning (Aug. 29) for a highly anticipated discussion with the pope — and to protest the absence of women in the meeting.
As the men in red filed past, the women in red handed them pamphlets and urged them “to remember your sisters who remain outside.”
About 15 minutes later, the delegation of seven women from Women’s Ordination Worldwide were approached by the police and later taken to a nearby police station where they were held for three hours.
“It shows how dangerous women can be considered outside the Vatican,” Kate McElwee, one of the women arrested and the director of Women’s Ordination Conference, told Religion News Service over the phone on Tuesday.
The cardinals were gathering to participate in a consistory, a closed-door meeting convened by Pope Francis to discuss changes he made in March to his apostolic constitution “Preadicate Evangelium” (Preach the Gospel), that among other things allows laypeople, including women, to occupy Vatican leadership roles traditionally reserved for clergy.
Pope Francis has stated that female ordination is “off the table,” but he created two commissions to study the possibility of opening the diaconate to women, which would allow them to preside over some services but not to administer Mass or perform sacraments. The reports from the commissions have not been published.
Francis has pushed for greater female participation in the church by appointing women to a number of influential Vatican leadership roles, including the first female undersecretary of the Vatican department overseeing the summit of bishops.
When journalists began interviewing the group and taking photos of the cardinals with the open parasols visible behind them, a police car flashed its lights at the women, said Miriam Duignan, a spokesperson for the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research and Women’s Ordination Worldwide.