The kind of bishop Palmerston North needs


Ki a koutou te Hāhi Katorika o Aotearoa tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.

Recently French theologian, Anne Soupa, gained worldwide attention by applying for the position of Archbishop of Lyon. She has since been followed by other French women making themselves available for senior leadership roles in the Church.

Also, in Switzerland Marianne Pohl-Henzen, a mother and grandmother has been appointed as the Bishop’s Delegate and Pope Francis has appointed six laywomen to the committee to oversee Vatican Finances.

As a group committed to working for justice and equity for all the Baptised, especially women in the global and local Catholic Church, we are encouraged by this stirring of the Spirit of change.

We happily added our signatures to the global petition in support of Anne Soupa and we wrote to her pledging our support.

Through her symbolic action, Anne Soupa hopes to “ignite the imagination of Catholics to imagine the church of the future”, and she challenges us to ask the question, “How can we in Aotearoa New Zealand work towards greater equality and justice in leadership and ministry, to bring about a more inclusive model of Catholic Church?”

The vacant See of Palmerston North

We are all aware that, like Lyon, the See of Palmerston North is currently vacant.

While such a vacancy exists, it is a prompt for us all to discuss what kind of leadership is needed in our Church today.

What alternative models of leadership are there to fulfil the role of a Bishop of Aotearoa-New Zealand in 2020?

First of all what does the Church see as necessary for candidates?

The Code of Canon Law Can. 378 §1. currently requires that Bishops:

  • Be outstanding in solid faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues.
  • Are of good reputation, are at least thirty-five years old and have been ordained as priests for at least five years.
  • They also need to hold advanced qualifications or hold true expertise in scripture or theology or canon law.

We also add, that they have had real pastoral experience, show an ability to work collegially and have skill in administration.

After a short phone survey of friends and colleagues, we were able to make a list of ten lay people who have all these qualifications with of course the exception of ordination.

We are pretty sure that most Catholics will be able to make their own lists! But ten is a good start.

We did not include in this list members of religious orders, many of whom qualify, to really make the point that there are among all the Baptised, ample numbers of people capable of leadership in the Church.

Models of diocesan leadership

Our own answer to the question ‘What alternative models of diocesan leadership can we imagine?’ we offer for your discussion and discernment.

Option 1

A fully inclusive shared leadership model – say four people one of whom is ordained – representing the diversity of the baptised:

  • Tangata Whenua
  • Women
  • Men
  • Different age groups
  • Other key ethnicities/cultures

Option 2

Separating the management and sacramental roles of the Bishop.

This would enable the former to be filled by one of the Baptised – woman or man – not requiring ordination – but carrying authority in that area. This mirrors Anne Soupa’s application.

In a country where the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition, the Chief Justice and the Queen’s Representative are all currently women, it is not hard to imagine a woman as a diocesan leader.

Option 3

Following the traditional model, a male ordained priest as Bishop, working closely with an inclusive, diverse team, that reflects gender balance, ethnic diversity and generational demographics. A group committed to shared leadership and without the Bishop having a veto.

Option 4

To offer support and encouragement for women who put their names forward for the position of Bishop of the Palmerston North Diocese

In all these models, the team would also work in a way that reflects the principles of Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

In closing

We will continue our discussion and research and invite interested women and men to join with us. Other ideas are:

  • Start your own local group and keep the Apostolic Nuncio and your local diocesan leaders informed of your findings and opinions
    Join our group by contacting us on, and
  • Take part in our inclusive prayer gatherings and ongoing ministry of working for equality in the Church
  • Keep in touch with what we are doing through our email updates and looking at our website on

We offer support and resources to any groups on the journey of discerning new models of leadership in our Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Ngā manaakitanga

  • Ana Maria de Vos Sanchez, Christina Reymer, Jo Ayers, Louise Shanly – Coordinating Group for Be The Change, Catholic Church, Aotearoa
  • The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of CathNews.
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