Statement on “Spiritus Domini”

Pope Francis’ Change to Church Law is a Step Forward but Not Enough

January 18, 2021

On January 10, 2021, Pope Francis issued the Apostolic Letter, “Spiritus Domini,” which changes Catholic Church law regarding the roles of acolytes (altar servers and eucharistic ministers) and lectors (readers) at mass to include girls and women. Though girls and women have been acolytes and lectors for decades in most Catholic churches around the world, permission had to be granted by the local priest or bishop, and in some jurisdictions, was denied. Canon Law 230, Section 1 now states that “lay persons” will be permitted to fulfill these roles and be formally received into these ministries.

Catholic Network for Women’s Equality (CNWE) – Canada, has been working for justice and equality for women in the Catholic Church for 40 years and we welcome this change in church law as a step forward on the church’s journey toward the radical equality exemplified in the Gospel. We also welcome Pope Francis’ reiteration that Church law must evolve and develop to faithfully respond to the needs of the times. 

We are encouraged that Pope Francis emphasizes in “Spiritus Domini” that the sacrament of baptism is foundational to ministry. In his added rationale however, he repeats the claim of Pope John Paul II that “the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.” This begs the question: If women’s baptismal call to non-ordained ministry has been made valid in the law of the Catholic Church, why is the baptismal call of qualified women to ordained ministry invalid? To fully embody belief in the equal dignity of all people before God, the church must welcome women and all baptized Catholics to live out their call to ministry, leadership and decision-making roles for which they are competent.

We are also encouraged that Pope Francis has been listening to the concerns of the world’s bishops in recent synods and issued this letter motu proprio (meaning by his own initiative). He is demonstrating that church law can be responsive to the “signs of the times.” Yet, it is frustrating that women, who make up more than half the membership of the Catholic Church, and lay people in general, have little to no voice in synods, and have no voting rights at synods or papal conclaves. Filtering most decision-making and discernment in the Church through male clergy not only prevents justice and equality in the church, it also robs women and all lay Catholics from being able to be more deeply ‘formed in faith’ by serving the church in these capacities. 

CNWE, together with Catholic reform movements around the world actively hopes for the day when the hierarchy is no longer blinded by historic and systemic sexism and can work alongside us in moving from partial to full equality for Catholic women. We will continue to advocate for a renewed, inclusive, accountable and relevant Catholic church – a church for our times. 


Press Release on the Election of Cardinal Bergoglio to Pope

Media inquiries:
Atlantic Canada: Cathy Holtmann, (506) 476-1080,
Central Canada: Mary Ellen Chown, (905) 339-0378/905-330-1437,
Western Canada: Veronica Dunne, (204) 219-8118,
Website: Facebook: “Catholic Network for Women’s Equality-Canada”

Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, a cleric from Argentina has been elected as the new leader of the Roman Catholic church by the all-male conclave at the Vatican. Members of CNWE across Canada wish Pope Francis well and hope to be able to work with him and all others in leadership in the Catholic church in building a more inclusive, just and accountable institution. We pray that the new pope is given the grace to hear and to see the whole People of God. A Church that acts justly will be light and hope to all who face the challenges of these times.

There is much to be done to transform the present culture of patriarchal authoritarianism that has dismally failed to value the full baptismal equality of all Catholics. With over one billion members, the Church is a global institution and the faith of its people can truly be a force for good in the world. CNWE continues to call for the structural changes necessary in order to ensure that the gifts of women are brought to all levels of church ministry and leadership. We believe that there can be unity in diversity but in order for this to become a reality, discussion concerning institutional reforms and moral issues need to be participatory, open and transparent.

As Catholics we draw upon a long history of faith and reason in responding to the signs of our times. CNWE invites all Canadian Catholics to join us in praying that with the election of Pope Francis the time has come for the church to bring an end to the sin of sexism so that we can truly be the Body of Christ – a community of believers among whom the equal dignity of female and male disciples of Christ is honoured. (Gal3:28).

For over thirty years members of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality have shared a faithful commitment to social justice for all women. We celebrate the fact that we are part of a long history of women’s contributions to the Christian faith. Our movement embraces a broad range of Catholic women and men across Canada for whom an inclusive church that is accountable to all of its members is important. Our work for women’s equality in church and world is internationally respected and part of a network of pro-change Catholic movements around the globe. For further information, see or visit us on Facebook at “Catholic Network for Women’s Equality – Canada”.

March 13, 2013