Hundreds of Catholic women in New Zealand held a public protest calling for equality of women in the church.
The event took place in Auckland, the nation’s largest city, and Wellington, its capital.
The event, called ‘Pink Shoes into the Vatican’, had women lining up of hundreds of pairs of shoes, donated by women around the country, on the streets leading up to both cities’ cathedrals.
Owners of each pair of shoes tied labels to the shoes describing their contribution to or aspirations for the Catholic church – heartfelt expressions of sadness and anger or pleas for change.
Jo Ayers is a founding member of Be the Change in Auckland and one of the organisers of the event. She told the National Catholic Reporter they are trying to make people aware that “the church really needs change”.
Ayers said, “We’re hoping to reach people in the church, but I’m also interested in people who are on the margins or who’ve left the church. There’s lots of Catholic women who’ve said they’ve had enough and quit.”
The event was staged by a group called “Be the Change, Catholic Church, Aotearoa” (Aotearoa is the Maori name for New Zealand). It was formed in 2020, first in Auckland, then in Wellington, by Catholic women who are agitating for gender equality in the church.
The installation was supported and received by church officials in the two cities in markedly different ways. In Auckland there was a surprisingly positive response – the organisers laid out the shoes along the streets leading from the Suffrage Memorial to St Patrick’s Cathedral. There they received from Fr. Chris Denham, the cathedral’s dean, a letter of support from Bishop Stephen Lowe, who was away from the diocese. The atmosphere as festive and not confrontational.
The inspiration for the name of Sunday’s installation was the “Pink Smoke Over the Vatican” protest held in Rome during the 2013 conclave that elected Pope Francis. It was orchestrated by the US group Women’s Ordination Conference. During the conclave, participants in that event lit pink smoke flares to rival the white smoke that would signal the election of a new pope.
In Wellington, the placement of shoes started at Parliament House and finished at Sacred Heart Cathedral.
Cecily McNeill, the founder of Be the Change in Wellington and one of the organisers of the “Pink Shoes” told NCR, “There was only one priest there, an elderly Marist, and he made a couple of points”.
She said the priest compared the treatment of women in the church to the treatment of slaves.
“You go into any church before Mass and there are lots of women preparing for the liturgy or doing the music, and you don’t see many men doing that sort of stuff,” said McNeill. “And of course not many women get paid for that sort of work.”
McNeill said that Wellington Cardinal John Dew initially had been supportive of the “Pink Shoes” event. But when it came close to the time of staging it he was away from the archdiocese and the women had to work with Coadjutor Archbishop Paul Martin. When they asked Martin if they could advertise the event through Wellington parishes he refused, McNeill said.
Martin told the organisers in an email that the event had “more of a focus of making a statement and furthering a particular point of view, rather than for building up of the Church community.”
(With inputs from NCR; Picture Courtesy: Luc Powell)