Catholic Women Still Fighting for a Voice Despite Pope’s Many Stellar Reform Initiatives

catholic women

In the wake of International Women’s Day, momentum has continued to carry Catholic women forward as they press for greater equality in their role within the church. Yet Pope Francis remains strangely negative toward this campaign.

At the highest level, Catholic women are pushing for ordination in the priesthood and eventually the ability to be appointed as Cardinals. But before that, there are many roles within the church organization that could be opened up to women simply by separating them from the requirement of ordination. Women could have a greater voice within the church by being permitted to teach seminary classes; they could help vote on church policy by being employed within the Vatican at greater than the current density of 18%. Additionally, one might wonder at the positions actually represented in that percentage; secretaries and clerical workers likely would not be given the ability to vote on church matters. Currently the Curia, the administrative branch of the Vatican, has 2 top-level female employees, but historic bias is really the only reason this number isn’t more balanced.

 In fact, more women than men belong to the Catholic church. Additionally, sisters and nuns outnumber priests and bishops by more than 200,000 worldwide. Women lead many lay ministries, organize missions, and support the cause of education, empowerment, and health care in third world countries. Yet they receive little recognition for this, and have no opportunity to advocate for their work within the organization as a whole.

Women have recognized the Pope’s progressive tendencies in other areas as he reforms the church’s bureaucracy, practices, and even calls into question some areas of doctrine. This openness provides encouragement that this pontiff may be the one to begin equalizing gender roles in the church. Yet surprisingly he has flat out refused to entertain the idea of women being ordained into the priesthood.

Pope Francis has stated a goal to increase the presence of women in the “important decisions . . . where the authority of the Church is exercised.” He also acknowledged the need for greater theological study on the benefits of allowing women to contribute their unique perspective to the church. Yet he has tended to work toward reform in many other marginalized areas while remaining adamantly passive in this area. He has appointed no women to historically male-held positions, and he has ordered no study to examine theology from the female perspective.

Despite his status as the first pontiff to have ever had a female boss, Francis seems to be holding the traditional church party line that follows Christ’s example of 12 male disciples by only allowing males into the priesthood. Yet a more nuanced understanding of his perspective arises when one considers his overall resentment of priest positions being used for power plays. His perspective toward women in the church seems to be rooted in a philosophy of complementary roles, in which the simple demand for equality would fall short of helping women find their most useful, joyous, and appropriate role.

Unfortunately, a claim that church leadership roles should not be used as a tool for power falls flat coming from the highest, most powerful position within that organization. And presumably women fighting for the right to hold ordained positions are not seeking power, but the ability to serve the church they love in a greater capacity.

During his tenure, Pope Francis has already stretched the church as an organization into allowing many topics to be questioned and discussed openly for the first time. It is to be hoped that he remains in his role at least a few more years in order to better cement his influence for lasting change. And perhaps during these years he will find himself compelled to address this historic inequality that affects fully half of his beloved church.


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