What Would an “Incisive Female Presence” in the Catholic Church Look Like?

Pope Francis has been heralded by many as the new “progressive” Pope, and compared to his predecessors, that may in fact be true. He is moderately more lenient when it comes to marriage, even going as far as to perform weddings on those who had lived in sin, and while he won’t embrace actual marriage equality for those who are gay, he at least has tried to convince his bishops to not condemn those couples in quite as fiery of rhetoric as was used in the past. Even on birth control, he made what many are calling a small step towards modernity, stating that while he couldn’t support hormonal contraception, he did at least believe that the “breeding like rabbits” phase of populating the Catholic Church could be put to rest.

Now, he’s taking yet another baby step forward by claiming that women should be given more prominent roles within both the church and the community at large. The problem is, no one is entirely sure exactly what that means.

The National Catholic Reporter reports that, “Pope Francis has called again for a more ‘incisive’ presence of women in the leadership of the Catholic church, calling them akin to a ‘welcoming womb’ but offering little specifics for how they might take on additional responsibilities. The pope has also praised the role of women in the public sphere, saying they should have a ‘freedom of choice’ between work and family roles. ‘I am convinced of the urgency of offering spaces for women in the Church and to welcome them,’ the pope said Saturday in a speech to the Pontifical Council of Culture.”

The use of the term “freedom of choice” is especially interesting as it so clearly evokes the entire debate over a woman’s right to choose when and if to have a child, an issue that traditional Catholic teaching believes is a settled one. But Pope Francis’ division between “work and family roles” makes it unclear if he is really trying to move the discussion forward, or if it is yet another reiteration that there is a path for family, and a path for work and power, but not one that combines the two. Considering the church’s continuing stance that sex belongs to those who are married and creating families, that would inherently mean that the “work role” for women would have to be one that embraced chastity; or at least until the Pope is willing to propose other breaks with doctrine.

Is Pope Francis trying to find a way to move traditional religious views into the 21st century? Maybe. One place where many are hoping the Pope might be considering breaking ground is in the ordination of women within the Catholic church. Just last year, the first woman was ordained into the Church of England in its 500 years of existence. Maybe the Pope is considering following suit?

It might not be as unlikely as it seems. In 2013, when speaking with a Brazillian journalist about the issue, he replied, “I would like to explain a bit more what I said about women’s participation in the Church. It can’t just be about their acting as altar servers, heads of Caritas, catechists… No!  They have to be more, profoundly more, even mystically more, along with everything I said about the theology of womanhood. And, as far as women’s ordination is concerned, the Church has spoken and said: ‘No’  John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That door is closed, but on this issue I want to tell you something. I have said it, but I repeat it. Our Lady, Mary, was more important than the Apostles, than bishops and deacons and priests. Women, in the Church, are more important than bishops and priests; how, this is something we have to try to explain better, because I believe that we lack a theological explanation of this.”

Allowing women in some way into the real power structure of the church would be more than just a symbolic victory for gender equality, it could open the door to true reform over issues like poverty, maternal mortality, and civil rights, as woman have a chance to be represented by their own voices. It would allow groups like Nuns on the Bus to be a drive force in policy rather than the radicals that need to be ignored and shut down.

Is Pope Francis very subtly testing the waters of a massive change in church doctrine? Let’s hope so. Such a new direction can’t come soon enough.

Photo credit: Thinkstock


Jerome S
Jerome S2 years ago


Jim Ven
Jim Ven2 years ago

thanks for sharing.

froudji thommes
froudji thommes4 years ago

At least he considers a change. In the catholic church, just the idea is a great step forward...

Elaine Bauer
Elaine Bauer4 years ago

"an open womb"... the reference to a woman's participation still couched in terms of her anatomy?

Deborah W.
Deborah W4 years ago

Expansion not replacement of the basic tenets is probable, all else is not.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus C4 years ago

Thank you for sharing!

Charlie Rush
Charlene Rush4 years ago

I truly, believe that Pope Francis would even change this part of the Catholic Church, if he thought it wouldn't cause great disruption within the clergy.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams4 years ago

I'll start listening to the Catholic Church when the Pope is a woman. Just sayin . . . . .

Karen H.
Karen H4 years ago

It appears Care2 ate my first try at this. Let's try again...
This is an interesting article on how many words are spoken by women in the Bible:

Sharon Tyson
sharon Tyson4 years ago

Pope Francis is cracking the door open for women. He has many against, what they see, as a radical agenda. He must thread lightly but he has shown that he is not afraid to address these important issues. Rome wasn't built in a day and the church will not change overnight but the Pope gives us a glimmer of hope.