Pope discusses women in the church, divorce, his own spirituality

With all the media hype over his comments about gay people, I was hard pressed to find a news article that took note of this other remarkable comment Pope Francis made during his historical press conference. This is the best I could do: catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/1303261.htm

Specifically, Pope Francis said:

“A church without women would be like the apostolic college without Mary. The Madonna is more important than the apostles, and the church herself is feminine, the spouse of Christ and a mother. The role of women doesn’t end just with being a mother and with housework …we don’t yet have a truly deep theology of women in the church. We talk about whether they can do this or that, can they be altar boys, can they be lectors, about a woman as president of Caritas, but we don’t have a deep theology of women in the Church. On the ordination of women, the church has spoken and said no. John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed.”

Pope Francis totally validated what I had been feeling all along - that we really don’t have very good answers with respect to the role of women in the Church.

In her blog for the Washington Post, Ashley E. McGuire sums up my feelings so well:

"Pope John Paul II gave the church a beautiful start by pioneering the New Feminism and by authoring the Catholic feminist’s manifesto in Mulieris Dignitatem. His pastoral “Letter to Women” was also a brilliant treatise on the complexity of women and helped to put to rest the notion that a woman’s only place was in the home. It reminded the Catholic community that sometimes women belong in the grittier corners of the world or in the halls of government. It also rebuked the world for undermining the essential role of motherhood and for turning woman against her own children.

But much of this foundational work of Pope John Paul II sought primarily to redeem women from a culture that actively undermined female dignity. It was and is an essential enterprise in a world whose vision of woman is one where she is most empowered when severed from her fertility and her femininity.

But once she is redeemed, then what?

That is a good question.

Thank you so much for posting this. I wonder what will come of it all?

It is amusing that John Paul II said ‘that door is closed’ for Christ said ‘knock and the door shall be opened’ :wink: .

On a more serious note, I think it is great that our Pope is publicly acknowledging that there is a problem.

Then she gives her life totally to God, prays, and uses her God-given talents to spread the Gospel. She always follows Christ’s teaching, through his Church. There is a very wide latitude for how this plays out in the life of any person, whether woman or man.

OK - but how does that work exactly? I don’t mean to be critical, but these are the same sort of superficial answers women have been hearing for thousands of years. They can mean anything if solely interpreted through a social, cultural, or historical lens.

Pope Francis acknowledged what I have felt for many years - that the Church does not have a well developed theological lens through which to understand the role of women in the Church, which in turn would also serve as a blueprint for a society that reflects the Kingdom of God.

I believe many of our social problems stem from the lack of attention or deliberate misinterpretation of what it says about women in the scriptures and tradition. Given the sorry state of society, we have a long way to go to get it right.

Perhaps as a man I can’t really see the issue but I’ll acknowledge that maybe I’ve got a blind spot. I don’t think of “what is the role of men” or “what is the role of women” but more “what is the role for me” kind of thing.

The Church has closed the door to female ordination and rightly so… but so what? That is but one way in which the Gospel is spread.

I don’t see the theological lens for men. Just individual men. And women for that matter. Mary is glorified for being the mother of God, but she is also honored and respected for living a life of sacrifice and a life without sin. Her glory is reflected glory of God, but so is the glory of all men as well.

The door to the priesthood is also closed for me since I am a married man. So where do I turn to? Where are the examples of saintly married men? Honestly… I don’t know of any! I know more of saintly married women than I know of saintly married men. Except maybe my father in law.

But seriously, perhaps the issue is that we have so much history and so many volumes on saints who were priests and religious men and women. There seems to be little said about how to live a saintly life in the world as a lay person. That the focus on great priests, bishops, popes and religious has left the laity disaffected and the female laity particularly so because they see one way to great sainthood and that’s to become a sister, whereas at least men have the option of becoming a friar or a priest and then working their way up through the hierarchy.

It means do a Holy Hour every day, or as often as you can in the Church. Do this in in front of the tabernacle, and ask God to take your whole life, as an offering. Talk to Him, tell Him about your life, your frustrations, your fears. Praise and thank him for your life, and ask forgiveness for your sins. Ask Him to lead you, then see what he says to you. He will show you what His plan is, for your life. If you don’t know how to pray well, ask a priest you trust for spiritual direction.

Frequent the sacraments. Confess your sins to a priest at least once a month. Attend Mass every Sunday and as often as you can, during the week.

While at Mass pray hard and offer Him your soul. Beg for His grace, and unite your sufferings with Christ, on the Cross.

Join a Catholic small group that loves Christ’s Church, and pray together every week.

I guess that makes those of us women who experience psychological and spiritual fulfillment through Catholic spirituality, “undeveloped” and “superficial.” :wink:

I have related my whole life to strong women in both secular and religious realms, so I don’t have any anachronistic stereotypes I’m relying on, either. The Church’s theology already supports such role models. I suppose if there is a concern about “no separate theology of/for women,” then there should be a comparable concern about “no separate theology of/for men,” because in fact there is not a separate “theology” of or for men, in Catholic theology.

The question of the role of women in the Church should not be reduced to whether or not they can be priests. The fact that this issue keeps coming up illustrates the problem of living in “a world whose vision of woman is one where she is most empowered when severed from her fertility and her femininity.”

This is the kind of thinking JPII sought to remedy in Mulieris Dignitatem.

There are certainly threads within scripture & tradition and the history of the Church that can be drawn together to form a comprehensive theology of women - but this has not happened yet. The default we currently live under is a theology of men. So it is not surprising to me that men find it a good fit - it suits them well, because it was tailor made for them.

However, despite 2000 years of living with the Gospel, the societies in which we live are still fundamentally flawed. In Mulieris Dignitatem, JPII does a good job explaining why this is so, and if you contrast what he wrote about women to what Aquinas wrote about women, you will see what a dramatic see change it represents in the way women are understood by the masculine elite.

I hope you will take the time to read it and that it makes you a little bit uncomfortable with the status quo. :smiley:

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that it’s the women in my own parish that are keeping it going. It’s also the women in the parish that reflect whether the parish is successful in it’s mission as a parish. Men are needed in the parish to lead (particularly the parish priest), but it’s the women that keep the glue in place. Without that glue, the leadership provided by the men become a rudderless vessel.

A great answer. It is the key for both men and women. It cannot be stressed enough.

I do not see either the theology or the spirituality of Roman Catholicism as being “tailor made” for men. The theology of the Roman Church speaks of the pilgrim, the sinner, the human person, and has always. (Such neutral terms are not modernistic but traditional.) Why must there be explicit reference to “a theology [of/for] women?”


I hear this sentiment sometimes and it baffles me. “Of course men like status quo in the Church! It gives them power, and power’s what they want more than anything else!”

I suspect people who think like this, erm, don’t know men very well.

Okay, just to see how men and women truly feel about this, please participate in the polls I’ve set up in the vocations section of the forum:

Men only:


Women only:


You’ll find interesting that there are theologians and Catholic authors who complain that the problem of today’s Church is precisely that this theology of men has been gradually discarded :slight_smile:

What are the premises of a theology of men? Its starting point is to think about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit as three masculine men (the active principle, represented in the church by the priest - it gives life, because the only the masculine “seed” possesses life) and about humankind as a woman (the passive principle, represented in the church by the laity - it doesn’t have life, it only yearns for it and receives it).
And then it follows the logical consequences and draw as many oppositions as they can: male/female, God “above”/God “with us”, reason/emotions, justice/mercy, separation/unification, transcendent/imanent, high/low, vertical/horizontal, few are saved/universal salvation, hierarchy/equality, exclusive/inclusive, emphasis on Jesus’ death/emphasis on Jesus’ incarnation and resurrection, clergy as elite/greater role of laity, ad orientem/mass ad populum, sacrifice/supper, Latin/vernacular… you get the idea.


Christianity was the fulfillment of Judaism. The masculinity and the patriarchy that Judaism cultivated were fulfilled in the revelation of a tri-personal God who was both Father and Son. All human beings, male and female, were invited to share in the inner life of God, to receive the Spirit and to be conformed to the Son. The early Church knew that the vocation of the Christian was essentially masculine. /…/ In their conformity to the Son, all Christians, male and female, become sons of God, and are therefore called to be masculine. In his relationship to the creation, the Third Person is also consistently characterized as masculine, and in the new creation he is the Spirit of sonship, as he is within the Trinity.


Why is God the Father a father and not a mother? Maleness is a symbol of transcendence because the fundamental male experience, that of fatherhood, of reproduction through ejaculation, is one of separation, while the fundamental female experience is one of prolonged and intimate union with the offspring through the long months of gestation and nursing. The male experience of the world is one of “either/or,” “this, and not that,” one of separation. As Manfred Hauke points out, transcendent deities are always characterized as male, while immanent deities are androgynous or female. The transcendent God of the Bible is above all a God of judgment and distinction.


The liturgical legislation of the post-Conciliar era has eliminated the Eucharistic exclusivity that marked the office of the priest. The celibate priest no longer possesses the unique corporeal relationship with God. He is not denied the relationship, but others have access to it. Consider a parallel situation: i.e., within the Sacrament of Matrimony. The possession of an exclusive bodily prerogative with one’s spouse is primary; in fact there exists no greater convergence between the Divine Law and the instincts of even fallen human nature than on this point. /…/ The fact is that many priests do have an instinctive reaction against the presence of the non-consecrated hand touching the Body of God. A non-consecrated hand in the tabernacle, or reaching for the Sacrament at the reception of Holy Communion, violates an intimacy that was, before the engineering of liturgical “roles,” exclusively the priest’s. A dynamic equivalent to what would fuel the emotions of a husband who realizes another has shared the exclusive intimacy with the one to whom he has permanently committed himself, is present within priests.


What Cardinal Heenan presciently and correctly saw in 1967 was the virtual elimination of the virile nature of the Liturgy, the replacement of masculine objectivity, necessary for the public worship of the Church, with softness, sentimentality and personalization centered on the motherly person of the priest. /…/ The wearing of the cassock is the priest’s taking on the mantle of the prophet; it is the outward sign of his taking on of that aloneness and detachment that is such an integral part of what it means for a man, vir, to be a priest. The cassock is a symbol of that detachment that marks the relationship between the priest and his people. /…/ Celebrating Mass with the priest facing the people has transformed the priest’s role at the Mass from the father who leads his people to offer Sacrifice to the Father, to the mother whose eye contact and liturgical patter- banter with the people and whose sometimes deliberately silly behavior, as if the people are infants, reduces his role as priest to that of the mother of an infant.


So what has Pope Francis proposed so far?

Concerning pastoral conversion, I would like to recall that “pastoral care” is nothing other than the exercise of the Church’s motherhood. She gives birth, suckles, gives growth, corrects, nourishes and leads by the hand… So we need a Church capable of rediscovering the maternal womb of mercy. Without mercy we have little chance nowadays of becoming part of a world of “wounded” persons in need of understanding, forgiveness, love.

In mission, also on a continental level, it is very important to reaffirm the family, which remains the essential cell of society and the Church; young people, who are the face of the Church’s future; women, who play a fundamental role in passing on the faith. Let us not reduce the involvement of women in the Church, but instead promote their active role in the ecclesial community. By losing women, the Church risks becoming sterile.


Women have one of the greatest vocations there are: MOTHERHOOD.

I just do not understand how that has been so easily forgotten. While we need more strong men as fathers (there is a very real crisis among men), we also need women to step-up to the most impactful vocation God has for them: MOTHERHOOD. Having bunches of kids, helping to raise them Catholic, and sending them out into the world–who has a great calling than that?

Beyond that, Catholic women have helped found hospitals, have been nurses, and have held apostolates to the poor…and though it is no longer popular, women for centuries listened to a call to become Nuns.

I see no weakness in the area of women and God’s call for them. In fact, I would guess that 80% of all parish level positions are filled by women. Parishes run because of the hard work of those millions of women–much of it is volunteer work, other jobs are paid positions, some jobs are paid quite well, most are not paid well at all…yet millions of Catholic women fill a calling every single day, no parish would function without the women.

I think the real crisis we face today is with men…men are lost souls, both from a spiritual and a worldly pov. They do not know what they are supposed to do, how to act, how to be good husbands…or even just how to be good men.

So glad he addressed the question of women in the church and their active involvement.
After all, women were very involved since the early days and Paul’s church!

From BH’s New Testament textbook:

"Consider Paul’s letter to the Romans, in which he sends greetings to and from a number of his acquaintances (chap. 16). He does indeed name more men than women here, but the women in the church appear to be in no way inferior to their male counterparts.
There is Phoebe, a deacon (or minister) in the church of Cenchreae, entrusted by Paul with the task of carrying the letter to Rome (vv. 1-2).
There is Prisca, who along with her husband Aquila, is largely responsible for the Gentile mission and who supports a congregation in her own home (vv. 3-4; notice that she is named ahead of her husband).
There is Mary, Paul’s colleague who works among the Romans (v. 6).
There are Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis, women whom Paul calls his *“co-workers” *for the Gospel (vv. 6, 12).
And there are **Julia **and the mother of Rufus and the sister of Nereus, all of whom appear to have a high profile in this community (vv. 13, 15).

Most impressively of all, there is Junia, a woman whom Paul names as *“foremost among the apostles” *(v. 7).

Other Pauline letters provide a similar impression of women’s active involvement in the Christian churches. I
n Corinth women are full members of the body, with spiritual gifts and the right to use them. They actively participate in services of worship, **praying and prophecying alongside the men **(1 Cor 11:4-6).

In Philippians the only two believers worth mentioning by name are two women, **Euodia **and Syntyche, whose dissension concerns the apostle, evidently because of their prominent standing in the community (Phil 4:2).
Indeed, according to the narrative of Acts, the church in Philippi began with the conversion of Lydia, a woman of means whose entire household came to follow her lead in adopting this new faith. She was the head of her household when the apostle first met her and soon became head of the church that met in her home (Acts 16:1-15).

Even after the period of the New Testament, women continued to be prominent in churches connected with Paul.
The tales connected with Thecla, Paul’s (legendary?) female convert were extremely popular (at one time Thecla vied for the Blessed Virgin Mary as most revered female connected with Jesus).
These involved stories of women who renounced sexual relations and thereby broke the bonds of patriarchal marriage, that is, the laws and/or customs that compelled them to service the desires and dictates of their husbands.
Joining the apostle, these women came to experience the freedom provided by an ascetic life dedicated to the Gospel.
These narratives portray Paul as one who proclaimed that the chaste will inherit the kingdom, with women in particular being drawn to his message.

Indeed, even though the stories themselves are fictions, they appear to contain a germ of historical truth. Women who were associated with Paul’s churches came to renounce marriage for the sake of the Gospel and attained positions of prominence in their communities.
Letters (such as the Pastoral epistles of 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) later written in Paul’s name speak of such women and try to bring them into submission. Some of these women were “widows” — that is, women who had no husband overlord (whether they had previously been married or not). Such women are said to go about telling “old wives tales” (1 Tim 4:7 and 5:13), possibly stories like the Acts of Paul and Thecla that justified their lifestyles and views.
Even in writings that oppose them, such women are acknowledged to be important to the church because of** their full-time ministry in its service** (1 Tim 5:3-16).

And there is yet other evidence of women enjoying prestigious positions in churches, well into the late second century.
Some of this evidence derives from gnostic groups that claimed allegiance to Paul and that were *known to have women as their leaders and spokespersons. *
Other evidence comes from groups associated with the prophet Montanus and his two women colleagues **Prisca **and Maximillia — women who had forsaken their marriages in order to live ascetic lives, insisting that the end of the age was near and that God had called his people to renounce all fleshly passions in preparation for the final consummation."

I don’t know anyone who has forgotten…that women are capable of THE greatest vocation of all!!
Who’s forgotten this?? No one I know, for sure.


I think a great many millions of women have forgotten it, or were not taught it to begin with. Either way, it is lost on I’d guess 80% of all women in the west.

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