WASHINGTON — Recent comments by Pope Francis on the role of women in the Church not only assert that their status does not depend on ordination, but call for a developed “theology of women,” says a Catholic analyst.
“He’s acknowledging that a lot has changed with the modern world for women and that maybe the Church hasn’t spoken as much as it could to the issues that women are facing,” said Ashley McGuire, senior fellow of The Catholic Association, a D.C.-based non-partisan policy group.
McGuire told Catholic News Agency that Pope Francis also put to rest “any question as to whether or not he’s going to change Church teaching.”
Pope Francis spoke on the role of women in the Church in a 20-minute interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais while taking a July 29 flight back to Europe following World Youth Day in Brazil.
During the interview, the Pope emphasized that understanding women’s participation in the Church cannot be limited “to the acolyte, to the president of Caritas [and] the catechist.” Instead, Francis advocated for “a more profound theology of women.”
The Pope also spoke plainly on the topic of the ordination of women, saying that “the Church has spoken and said No.”
“John Paul II, in a definitive formulation, said that door is closed,” he declared.
He noted that the existence of a male-only priesthood does not diminish the role of women, adding that the “Virgin Mary was more important than the apostles and bishops and deacons and priests.” He said the feminine Church, as the Bride of Christ, also “is more important than the bishops and priests.”
“This is what we should try to explain better,” Pope Francis said.
McGuire said that she was “glad to see [Francis] talking about and addressing the role of women,” and she appreciated what he said, “because it’s not sufficient just to say what women can or cannot do.”
“I’m excited to see him addressing the role of women without it having to do with women’s ordination,” she said.
McGuire also pointed out the “continuity” between Pope Francis’ words and the work of previous popes.
“I think that Pope John Paul II laid a really great foundation,” with works such as the 1988 apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity of Women), McGuire said, which provided steps towards developing the new “theology of women” mentioned by Pope Francis.
“I think it’s exciting to think that Pope Francis is going to build on that,” she said.
McGuire also appreciated that the Pope “hinted at professional women,” and she said Francis is “acknowledging where ‘woman’ is in our times.”
She said, “I just see him acknowledging something that the laity has been talking a lot about recently: that women make a very positive contribution to the professional world, to the Church, [and] to society more broadly.”