Pope Francis is renown for being a mover and shaker – in the last 3 years of being the leader of the Catholic Church, the Pope has made radical changes and statements that have transformed the view of the centuries-old religion. But now, he could be about the launch his biggest amendment to the traditional history of the Church: he wants women to be able to join the clergy.
Since the formation of the Catholic Church, women have never been allowed to be Popes, much less bishops or even priests, and even Pope Francis himself has denied it was a good idea in the past.
TIME reports on two occasions when Pope Francis had been asked about possibly admitting women to the ranks of the clergy, he has given a firm no.
At the same time, he has said that he wants to see a “greater role” for women in Catholicism, including participation in the “important decisions . . . where the authority of the Church is exercised.” He has also said that he wants a “deeper theology” about the place of women in the faith, one that will emphasise the critically important contributions they make.
It seems he is keeping true to his word about the place of women in the Church – today the National Catholic Reporter has reported Pope Francis has announced he will create a commission to study the possibility of allowing women to serve as deacons in the Catholic church.
This historic openness to the possibility of ending an all-male clergy is sure to have staunch Catholic up in arms however the Pope does not want to make a huge deal out of it.
The pope responded that he had spoken about the matter once some years ago with a “good, wise professor”.
“Constituting an official commission that might study the question?” the pontiff asked aloud. “I believe yes. It would do good for the church to clarify this point. I am in agreement. I will speak to do something like this.”
“I accept,” the pope said later. “It seems useful to me to have a commission that would clarify this well.”
In the past, Pope John Paul II claimed in his 1994 apostolic letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis that “the Church has no authority whatsoever” to ordain woman as priests, despite evidence from the early centuries of the Church that suggest women were once able to be deacons.
Francis said yesterday that the professor he spoke with years ago had told him that female deacons had once helped the early church particularly in baptising women.
The women religious asked the pope four questions, including why the Pope uses the term “feminine genius” to describe women’s role in the church, even though “women are excluded from the decision-making processes of the church” and from giving the homily at the Mass.
Francis admitted women’s roles in the church had been “very weak,” and said “We must go forward.”
“Because [a] woman looks at life with true eyes,” said Francis. “We men cannot look at it so. The way of seeing problems, of seeing whatever thing is totally … different than men. They have to be complementary. In consultations, it is very important that women be there.”