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As the first anniversary of Pope Francis’ election approaches all sorts of commentators will be saying all sorts of things about how the surprise Argentinian outsider has fared in his first year at the helm of the Catholic Church. Expectations were sky-high from the start and clearly many people feel he has delivered: in a poll we conducted, almost three-quarters of respondents said Francis has made them feel prouder of their faith than they felt before.
An earlier Tablet poll a year ago showed that people wanted to see the new pope improving the role of women. On the eve of International Women’s Day I thought I’d review what Francis has said thus far.
“Women can and must be more present in the places of decision-making in the Church. But this I would call a promotion of the functional sort [by which] you don’t get very far. We must, rather, think that the Church has a feminine article: la. She is feminine in her origin. The great theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar worked a lot on this theme: The Marian principle guides the Church aside the Petrine. The Virgin Mary is more important than any bishop and any apostle. The theological deepening is in process. Cardinal Rylko, with the Council for the Laity, is working in this direction with many women experts in different areas.” (March, interview with Corriere della Sera)
“Women in the Church must be valued not ‘clericalised’. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.” (December, interview with La Stampa)
“The Church acknowledges the indispensable contribution which women make to society through the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess. I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood. I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection. But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church. Because ‘the feminine genius is needed in all expressions in the life of society, the presence of women must also be guaranteed in the workplace’ and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures.” From Evangelii Gaudium (November)
“It is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church. I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo. Women are asking deep questions that must be addressed. The Church cannot be herself without the woman and her role. The woman is essential for the Church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops. I say this because we must not confuse the function with the dignity … We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the Church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the Church is exercised for various areas of the Church.” (Interview with Jesuit publications, September)
So there you have it. Yes to feminine genius, no to turning women into clerics. While we await the detail of what these sentiments might produce, would you like to suggest some ideas?