View From Rome
10 November 2016
View from Rome Premium
A little off the Via Salaria, one of Rome’s oldest roads, are the Catacombs of Priscilla. Known as the “Queen of the Catacombs” due to the large number of martyrs buried in this ancient site, the walls are decorated by a series of magnificent frescoes that provide an insight into life in the early Church.
One of the most fascinating things about these images is the prominent role they show being taken by women. Among the paintings, which date from between the second and the fourth centuries, is a depiction of seven people celebrating the Eucharist, and it is widely accepted that at least one of them is a woman.
I visited the catacombs the weekend after I returned to Rome from Sweden. It was on the plane journey home from his trip there to mark the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation that Pope Francis had apparently ruled out the possibility of female priests, telling a reporter that he thought the current ban is likely to remain in place forever.
The issue is not simply one of ordination to the priesthood: there is a much wider concern about the exclusion of women from decision-making and leadership, and the lack of women from the public face of the Church.
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