16 May 2024, The Tablet

Francis promotes women’s leadership in major CBS interview

“I think people will be inspired and surprised by some of the things he told us,” Norah O’Donnell said.

Francis promotes women’s leadership in major CBS interview

Norah O’Donnell speaks to Pope Francis in the Domus Sanctae Marthae.
CBS News / Adam Verdugo

In the first-ever extended papal interview with an English-language broadcaster, Pope Francis reiterated his embrace of women’s leadership in the Church.

He said that “the ones who never abandoned Jesus were the women” while “the men all fled”.

Filmed last month at his residence in the Vatican guesthouse, the Pope’s hour-long conversation with Norah O’Donnell will air on CBS over Sunday and Monday evenings in prime-time slots.

Brief excerpts from the programme were released ahead of its debut, including one where Francis branded climate sceptics “foolish” and saying that “they don’t believe” in the reality of climate change “because they don’t understand the situation or because of their [political] interest”.

The interview has been framed to promote the Church’s first World Children’s Day, which the Pope will lead next weekend in Rome. It is understood that O’Donnell’s pitch for the papal interview, which generations of US network executives and presenters have sought, was accepted because she is the only woman to anchor one of the three national newscasts.

She is a mother of three and a graduate of Georgetown University, the Jesuit university in Washington, DC.

Speaking to The Tablet, O’Donnell hinted that the Pope addressed “gay rights” and the Holy See’s recent exhortation against surrogacy in the interview, among other topics. “I think people will be inspired and surprised by some of the things he told us,” she said.

Francis’ appearance comes amid a slight drop in his approval rating among US Catholics. An April survey by Pew Research saw the pontiff’s favourable number on 75 per cent, down from 83 per cent in late 2021. However, the new figure remains above his all-time low of 72 per cent in late 2018, when a fresh storm of sex-abuse revelations shook the national church.

By contrast, the Pope’s approval remains almost as large as the combined positive figures for both President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump.

Though Francis has defended the male-only priesthood, his pontificate has seen a significant number of women given major responsibilities in the Roman Curia, both in executive roles and in the critical dicastery memberships which determine policy across the Church.

The first Roman session of the ongoing Synod on Synodality last autumn saw decided interest in the question of the ordination of women or their exercise of jurisdiction. The session’s resolution has since been entrusted to study groups of curial officials and other experts convened by Francis, which are expected to begin their work this summer and report conclusions by June 2025.

Earlier this month, the Pope’s latest senior US appointee said the presence of more laypeople in governance would be a priority in his new role. Archbishop Christopher Coyne of Hartford pledged that women “will have a full place and voice in my ministry and in the life of our archdiocese” on his appointment to the Connecticut see.

“That's not ‘because the archbishop says so’,” Coyne said, “but because Christ and his Church already teach that all of us – lay and ordained, men and women alike – have an equal share in the mission by our baptism itself.”

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