Skip to main content

What the pope left out about women

By Alice L. Laffey, Special to CNN
updated 11:56 AM EDT, Wed July 31, 2013
Pope Francis makes some <a href='http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2013/07/29/pope-francis-on-gays-who-am-i-to-judge/'>unexpected comments on issues facing the Roman Catholic Church</a> on Monday, July 29. He spoke on the record to journalists on a flight back back to Italy from Brazil after finishing his first international trip as pontiff. Among the topics he addressed were homosexuality, the church's alleged "gay lobby," the role of women, abortion, divorce and the Vatican Bank. Pope Francis makes some unexpected comments on issues facing the Roman Catholic Church on Monday, July 29. He spoke on the record to journalists on a flight back back to Italy from Brazil after finishing his first international trip as pontiff. Among the topics he addressed were homosexuality, the church's alleged "gay lobby," the role of women, abortion, divorce and the Vatican Bank.
HIDE CAPTION
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
Pope Francis on hot-button issues
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Alice L. Laffey: Pope Francis says Catholic Church needs "deep theology of women"
  • But she says many will accuse church of discrimination as long as it denies women priesthood
  • She says jury still out: By some theological readings, women not precluded from priesthood
  • Laffey: His warm stance toward women in church bodes well for taking on issues of poverty

Editor's note: Alice L. Laffey is an associate professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the College of the Holy Cross. She was a member of the Women's Ordination Conference after Vatican II and published "An Introduction to the Old Testament : A Feminist Perspective" (Fortress, 1988) and several articles on power for the College Theology Society's annual volume. She is working on contributions to Carol Dempsey's forthcoming volume on Isaiah for the Wisdom Commentary Series (Liturgical Press).

(CNN) -- When Pope Francis gave his now-famous, 80-minute interview on the plane back to Rome from Brazil, he was asked, not surprisingly, about the role of women in the Roman Catholic Church. He said that John Paul II had "closed the door" to the possibility of women priests, but he affirmed that the church lacked "a deep theology of women." His comments conveyed a deep respect for women.

Whatever Francis' own virtues, however, the church will continue to be accused of sexual discrimination, especially by many Americans and Europeans, as long as it denies the priesthood to women.

Alice L. Laffey
Alice L. Laffey

No matter what efforts Pope Francis makes with respect to women, if he refuses to move the ordination question forward, many, including Catholics, will consider his efforts toward women as insufficient or even hypocritical.

That John Paul II "closed the door" to women's ordination is undoubtedly true, but the door may not be closed for all time. After John Paul II's pronouncement against the ordination of women, the Catholic Theological Society of America, the country's leading professional society of Roman Catholic theologians, at its June 1997 meeting, endorsed a resolution indicating that there are "serious doubts regarding the nature of the authority of the teaching" that the church lacks the authority to ordain women to the priesthood and that the all-male priesthood is a truth that has been infallibly taught and that the faithful must accept.

What we learned about Pope Francis in Brazil

The resolution continued that "there is serious, widespread disagreement on this question not only among theologians, but also within the larger community of the Church," and recommended it be given further "study, discussion and prayer."

But the ordination of women is not the most pressing question for most Catholics or even for most Catholic women. Women also experience discrimination and exclusion in the secular sphere in the United States and Europe, but their exclusion and discrimination in the developing world are far greater.

Quinn: Pope's comments 'positive'
Pope says he won't judge gay priests
Change in papacy's tone 'revolutionary'

Throughout the world, women and their children make up the greatest percentage of human beings living in destitution. Their main concern is not women priests but food, health, education and physical safety. Francis' genuine concern for the real lives of the poor and suffering warmly embraces women.

Pope Francis is charting new territory. I don't know how Pope Gregory the Great acted out his self-understanding of the pope as the "servant of the servants of God" -- the humble designation he first used -- in the sixth century, but clearly Francis sees himself as a leader who is committed to serving.

Many commentators have pointed out his letting go of the material trappings of hierarchy and exclusion, from Prada shoes to papal apartments, and they have commented favorably on his compassion for the poor, his desire to lead all the faithful to a discipleship of service. Francis clearly sees himself as a disciple, and wishes to set an example like that of his namesake, from Assisi, who said, "Preach the Gospel, using words when necessary."

Opinion: What do pope's remarks on gays mean?

Will Pope Francis advance the conversation regarding the ordination of women? I suspect he will not. But I think his behavior toward all, from the most powerful to the least, but acting very explicitly without judgment and with love and compassion on behalf of the least -- most of whom are women -- will "open the door" to future conversation.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Alice L. Laffey.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:12 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
By now it should be painfully obvious that this latest round of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis in Gaza is fundamentally different than its predecessors.
updated 5:24 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Sally Kohn says like the Occupy Wall Street protesters, Market Basket workers are asking for shared prosperity.
updated 7:31 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
President Obama will convene an Africa summit Monday at the White House, and Laurie Garrett asks why the largest Ebola epidemic ever recorded is not on the agenda.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Fri August 1, 2014
Seventy years ago, Anne Frank made her final entry in her diary -- a work, says Francine Prose, that provides a crucial link to history for young people.
updated 7:50 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Van Jones says "student" debt should be called "education debt" because entire families are paying the cost.
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Stuart Gitlow says pot is addictive and those who smoke it can experience long-term psychiatric disease.
updated 7:00 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Marc Randazza: ESPN commentator fell victim to "PC" police for suggesting something outside accepted narrative.
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu July 31, 2014
Mark O'Mara says working parents often end up being arrested after leaving kids alone.
updated 4:31 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Shanin Specter says we need to strengthen laws that punish auto companies for selling defective cars.
updated 12:45 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Gabby Giffords and Katie Ray-Jones say "Between 2001 and 2012, more women were shot to death by an intimate partner in our country than the total number of American troops killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined."
updated 7:58 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Vijay Das says Medicare is a success story that could provide health care for everybody, not just seniors
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
S.E. Cupp says the entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner thinks for himself and refuses to be confined to an ideological box.
updated 9:11 AM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
A Christian group's anger over the trailer for "Black Jesus," an upcoming TV show, seems out of place, Jay Parini says
updated 4:28 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
LZ Granderson says the cyber-standing ovation given to Robyn Lawley, an Australian plus-size model who posted unretouched photos, shows how crazy Americans' notions of beauty have become
updated 3:39 PM EDT, Wed July 30, 2014
Carol Dweck and Rachel Simmons: Girls tend to have a "fixed mindset" but they should have a "growth mindset."
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT