Pope says equal opportunities for women are key to a better world

March 9, 2023 - 10:10 AM
Pope Francis holds the weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, March 8, 2023. (Reuters/Guglielmo Mangiapane)

 Pope Francis on Wednesday decried violence and prejudice against women and said granting equal pay and opportunities could help create a more peaceful world, as a new survey of Catholic women showed that many felt the Church discriminated against them.

In a book preface published by the Vatican News website on International Women’s Day, Francis stressed the differences between men and women but called for “equality in diversity” on “a playing field open to all players.”

“I like to think that if women could enjoy full equality of opportunity, they could contribute substantially to the necessary change towards a world of peace, inclusion, solidarity and integral sustainability,” the pope said.

Francis has condemned discrimination against women in the past but, like his predecessors, he has ruled out a female priesthood. The Catholic Church teaches that only men can become priests because Jesus chose men as his apostles.

A survey released on Wednesday by the University of Newcastle in Australia showed that nearly 80% of more than 17,000 Catholic women respondents said women should be included at all levels of Church leadership.

The survey, which was presented at the Vatican, showed that two-thirds, or 68%, of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that women should be eligible for ordination to the priesthood.

There was majority support for a female priesthood in all of the 104 countries surveyed except Poland and South Africa.

Francis has appointed more women to managerial roles since he became pope, and said last year that “every time a woman is given a position (of responsibility) in the Vatican, things improve.”

To coincide with International Women’s Day, the Vatican issued figures showing that 1,165 women now work there, about 320 more than 10 years ago when Francis was elected.

Last year, he named three women to a previously all-male committee that advises him in selecting the world’s bishops.

In 2021 he named Italian nun Raffaella Petrini to the number two position in the governorship of Vatican City, making her the highest-ranking woman in the world’s smallest state.

In the preface of the book titled: More Women’s Leadership for a Better World, the pope extolled the differences between men and women.

“They are more attentive to protecting the environment, their gaze is not turned to the past but to the future,” he said.

Francis said women need to get equal remuneration with men for equal roles and described ongoing pay gaps as “a serious injustice.”

He condemned the “plague” of violence against women, recalling a speech he delivered in 2021 when he called it “an open wound resulting from a patriarchal and macho culture of oppression.”

—Additional reporting by Philip PullellaEditing by Christina Fincher