Press Release: CNWE Responds to the First Anniversary of Pope Francis’ Leadership


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On this International Women’s Day, and approaching the first anniversary of the election of Pope Francis, the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality, (CNWE) calls Pope Francis and all Catholic clergy around the world to work with the Catholic faithful to reform the church so that it will reflect the equal dignity of women in its structures of ministry and governance.

Like many people around the world, we are inspired by Pope Francis’ personal commitment to justice and his desire for the Catholic church to be a ‘church of the poor’. By every conceivable measure, however, poverty is best alleviated when women are given equal access at all levels of society. It logically follows that if the Catholic church is to be in genuine solidarity with the poor, it must, as an influential global institution, reflect the full participation of women within its own structures. Presently, there is a ‘disconnect’ between Vatican teaching and practice – an inability to ‘walk the talk’.

Despite his seeming openness to positive reform in the church, Pope Francis, has stated that the door to women being ordained as Catholic priests is closed. Furthermore, he has yet to open any positions of power at the Vatican to women. What message does this send to Catholic women except to say that they remain ‘second class citizens’ in both church and society? As long as the Catholic Church hierarchy refuses to recognize the equal dignity of women ‘in its own house’, it legitimates the marginalization of women and remains complicit in contributing to imperiling the lives of women around the globe.

Pope Francis has stated that the Catholic church needs a ‘deeper theology of women’. We respectfully argue that women are not a new exotic subset to be curiously studied by an all male hierarchy. We have been participants in the church since its inception. When Pope Francis and Catholic clergy continually place women on a separate and special pedestal, it simply reinforces a patriarchal attitude that insults the dignity of women and prevents the full flourishing of our church. The only credible way forward for the Vatican is to recognize Catholic women, by virtue of their baptism, as equal partners in creating and leading a church worthy of the Gospel of Jesus.

Historical, biblical and theological claims for excluding women from equal participation at all levels of the Catholic Church simply do not stand up in the light of reason, Scripture and the lived tradition of the faithful. For Catholic teaching to claim a belief in the equal dignity of women and men before God, it must be manifest in the prayer, practice and governance of the Catholic church. If Pope Francis is truly committed to healthy critique and dialogue in the Church, he might begin by listening to the voices of women as equal partners in the conversation.

For over thirty years members of the Catholic Network for Women’s Equality have shared a faithful commitment to social justice for all women. We celebrate the fact that we are part of a long history of women’s contributions to the Christian faith. Our movement embraces a broad range of Catholic women and men across Canada for whom an inclusive church that is accountable to all of its members is important. Our work for women’s equality in church and world is internationally respected and part of a network of pro-change Catholic movements around the globe. For further information, see or visit us on Facebook at “Catholic Network for Women’s Equality – Canada”.

International Women’s Day, March 8, 2014