Daily Beast Laments Pope Francis's 'Woman Problem'

December 20th, 2013 12:46 PM

The Daily Beast has a new year's resolution for Pope Francis: be open to women in the priesthood.

Correspondent Barbie Latza Nadeau opened her December 20 story "Does Pope Francis Have a Woman Problem," with the obligatory statement that "Pope Francis is undoubtedly a good guy" who "has managed to impress almost everyone." But, alas, "for all the papal cheerleading there is still at least one demographic that won’t be lauding the great pontiff quite yet: women." Nadeau explained, with decidedly loaded language:


During an exclusive interview with La Stampa newspaper last week, the pope flatly ruled out the possibility of women ever ascending to any leadership position equal to men within the Catholic Church’s hierarchy.  Ever.  Answering Vatican expert Andrea Tornielli’s question about whether or not Francis’s Church would ever see female cardinals, the much-loved pontiff scoffed, “I don’t know where this idea sprang from.  Women in the Church must be valued, not clericalized. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”

This is not the first time Francis has seemingly dismissed women as equals, keeping in line with his predecessors’ views that women are somehow lesser creatures.  In a September interview with a group of Jesuit magazines, including America, Francis said that it was necessary to expand opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church, but he clearly doesn’t want them behind the altar. “I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of ‘female machismo,’ because a woman has a different make-up than a man. But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo,” he said.

Women are lesser creatures? That should come as a shock to practicing Catholics who venerate many female saints including the Virgin Mary, whom the Catholic Church -- yes, including the current and previous popes-- teaches to be the Queen of Heaven.

Furthermore, the Catechism says this about women's equal dignity with men:

2334 "In creating men 'male and female,' God gives man and woman an equal personal dignity."119 "Man is a person, man and woman equally so, since both were created in the image and likeness of the personal God."120

2335 Each of the two sexes is an image of the power and tenderness of God, with equal dignity though in a different way.

Furthermore, to Pope Francis's argument about clericalism, the Church teaches thus, again, in the Catechism (emphasis mine):

1546 Christ, high priest and unique mediator, has made of the Church "a kingdom, priests for his God and Father."20 The whole community of believers is, as such, priestly. The faithful exercise their baptismal priesthood through their participation, each according to his own vocation, in Christ's mission as priest, prophet, and king. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation the faithful are "consecrated to be . . . a holy priesthood."21

1547 The ministerial or hierarchical priesthood of bishops and priests, and the common priesthood of all the faithful participate, "each in its own proper way, in the one priesthood of Christ." While being "ordered one to another," they differ essentially.22 In what sense? While the common priesthood of the faithful is exercised by the unfolding of baptismal grace --a life of faith, hope, and charity, a life according to the Spirit--, the ministerial priesthood is at the service of the common priesthood. It is directed at the unfolding of the baptismal grace of all Christians. The ministerial priesthood is a means by which Christ unceasingly builds up and leads his Church. For this reason it is transmitted by its own sacrament, the sacrament of Holy Orders.

In the truest sense, then, the clerical leadership of the Church is confessed to be a leadership of service unto the "common priesthood" of all Catholics. Rather than seeing Holy Orders in the way the world sees it, as an exercise of power, it is rather to be seen as an exercise of sacred trust to "unceasingly [build] up and [lead the] Church."

It's quite understandable that a secular journalist sees women excluded from the priesthood and complaining that it's an exclusion from power. But to a spiritual leader like the pope, the worldly way of viewing the priesthood is fundamentally out of whack with the biblical and magisterial understanding of the vocation of priesthood.

But no, Nadeau seems only in dissenting, liberal voices -- including those who reject the Church's teachings on the sanctity of unborn life (emphasis mine), while ignoring the voices of Catholic women who are joining more traditionalist orders of women religious. When Nadeau does turn to a woman religious, it's an infamously leftist one who does not vigorously defend the Church's teachings on things like abortion and same-sex marriage:

Francis’s apparent disinterest in creating a church where women can be part of the highest ranks of leadership is troubling to many Catholics.  Jon O’Brien, head of Catholics for Choice, told The Daily Beast that Francis is doing a great job on many issues.  “There is absolutely no doubt that among rank and file Catholics, Pope Francis offers hope that things could change in the church,” he told The Daily Beast.  “But when it comes to women, this pope, like past popes, has a blind spot.”

O’Brien says the pope is missing a golden opportunity to include women in his reforms.  By marginalizing women as spectators or caretakers when it comes to hot-button issues like social justice, he is missing a vital voice.  “It’s almost like women can wait while he takes care of more important issues,” says O’Brien.  “It is a shortsighted approach.”

O’Brien and many other Catholics hoping for more equality in their church are particularly bothered by Francis’s statements on women needing what he called a separate theology. In the September interview with the Jesuit publications, he said, “We have to work harder to develop a profound theology of the woman. Only by making this step will it be possible to better reflect on their function within the church. The feminine genius is needed wherever we make important decisions. The challenge today is this: to think about the specific place of women also in those places where the authority of the church is exercised for various areas of the church.”  O’Brien argues that the statement is not about seeing women as equals. “Theology of people should include women,” he says.  “The idea that the Church needs a separate theology for women is plain condescending.”

Last April, Pope Francis affirmed his predecessor’s crackdown on American nuns whose orders are under the umbrella group known as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.  The group, which represents some 80 percent of all American women religious, was scorned in April 2012 for pushing so-called “radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith” by not staying silent on the Vatican’s favorite topics like birth control,  same-sex marriage and euthanasia.  And when Francis made his first significant changes within the Vatican’s Congregation for Bishops last week, he replaced two ultra-conservative bishops with moderates, but he left Cardinal William Levada, who authored the original condemnation against American nuns, in place.

Sister Joan Chittister, writing in the National Catholic Reporter questions whether women will ever be taken seriously in the Catholic Church.  She says that the role of women isn’t even addressed as one of the top 39  areas of concern listed in a recent Vatican survey, which was lauded by many Francis supporters as ground-breaking.  She worries that Francis insistence to separate women and label them as nurturers and mothers does little for the idea of change beyond rhetoric.  “The pope’s recent statement on women to a meeting of the Women’s Section of the Pontifical Council for Laity in Rome concentrated almost entirely on women’s maternity, which occupies—at best—about 20 years of a woman’s life,” she says.  “Most modern women, demographic data indicates, live at least another 35 to 40 years after the youngest child leaves home. And after that? What is her role then? Is maternity her only value, her perpetual definition? What does she do now with her personal talents, her insights, her gifts that, they tell us, are given for the sake of the world?”

O’Brien agrees.  “What Francis has done has helped us [Catholics] refocus,” he says.  “But we still have a whole half of the Church who have been neglected and forgotten. When it comes to women, Pope Francis needs some study. ”

Nadeau is incredibly condescending and dismissive of conservative Catholics, and seems to think that Catholic women who are perfectly fine with the male-only priestly either don't exist or aren't worthy of engaging as thoughtful, committed Catholics.

To borrow from biblical imagery, as a balanced, objective journalist, Nadeau has been weighed in the balance and found lacking.