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OpinionCommentaryPope Francis Visit

Women still waiting to be heard by the Vatican

Church service with a choir.

Church service with a choir. Credit: iStock

When a corporation names a new chief executive, it's typical for staffers with special interests and projects to jockey for attention. When a new pontiff is elected, a similar phenomenon can be observed in the Catholic Church, which also has overarching pastoral and sacramental duties.

Add to that the compassion and listening ability of Pope Francis and the list of interests competing for his attention deepens in intensity.

The list was long even before Francis' election: reform the Curia; clean up the Vatican Bank; establish accountability for those who protected priests who committed crimes against children; create a welcoming environment for the LGBT community; find a way to welcome the divorced and remarried into the church.

But there are also those seeking greater roles for women in the church. This group is not simply comprised of those who might be described as feminists. It's populated by mothers, grandmothers, fathers, grandfathers, brothers and clergy.

Unfortunately, there has been little so far to suggest that they have been heard. But we should not lose heart, despite some missteps by the Vatican.

The Pontifical Council For Culture advertised its conference on women with a video that so outraged women in the Western world that the English-language version was pulled from its website. Then, the pope's unfortunate remarks before the European Parliament about women and grandmothers went viral.

Could it be that Pope Francis has missed the cry to include women? Is Pope Francis so conditioned by his European and Latino upbringing that he is unable to imagine women in more significant roles? Is Pope Francis afraid of conflict?

We should suspect not.

Among the many gifts Pope Francis brings to the papacy is his ability to be strategic. Bypassing traditional curial roles, he surrounded himself with advisers of varying strengths and talents. It's a company of thinkers that, for instance, has helped to spur reforms at the Vatican Bank, created a process to handle ecclesial failures, and helped the pontiff to deliver the church's strongest message to date on climate change.

Those of us who advocate for meaningful roles for women within the church should not give up and go home. We need to remember that Francis has touched nerve endings on many controversial issues.

He has great devotion to Mary the Undoer of Knots. We might be pleasantly surprised that ongoing debates may suddenly lead us to find women as an integral part of the church as if they had always been there.

We can only hope.

Mary Hughes, a former prioress of the Amityville Dominican Sisters, serves as the director of transition services for the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.