Pope Francis has a reputation for being more liberal on many issues than his predecessors: from homosexuality to the possibility of atheists going to heaven. But one topic on which the Argentinian pope has remained consistently illiberal is the possibility of women serving as priests. He has always supported a ban on female priests within the Roman Catholic Church, and yesterday he ended any hope that he may eventually change his view, telling journalists that a women will never serve as a priest. “Saint Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands,” he said during a press conference on the papal plane, reported The Guardian. Francis was referring to a 1994 letter by Pope John Paul II, who served from 1978 to 2005, that affirmed Jesus chose only men as his apostles. “But for ever, for ever? Never, never?” responded the Swedish journalist who had asked the question. Francis's response was definitive: “If we read carefully the declaration by St John Paul II, it is going in that direction,” he said. He went on to say women did “many other things better than men”, The Guardian reported, and spoke about the so-called “feminine dimension of the church”. Francis said: “People ask me: ‘Who is more important in the theology or in the spirituality of the church, the apostles or Mary, on the day of Pentecost?’ It is Mary,” adding, “More.” Feminist Catholics, who are calling for women to have more power in the church, weren't comforted by Frances's statements yesterday, with many voicing their dissent on social media.
Gender inequality in the Catholic church remains a contentious topic, despite Francis's own clear stance. Women have been banned from becoming priests for centuries, which the church says is because Jesus only chose men as his apostles. But feminist Catholics argue that there is currently a shortage of priests. Kate McElwee, the co-executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference, which provides a voice for women in the Catholic church, said: “In this space, we wrestled with the damaging effects of oppressive structures, knowing that patriarchy and hierarchy hurt us all," reported The Guardian. “We discovered, time and again, that by sharing as equals and asking hard questions, we can transform ourselves, our church and our world.” In May, Frances commissioned a study of the role of female deacons in the early church, which led many to think he had become more open to the possibility of women becoming ordained deacons.