Pope Francis resounding no to women becoming priests may come as a surprise considering the popular narrative of him as a reformer who seeks to bring change to the Roman Catholic Church.
Often seen as wanting to overturn the conservative thrust of recent pontificates, Francis has shown himself to be squarely on the side of Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI when it comes to women’s ordination.
“The final word is clear,” he said Tuesday when asked about women’s ordination during an in-flight press conference returning from Sweden, “it was said by St John Paul II and this remains.”
“Forever?” the journalist asked. “Never, ever?”
“If we carefully read the declaration of St. John Paul II it goes in that direction, yes,” Francis replied.
In August, Francis had raised hopes for those in favor of women’s ordination when he created a special commission to study women deacons in the Catholic Church. Like priests, deacons are also ordained, so the thinking went that if Francis allows women deacons, he might also allow women priests.
But not so fast. For Francis, the question is twofold.
One, he subscribes to the Catholic Church’s long tradition of male priesthood because Jesus chose men as his apostles and because of their theological understanding that a priest, “acts in the person of Christ,” so must be male. This is what Francis was reaffirming by quoting St. John Paul II.
Two, he does not like “clericalism,” or the emphasis on the power and privilege of priesthood. He has spent a large part of his three years as Pope speaking out against arrogant priests who are more concerned with power than service. So the last thing he wants to do is add women to that group.