It's becoming increasingly clear that Pope Francis is a mystery wrapped in an enigma. Or at least, he's a progressive wrapped in some heavily papal robes. On Saturday, Pope Francis said that women should take on “more capillary and incisive” roles in the Roman Catholic Church, praising them for their "gifts of delicacy," while giving no real indication that they'd be allowed to break through the Vatican's glass ceiling.
While addressing the Italian Women’s Centre, Pope Francis said that women’s ”gifts of delicateness, special sensitivity and tenderness” have given them an "indispensable role" in society, adding that he hoped "the spaces for a more diffuse and incisive presence in the church be expanded."
"This is important, for without these attitudes, without these contributions of the woman, the human vocation would not be realized," Francis said, adding that he was pleased that "many women share some pastoral responsibilities with priests in looking after persons, families and groups."
Patronizing gender stereotypes aside, the gesture is significant for a system that forbids women from becoming priests. Some parishes let women do house calls for parishioners who are too weak to attend church. Other parishes let women run charity outreach programs and run prayer groups. But the ban against ordination has been set in stone for a while now — in 1994, a document by John Paul II stated that the ban on women priests was part of the Church's "divine constitution" (because Jesus Christ chose only men as his apostles). A doctrinal department ruling a year later established that the ban had been "set forth infallibly" — meaning it couldn't be changed.
But Francis also added: "These new spaces and responsibilities that have been opened ... cannot make us forget the irreplaceable role of the woman in a family."
"The presence of women in a domestic setting turns out to be so necessary [for the] transmission to future generations of solid moral principles and the very transmission of the faith," he said.
This I'm-a-modern-thinker-just-kidding-I'm-a-Pope has been seen a lot with Francis. Although he made headlines by publicly stating his support for women's right to breastfeed in church, only last week he reiterated his pro-life position, calling abortion a “horrific” symptom of a “throwaway culture.”
Nonetheless, pushing for women to have an expanded role in the Church isn't nothing. He can't make waves all the time — it's a system that is historically averse to change, yet already he's brought it into the 21st century in a lot of ways, from using social media to expressing progressive views on homosexuality. Maybe with a bit of time, he'll manage to move it forward for women, too.