During a press conference Tuesday aboard the papal plane from Sweden to Rome, Pope Francis said the issue of women priests has been clearly decided, while also clarifying the essential role of women in the Catholic Church.
“On the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, the final word is clear, it was said by St. John Paul II and this remains,” Pope Francis told journalists Nov. 1.
The question concerning women priests in the Catholic Church was asked during the flight back to Rome after the Pope’s Oct. 31-Nov. 1 trip to Sweden to participate in a joint Lutheran-Catholic commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.
While there, the Pope participated in ecumenical events alongside Swedish Lutheran and Catholic leaders, including the first female Lutheran archbishop in Sweden, Antje Jackelén. She is the head of the Church of Sweden, the largest denomination of Lutheranism in Europe.
After stating that the issue of female ordination is closed, the Pope added that women are very important to the Church, specifically from a “Marian dimension.”
“In Catholic ecclesiology there are two dimensions to think about,” he said. “The Petrine dimension, which is from the Apostle Peter, and the Apostolic College, which is the pastoral activity of the bishops, as well as the Marian dimension, which is the feminine dimension of the Church.”
Pointing out that the Holy Mother Church “is a woman,” Francis said that the “spousal mystery” of the Church as the spouse of Christ can help us to understand these two dimensions.
“I ask myself: who is most important in theology and in the mysticism of the Church: the apostles or Mary on the day of Pentecost? It’s Mary!” he said.
The Church “doesn’t exist” without this feminine dimension, or “maternity,” the Pope said, because the Church herself is feminine.
Pope Francis did express that he thinks women “can do so many things better than men, even in the dogmatic field,” but he clarified how it is still a separate dimension from that of priests and bishops in the Petrine dimension.
From the beginning of his papacy, Francis has been clear on the issue of women priests, while still emphasizing the unique and important role of women in the Church.
In a press conference returning from Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 5, 2013, he answered the same question: “with reference to the ordination of women, the Church has spoken and says, ‘No.’ John Paul II said it, but with a definitive formulation. That is closed, that door.”
He said that on the theology of woman he felt there was a “lack of a theological development,” which could be developed better. “You cannot be limited to the fact of being an altar server or the president of Caritas, the catechist … No! It must be more, but profoundly more, also mystically more.”
On his return flight from Philadelphia for the World Meeting of Families Sept. 28, 2015, the Pope again said that women priests “cannot be done,” and reiterated that a theology of women needs to “move ahead.”
“Pope St. John Paul II after long, long intense discussions, long reflection said so clearly,” that female ordination is not possible, he said.
Among concerns surrounding the Pope’s trip to Sweden, and the hope for continued progress on the path to communion between Lutherans and Catholics, was the issue of female ordination.
This is alongside other social and ethical issues, such as homosexuality and abortion, which are points of division not only between Catholics and Lutherans, but also within the global Lutheran community.