On Tuesday, Pope Francis told a female reporter that women in the Catholic church would never serve as priests. Francis, who the day before in Lund, Sweden signed a joint declaration with the Lutheran church affirming the two church’s “common path,” was pressed by the reporter during a press conference aboard the papal plane. Noting that the head of Swedish Lutheran Church, Antje Jackelén, a woman, had greeted Francis upon his arrival in Sweden, the reporter asked the pontiff whether he thought women could ever serve as Catholic priests or bishops.
“St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands,” said Francis.
“Forever, forever? Never, never?” the reported asked.
“If we read carefully the declaration by St. John Paul II, it is going in that direction,” Francis confirmed.
Pope John Paul II, who died in 2005 and was canonized as a saint in 2014, wrote in a 1994 Apostolic letter that those who considered the issue of female ordination “open to debate” were definitively wrong. “The Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women,” wrote John Paul II. “This judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”
Francis went on to say that Mary, the mother of Christ, was more important “in the spirituality of the church” than the apostles. The church has previously justified its ban on women priests on the basis that Jesus only chose men as apostles.
Representatives of Catholic priest movements and international lay organizations had called for the church to change its stance during a recent gathering. “Patriarchy and hierarchy … hurt us all,” said Kate McElwee, co-executive director of the Women’s Ordination Conference. “By sharing as equals and asking hard questions, we can transform ourselves, our church and our world.”