A bit of sadness crept over me as I watched the departing ceremony of Pope Francis. His presence in our midst has called each of us to a more joyous and merciful way of living. As a nation we have watched him embrace persons in wheelchairs, kiss children, visit those in prison, meet with victims of clergy sexual abuse, reprimand bishops, chide those in political power, and call for us to turn away from a consumerist culture.
A former student of mine posted this perceptive question: “could this be a time of spiritual awakening?” Indeed, it could be. People from varied perspectives have repeated and tweeted phrases from his various speeches and homilies. His visit has not simply touched the Roman Catholic faithful, but Protestants and persons of other faith traditions. It is been a particular joy to me to hear the soaring music of the church.
No religious figure rivals this pope in moral authority, and he speaks across ecclesial and religious boundaries. His capacity to nudge people to live ethically is remarkable. He is above all a pastor and practical theologian, and he speaks with remarkable clarity.
Hardship has honed his humility. As a young Jesuit leader, he was imperious with his priests and was demoted. He attempted a doctorate in Germany and never managed to finish it. He spent time in barrios and became deeply acquainted with poverty. Now he calls the world to notice those marginalized by the global market and to live more simply for their sake.
On these matters I agree with the Holy Father. Yet, as a minister who has spent her life working for justice for women in the church, I must register a concern. Yesterday, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times wrote that Francis would be a perfect 19th century pope. She is known for her acerbic take on matters; however, the warrant for her critique is the pope’s recalcitrance on the role of women in the church. While he applauded the good work of women religious, they were always ancillary to the center of worship and the leadership of the church. The visual imagery of the pope surrounded by men at every turn was striking.
While it is not possible to do everything at once, surely the marginalization of women in the church requires sustained attention. The pope offered a slight nod to the possibility of married priests; why not open the conversation about the ordination of women? Do not both fall under the rubric of tradition rather than apostolic dogma?
At every event, the pope invited us to pray for him. I have begun doing so, for the world needs his continuing witness. I will also pray that he will be able to hear those persistent voices calling the church to welcome its daughters to every role within it. That would surely move him into the 21st century!
Molly T. Marshall
Central prepares students to craft the future with God.