hi-852-pope-francis-cp-0413Last week many of us were mesmerized by the mysterious pomp and circumstance under way in Rome as the leadership of a major world religion chose a new leader: Jorge Mario Bergoglio, archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, who has chosen to be renamed Francis. And people concerned about what the new pope’s elevation would mean for women around the world began to urge publicly that he be the avatar of change.

Meaningful inclusion of women is vital if the church is going to survive in America, wrote Kathleen Cummings at the New York Daily News: “For most of U.S. history, Catholic women found, through religious life, far more opportunities for education, meaningful work and leadership inside the church than outside of it. But transformations for women in American society have far outpaced change within the church, causing many Catholic women to wonder whether they have much of a future in it.”

Canadian activist Therese Koturbash told Canada’s CTV News that she was optimistic. “What I’ve heard about him is that while he comes from an authoritative, patriarchal office in the church, he’s a man who questions his privilege and encourages other clerics to question their privilege,” she said.

That Latin American background, and Francis’s explicitly stated focus on being close to the poor, has raised hopes among U.S. nuns, whose council has recently been subject to discipline by the previous papal administration for its emphasis on poverty over doctrinal issues. Sister Marge Clark, from the Catholic social justice group Network Lobby, told journalists on Friday that she was encouraged by the new pope’s concern for the poor. “We need leadership in the church that is more inclusive,” she said. “Jesus hung out with the poor and the odious. He even hung out with sinners. He included them for their lives to be better. I would hope that Pope Francis might do the same.”

The white smoke has barely cleared from the Vatican portico; any progress for women will take time.  The women watching this most fervently are unlikely to give up until there’s change. Just before Francis’s election, many of them converged on the Vatican, demanding a greater role for women in the Catholic Church and releasing pink smoke. As The New York Times noted succinctly, the new pope is “a theological conservative of Italian ancestry who vigorously backs Vatican positions on abortion, gay marriage, the ordination of women and other major issues.” It’ll take more than pink smoke to turn this papacy toward policies that produce concrete progress for women.

Women activists release pink smoke over the Vatican to raise awareness of the need for more inclusivity for women in the church.

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  • mary kieffer March 19, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    become a nun.