Pope Francis: Door for women priests will remain closed 'forever, forever'
Pope Francis said yesterday he believes the Roman Catholic Church's ban on women becoming priests is forever and will never be changed, in some of his most definitive remarks on the issue.
He was speaking aboard a plane taking him back to Rome from Sweden, in the news conference with reporters that has become a tradition of his return flights from trips abroad.
A Swedish female reporter noted the head of the Lutheran Church who welcomed him in Sweden was a woman, and then asked whether he thought the Catholic Church could allow women to be ordained as ministers in coming decades.
"St Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands," said Francis, referring to a 1994 document by Pope John Paul that closed the door on a female priesthood. The Vatican says this teaching is an infallible part of Catholic tradition.
The reporter then pressed the Pope, asking: "But forever, forever? Never, never?"
Francis responded: "If we read carefully the declaration by St John Paul II, it is going in that direction."
The Pope has previously said the door to women's ordination is closed, but proponents of a female priesthood are hoping that a future pope might overturn the decision, particularly because of the shortage of priests around the world.
The Catholic Church teaches that women cannot be ordained priests because Jesus willingly chose only men as his apostles.
Those calling for women priests say he was only following the norms of his time.
In August, Francis set up a commission to study the role of women deacons in early Christianity, raising hopes among equality campaigners that women could one day have a greater say in the Church.
Deacons, like priests, are ordained ministers and must be men. They cannot celebrate Mass, but they are allowed to preach and teach in the name of the Church, and to baptise and conduct wake and funeral services. The Church barred women from becoming deacons centuries ago.
Scholars debate the precise role of women deacons in the early Church.
Some say they were ordained to minister only to other women, for instance in baptismal immersion rites. Others believe they were on a par with male deacons.
Earlier, Pope Francis proposed a new set of Beatitudes for all Christians today, saying they are called to be blessed "to confront the troubles and anxieties of our age".
Francis celebrated Mass under chilly, 8C skies in the Malmo sports stadium, packed with Nordic Catholics as well as immigrants from the Philippines and beyond for the final event of his overnight trip to southern Sweden.
On Monday, Francis and the heads of the Lutheran World Federation commemorated Martin Luther's revolt against the abuses of the Catholic Church, praying together for forgiveness at Lund's Cathedral. They signed a joint declaration pledging to put the errors of the past behind them and pursue theological talks with the goal of letting Lutherans and Catholics share in the Eucharist.
In his homily yesterday, Francis continued with the theme of unity, urging the faithful to meekly draw close to Christ and one another as they commemorate the Reformation over the next year.
Meekness, he said, "enables us to set aside everything that divides and estranges us, and to find ever new ways to advance along the path of unity".
Francis added yesterday's Mass in at the last minute after Sweden's tiny Catholic community protested he was ignoring them and coming only for the Protestant commemoration.