Pope Francis: Women are called to service, not servitude

Today Pope Francis spoke at a seminar held by the Women’s Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, which was organized for the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s apostolic letter on women, Mulieris Dignitatem. Pope Francis spoke to seminar participants about the vocation and mission of women in the Church. From Vatican Radio:

“Many things can change and have changed in our cultural and social evolution, but the fact remains that it is the woman who conceives, carries in her womb and gives birth to the children of men,” the Pope continued. “And this is not simply a biological matter, but carries a wealth of implications for the woman herself, for her way of being, for her relationships, for the way in which we lend respect to human life and to life in general. Calling a woman to maternity, God entrusted the human being to her in an altogether special manner.”

The Pope warned that there are two dangers always present when speaking about this topic, calling them “two extreme opposites that destroy woman and her vocation.”

“The first is to reduce maternity to a social role, to a task, albeit noble, but which in fact sets the woman aside with her potential and does not value her fully in the building of community. This is both in the civil sphere and in the ecclesial sphere,” explained the Holy Father. “And, in reaction to this, there is the other danger in the opposite direction, that of promoting a type of emancipation which, in order to occupy spaces taken away from the masculine, abandons the feminine with the precious traits that characterize it.”

Pope Francis also spoke about the special gifts given to women in the Church.

“I would like to underline how the woman has a particular sensitivity for the ‘things of God’, above all in helping us to understand the mercy, tenderness and love that God has for us,” he said. “And it pleases me to think that the Church is not ‘il Chiesa’ [‘the Church’, masculine]: it is ‘la Chiesa’ [feminine]. The Church is a woman! The Church is a mother! And that’s beautiful, eh? We have to think deeply about this.”

The Pope said the document Mulieris Dignitatem arises in this context and offers a profound, organic reflection, with a solid anthropological base, enlightened by Revelation. 

“From here, we must restart that work of deepening and of promoting, for which I have already hoped many times. Even in the Church, it is important to ask oneself: what presence does the woman have?” he said.

“I suffer – speaking truthfully! – when I see in the Church or in some ecclesial organizations that the role of service that we all have, and that we must have – but that the role of service of the woman slips into a role of ‘servidumbre’ [Spanish: servitude]. . . But when I see women that do things out of ‘servitude’ and not out of service,” said Pope Francis. “And that it is not understood well what a woman ought to do. Can she be valued more? It is a reality that is close to my heart and for this I wanted to meet…and bless you and your commitment. Thank you, let us move this forward together! May most holy Mary – a great woman, eh? – the Mother of Jesus and of all God’s children, accompany us. Thank you!”

Vatican Radio also has a report on the seminar, and an interview with the head of the Women’s Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, Ana Cristina Villa Betancourt:

The Women’s Section of the Pontifical Council for the Laity began a study seminar at their headquarters in Rome Thursday October 10th on the theme “God entrusts the human being to the Woman” drawn from Blessed Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem (MD). The two day seminar was planned to coincide with the 25th anniversary of this document which highlights the central role and the dignity and vocation of women in the Church and society. Over these two days, dozens of experts working in academia and in practical projects in the field will be re-examining the impact and the relevancy of the document 25 years on.

Ana Cristina Villa Betancourt, a bubbly young lay woman from Colombia, is the head of the Council’s Women’s Section. She says she wants the seminar “to become a melting pot of ideas to help us make an analysis of what has happened and what needs to be done: What are the new challenges and the new themes that should be (studied further) in this area?” “People are not here to learn but to share.”

Mulieris dignitatem, she stresses, has had a significant impact in the life of the Church over the past quarter century. …

Throughout the years, Mulieris dignitatum has undergone some criticism for “not having gone far enough” to promote the role of women in the Church and society. Asked if the document retains its relevancy twenty-five years on, Villa Betancourt responds, “I think it is very relevant because it very much goes to the foundations. Maybe it’s not so much a practical document and so maybe some people were a bit frustrated by it because they were expecting practical indications to come from it. But I don’t think that was…the aim. The aim was to give foundations, precisely, to help people in their practical lives. But it needs to be lived and so many of the frustrations (stem from the fact) that it hasn’t been lived enough.” …

The Church, she says, “has to be guided by different logic, not a logic of authority and power but of service. (In this) area, the role of women is essential, very, very important….I think there are many spaces where – well, any space where the leadership of the laity could be encouraged. And where you don’t need the sacred orders to be present, the presence of women could be very strong.”


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About Catherine Harmon 577 Articles
Catherine Harmon is managing editor of Catholic World Report.