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New Pope hails women


Pope, women, catholic church, feminismPope Francis broke with tradition by including women in this year’s Easter celebrations.

The 76-year-old Pontiff, who recently succeeded Benedict XVI, first sparked controversy when he visited a youth detention centre near Rome on 28 March, the Thursday before Easter.

He washed the feet of two female prisoners, making him the first pope to include women in the foot-washing ritual that commemorates and re-enacts the Last Supper.

His decision riled many Catholics because of the belief that Jesus’s disciples were male.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Vatican’s chief spokesman, defended Pope Francis.

In a press release he wrote: ‘When Jesus washed the feet of those who were with him on the first Holy Thursday, he desired to teach all a lesson about the meaning of service, using a gesture that included all members of the community.’

And he added that to exclude the women ‘would have detracted our attention from the essence of the Holy Thursday Gospel and the very beautiful and simple gesture of a father who desired to embrace those who were on the fringes of society; those who were not refined experts of liturgical rules’.

Pope Francis also included women in his Easter Vigil homily, which he delivered on 30 March.

He paid tribute to the women who, according to the Bible, visited Jesus’s tomb to anoint his body.

He said: “They had followed Jesus, they had listened to his words, they had felt understood by him in their dignity and they had accompanied him to the very end, to Calvary and to the moment when he was taken down from the cross.”

Pope Francis mentioned these women in his weekly general audience address on 3 April.

He said that women have “a primary, fundamental role” in the Gospels since they are recorded as witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus.

The Pontiff said that this witnessing proved the resurrection happened because women “were not considered reliable, credible witnesses” and so would not have been mentioned otherwise.

He went on to praise the female witnesses for believing in the resurrection.

“The Apostles and disciples find it harder to believe in the Risen Christ, not the women however! Peter runs to the tomb, but stops before the empty tomb; Thomas has to touch the wounds of the body of Jesus with his hands,” he pointed out.

Pope Francis concluded that “in the Church and in the journey of faith, women have had and still have a special role in opening doors to the Lord” because they spread word about the resurrection.

These remarks indicate that the new Pope is much more liberal than his predecessor.

Marinella Perroni, a theologian and member of the Association of Italian Women Theologians, said: “Pope Francis is taking up, with a stronger emphasis, the teaching of previous popes about the role of women in the foundation of faith and the resurrection of Jesus.”

Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that Pope Francis will challenge the Vatican’s ban on female clergy.

In a book published in 2011 he said that ‘the maximum of the priesthood is Jesus, a male’ and that ‘according to tradition, all that pertains to the priesthood must happen through man’.

The head of the Women’s Ordination Conference, which campaigns for the Catholic Church to ordain women, noted that Pope Francis’s general audience address in fact highlighted these beliefs.

“He said women are able to communicate Christ’s words,” observed Erin Saiz Hanna, “but actually women can’t preach so that’s a false statement.”

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