White smoke has finally blown above the Sistine Chapel as bells rang at approximately 7 p.m. local time in Vatican City, signaling the choice for a new pope has been made. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio of Argentina will now be known as Pope Francis I. He is the first Jesuit and first Latin American to be appointed as pope, both of which are steps away from tradition for the Roman Catholic Church.
But what of other traditions? The prohibition of women being ordained as priests — and thereby disallowing the possibility of a female pope — is one many have been asking about during this papal election. But in 2008, the Vatican decreed that any female seeking ordination (and any bishop who discussed holy orders with a woman) would be excommunicated, thus limiting the number of women who would choose to openly pursue such a title.
According to now-retired Pope Benedict XVI, it is simply a rule that the church must follow:
“The church has ‘no authority’ to ordain women. The point is not that we are saying we don’t want to, but that we can’t,” he said. This requires obedience by Catholics today, he added.
“This obedience may be arduous in today’s situation, but it is important precisely for the church to show that we are not a regime based on arbitrary rule. We cannot do what we want.”
The pope said there can be no question of discrimination in the church because women perform so many meaningful functions.
“Women have so eminent a significance that in many respects they shape the image of the church more than men do.”
So, despite women being hugely significant, performing “so many meaningful functions,” and though people may “want” to allow women into the priesthood, there is no room for them due to not doctrine, but tradition? There must be a question of discrimination whenever one gender is given a privilege by society that is refused to somebody else.
I have no real animosity towards Roman Catholicism, nor any religions — only those who use religion as an excuse to harm others — nor do I feel particularly drawn toward a specific one (including atheism, in case somebody felt like asking). I do, however, feel an incredible draw toward the plights of women all over the world, and I feel that a female pope could potentially expedite the process of ending the sexism and violence women face daily.
Across the globe, there are problems females specifically face at a far higher frequency than men that include, but are not limited to:
- Sexual violence
- Genital mutilation
- Single parenthood
- Sexual torture
- Rape as a weapon of war
- Domestic abuse
- Sexual slavery
Perhaps I am being overly optimistic, but I believe that a female religious leader of this magnitude could help women all over the world so, so deeply. Globally, we have seen that men in charge often ignore (or are completely ignorant of) women’s health and safety. This is obviously not an all-encompassing rule, but it is impossible to say that proportionally more male than female leaders give a damn about issues facing women. And no, I am absolutely not saying that women’s issues trump men’s issues; I simply wish that, for once, violent, health and monetary issues women face were seen as a huge priority for leaders and citizens across the globe, including the ones not directly affected by it.
Considering there are 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world, I believe that a female pope could not only inspire change in the church’s constituents, but also lead to more people lending their faith and putting leadership in the hands of women. When you can’t tell a little girl she can grow up to be anything she wants to be, because some things are “just for the boys,” she learns that she’s unequal in some way, simply because tradition prohibits her from being on the same level. She may contribute greatly and follow rules, but is not allowed to seek a goal that her male peers can.
Though there has been the long-running myth of “Pope Joan,” who was apparently a “ninth-century Englishwoman who disguised herself under voluminous clerical robes to become a priest, something women are not allowed to be in the Catholic Church.” This, however, has been dismissed as a myth and some historians, in fact, believe it is detrimental toward the pursuit of a female pope, which many clergy and laity have been pushing for since the 1970s.
When it comes to religion, I understand that tradition is significant in so many ways. But there are billions of women in the world, and their voices must be heard just as much as men’s. Simply because women “perform so many meaningful functions” does not mean that not one of the 600 million female Roman Catholics deserves a direct say. There is no such thing as separate but equal; so long as women are disallowed from becoming pope, Roman Catholicism’s hierarchy remains sexist. And until an administration can say it has looked at all qualified, viable contenders — regardless of gender — then it cannot claim to be the best, nor complete.
Photos: Pope Joan (2009) & Joe Raedle/Getty Images.