Francis Affirms the Impossibility of Ordaining Women

December 02, 2022
Institution of the Eucharist and of the priesthood during the Last Supper

On November 22, 2022, Pope Francis gave a long interview to the Jesuit magazine America, published on November 28, and covering a fairly wide range of topics. The question of the ordination of women was discussed, but also the American episcopal conference, the war in Ukraine, and the political orientation of the Pope.

The Ordination of Women

The editor of the magazine asks the Pope: “What would you say to a woman who is already serving in the life of the Church, but who still feels called to be a priest?” Francis' response is straightforward, but wrapped in parallel considerations.

The Pope affirms from the outset that “it is a theological problem.” But he distinguishes three levels: the ministerial dimension of the Church; her nuptial dimension, because the Church is the bride of Christ, and the administrative dimension.

He calls the first the “Petrine principle,” the second the “Marian principle,” and the third the “administrative way,” which does not pertain to the theological order. “In this aspect, I believe we have to give more space to women.” He gives the example of recent appointments to the Vatican.

It should be noted that the administrative principle comes under episcopal power, which has three dimensions: sacramental or ministerial; magisterial; and the power of government. The latter is linked to the first two, and can only be exercised, in the usual way, by a pastor or a bishop.

Francis then gives his conclusion on this point: “And why can a woman not enter ordained ministry? It is because the Petrine principle has no place for that. Yes, one has to be in the Marian principle, which is more important.” This is a way of saying that women cannot receive ordination.

Admittedly, it is not a magisterial document, but the answer has the merit of being clear.

The Role of Bishops

One question was about the mixed trust placed in the American Episcopal Conference. The Pope's response puts certain things in place: “It is misleading to speak of the relationship between Catholics and the bishops’ conference. The bishops’ conference is not the pastor; the pastor is the bishop.”

Francis continues: “So one runs the risk of diminishing the authority of the bishop when you look only to the bishops’ conference... Let us not dissolve the power of the bishop by reducing it to the power of the bishops’ conference.”

He concludes: “The answer to your question is: The bishops’ conference is an organization meant to assist and unite, a symbol of unity. But the grace of Jesus Christ is in the relationship between the bishop and his people, his diocese.”

The Pope’s Politics

A Jesuit then explains to the Pope that, in the United States, some people think that he may be a socialist, or a communist, or even a Marxist.

The Pope explains that “the problem that is behind this… is the socio-political reduction of the Gospel message.” And he adds: “If I only see the Gospel in a sociological way only, yes, I am a communist, and so too is Jesus.” He concludes: “The communists stole some of our Christian values. Some others, they made a disaster out of them.”