In some of his most conclusive remarks, Pope Francis told reporters on Tuesday that the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women becoming priests is forever.
He was holding a news conference on board a plane taking him back to Rome from Sweden, a tradition of his return flights from trips abroad.
The pontiff made the declaration in response to a female reporter questioning whether females would one day serve as Catholic priests and bishops. The Swedish journalist added that Pope Francis had met with the head of Sweden’s Lutheran Church, who is female.
Pope Francis said:
“Concerning the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands,”
His comments make reference to an apostolic letter from 1994, written by St. John Paul II. It declared that Jesus only chose men as his apostles, and so ordaining women was not possible. In a follow up, the reporter asked “Forever, forever? Never, never?”, to which Pope Francis responded;
“If we read carefully the declaration by St. John Paul II, it is going in that direction,”
Pope Francis did note that “women can do many other things better than men,” citing the importance of Mary, mother of Jesus, to the church.
“People ask me: ‘Who is more important in the theology or in the spirituality of the church, the apostles or Mary, on the day of Pentecost?’ It is Mary,”
The Pope was returning from Sweden, to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. In August of this year, Francis set up a commission to study the role of women deacons in early Christianity. This raised hopes among equality campaigners that women could one day have a greater say in the Church, which currently has 1.2 billion members.
Women’s inequality in the Catholic church still remains an issue. Recently, representatives of Catholic priest movements and international lay organisations called for reform on issues including LGBT rights and equality.