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The Church Must Address the Role of Women

by Pope Francis

Descriptive Title

Pope Francis' Address to Meeting on 'Mulieris Dignitatem'


On October 12, 2013, Pope Francis received in audience the participants in the study seminar “God entrusts humanity to women”, promoted by the Pontifical Council for the Laity, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the publication of Blessed John Paul II's apostolic letter, “Mulieris dignitatem”, dated 15 August 1988. The seminar was attended by experts and representatives of ecclesial movements, from twenty-five countries and from diverse professional fields. The Holy Father remarked that “'Mulieris dignitatem' is an historical document, the first of the pontifical Magisterium entirely dedicated to the theme of women”, and with reference to the title of the seminar, he observed that in his opinion the key to understanding John Paul II's phrase is maternity.

Publisher & Date

Vatican, October 12, 2013

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Good morning!

I wish to share a few words with you, even if briefly, on the important theme that you have been discussing these days: woman’s vocation and mission in our time. I thank you for the contribution you have made as we commemorate the 25th anniversary of Pope John Paul II's Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem: a historic document, the first of the Papal Magisterium entirely dedicated to the subject of woman. You have especially studied the point which states that God entrusts man, the human being, in a special way to woman (cf. n. 30).

What does this “special entrusting”, this special entrusting of the human being to woman mean? It seems evident to me that my Predecessor is referring to motherhood. Many things can change and have changed in cultural and social evolution, but the fact remains that it is woman who conceives, carries and delivers the children of men. And this is not merely a biological fact; it entails a wealth of implications both for woman herself, her way of being, and for her relationships, her relation to human life and to life in general. In calling woman to motherhood, God entrusted the human being to her in an entirely special way.

Here, however, two dangers are ever present, two opposite extremes that mortify woman and her vocation. The first is to reduce motherhood to a social role, to a task which, though regarded as noble, in fact, sets the woman and her potential aside and does not fully esteem her value in the structure of the community. This may happen both in civil and ecclesial circles. And, as a reaction to this, there is another danger in the opposite direction, that of promoting a kind of emancipation that, in order to fill areas that have been taken away from the male, deserts the feminine attributes with all it precious characteristics. And here I would like to stress that woman has a particular sensitivity to the “things of God”, above all in helping us understand the mercy, tenderness and love that God has for us. I also like to think of the Church not as an “it” but as a “she”. The Church is woman, she is mother, and this is beautiful. You must consider and go deeper into this.

Mulieris dignitatem is set within this context, and offers a deep and organic reflection with a solid anthropological basis illuminated by Revelation. It is from here that we must endeavour once more to deepen and promote an undertaking that I have wished for many times already. In the Church as well, it is important to ask oneself: what sort of presence does woman have? I suffer – to tell you the truth – when I see in the Church or in Church organizations that the role of service, which we all have and should have... when a woman’s role of service slides into servidumbre [servitude]. I don't know if that is how you say it in Italian. Do you understand me? Service. When I see women carrying out acts of servitude, it is because the role a woman should play is not properly understood. What presence do women have in the Church? Can it be developed further? This question is close to my heart and that is why I wanted to meet with you – outside the norm, because a meeting of this kind was not scheduled – to bless you and your undertaking. Thank you, let us carry it forward together! May Mary Most Holy, the great woman, Mother of Jesus and of all God's children, accompany us. Thank you.

© Libreria Editrice Vaticana 2013

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