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Pope Francis on women: A quiz

Which of the following is not an actual quotation from Pope Francis about women?

A. "It pleases me to think that the Church is not ‘il Chiesa,’ it is ‘la Chiesa.’ The Church is a woman! The Church is a mother! And that’s beautiful, eh?"

B. "The woman is essential for the church. Mary, a woman, is more important than the bishops."

C. "We will also talk about the role of women in the Church. Remember the Church is feminine."

D. "Oh, women, women, they are so important. The church herself is a woman, yes? And that is why women are really so much better than men, forgive me if I speak plainly! Without its women the church is like a bumblebee at the post office, as we say in Argentina."

It's a tough call, I know. But believe it or not, that last quote comes from the not-quite-authentic Commonweal interview with Pope Frank. (Here are the sources for A, B, and C.)

Which is why I was surprised to see this:

That tweet, from radio personality Krista Tippett to her more than 8,700 followers, has been retweeted (shared) 30 times. (Although one of those was me.) Glennon Melton shared it with more than 14,700 followers. Then the Twitter account for Tippett's show "On Being" retweeted it to more than 20,900 followers. Only then did someone finally reply to point out that the interview is not real.

It's possible that Tippett knew that all along, and just happened to choose the least jokey line in the piece as a representative quote. I'm not sure how else to explain her tweeting that "quote" instead of any of the similar, actual quotes it imitates. And I can't help but wonder how many people clicked that link, and how far into our interview they read before they caught on. I can't help but wonder, but I'm not sure I really want to know.

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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Tippet may have been too distracted preparing for her upcoming interview with Chris Hadfield about the spiritual dimensions of tension, ambiguity, and light opera to have noticed that it was a parody.

I wasn't sure until about half way through the interview that it was a joke.

Meanwhile, in the real world, Vatican spokesman Lombardi says the idea of women cardina;s ... "is not even remotely realistic."

Lombardi wouldn't say that if he were married.

The clerical male church is still in terror about women. Ask any woman, especially a sister or nun about their own experiences. The clerical ceiling is all about sexual fears and power.

For sure the jury is not out on what Francis' view is on women. But on the point you are making it is so true that people get things so false. Tippet's incorrect reading may not be deliberate. But history in general is often not reliable. That goes for Catholic Church history also. This is why Jesus spoke in parables so that those looking to distort his words would not have any easy time. And why many times people are reluctant to "give a straight answer." Holden Caufield (Catcher in the Rye) said that you can be sure that people will do whatever you say when they do not understand what you are saying. Lying sales people make more sales. Etc. It aint easy. 

Crystal:  Lombardi actually said "female cardinals for the consistory is not even remotely realistic" - See more at:

That is slightly different from shutting off the possibility altogether.

Thanks, Jim  :)

I'm not feeling the love.  I think Pope Francis has the potential to be a very good Pope, but so far has been underwhelming on women's isues. 

Re: Role of Mary being more important than bishops.


I am not sure that there has been a sufficiently developed Marian theology rooted in what we can remotely discern from the gospel accounts.

So much chauvinistic overaly has been read into Mary that it is difficult to discern what exactly is being conveyed when the pope says that women are important to the church and links that with Mary.

The largest amount of text attributed to Mary in the gospels, the Magnificat, is rarely, if ever, present in popular Marian devotions or analysis of her role. Yet, in the Magnificat she is clearly being linked to a whole series of strong, Hebrew women and prophets.

Additionally, even Benedict XVI in his book notes the difference in how Zechariah and Mary both respond to the angels message. Mary is fearless and discerning.

Even though there is a great deal of problems with the whole co-redemptrix notion, there is more than a little truth to it. Jesus, being a man, required someone who understood him to guide him and in some ways, I like to think Mary did this. I think it is a mistake to read our notions of maternal care into that as the relationship was likely different or so it seems

Just one other point on Mary and women. Like women throughout history, Mary was primarily tasked with ensuring the cohesion of the family. I don't think that the evidence supports that the marriage of Mary and Joseph was a convential one as we understand that today. It seems as though he was assigned a task of protector but not lover or partner and that is how he understood it. Add to that the tradition (which i think is correct) that Joseph was a much older man and Mary's role as primarly custodian is underscored.

I think the church tries to promote the idea that Mary and Joseph didn't have a normal marriage in the romantic sense because it freaks them out to imagine Mary having that kind of relationship - thus their baseless assertions that Jesus' beothers were not really his brothers.  There's no mention in the gospels (I believe) of him being an old man or of he and Mary having an unusual marriage arrangement.


It is true that there is no indication of Joseph being an old man but it is an old tradition in the east. Also, it was an unusual marriage arrangment.

What is clear historically is that Mary was pregnant and Joseph was not the father. Matthew goes to great lengths in his geneology to show, in part, how these women of "shame" were pivotal in Israel's history. (Tamar, Rahab (some scholars suggest was a prostitute), Ruth, and Bathsheba is alluded to and he does not mention her by name saying Uriah's wife - you know the one David had killed so he could take up with her! The fact that he identifies her specifically with that episode is telling.)

How many men do you know who are betrothed or whatever we might refer to that today and whose girlfriend or fiance is found to be pregnant would shelter her from embarrasment?

Also, as I have said before, my personal view is that when mary says that enigmatic how can this be since I do not know man, she is referring to the fact that Joseph would certainly not be able to father a child. Otherwise, she would have assumed that she would be pregnant by him. Not a big leap to assume that he is older and as viagra was not available then, it would be pretty difficult for a pregnancy to occur.

We can assume a lot of stuff but we don't know much.  Joseph was probably older than Mary, yes, but why would that mean he wouldn't have a sexual relationship with her, especially given that the gospels explicitly mention Jesus' brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3, Matthew 13:55, John 7:3, Acts 1:14, 1 Corinthians 9:5).  It's one thing to believe Mary was a virgin when she gave bith to Jesus but there's no concrete reason to believe she stayed forever a virgin.  I think it's a construction of later church fathers like Jerome.  The interesting question is 'why' .... why is a perpetually virgin Mary thought better than one who had a normal sex life?

I have wondered about that as well and I would personally not be scandalized if Mary had normal sexual relationships following the birth of Jesus. But she did become devoted particularly to him and was present in the upper room at Pentecost and so did become a disciple which would seem to indicate a singularity of purpose.

But the entire concept of virginity in the early church is an interesting one. I read a good book on that. Virginity was actually a political statement at the time. Roman society saw women as marrying and having children as a patriotic duty to further the empire. Virginity was a deliberate act of pledging allegiance to another kingdom that trumped the conventions of the empire. So women, with their bodies and life, made a statement.

But sexuality has always been a tricky area and the church fathers certainly did have a tendency in some of their writings to couch women as temptresses, etc. etc. And yes, I will concede that there is a kind of anti-sex thread that runs through the church or at least when I was growing up in it and it kind of has stuck.

At the same time, sexual minorities (LGBT) are now including "A" (asexual) people. Some people thing asexual people are abnormal but according to their experience, they lack a strong sex drive. So who knows? Human sexuality is complicated. 

But after going round and round, I accept the churches' teaching on both the virgin birth and the perpetual virginity of Mary on faith and as I grow older, I do see how it is reasonable and not necessarily due to warped views of sexuality.


We'll probably never know  the truth of things like Mary's relationships, and maybe tradition can fill in the blanks.  

We'll know after we die, won't we? Or will we not dare ask? Or maybe not care any more? 

Jerome wrote in the latter 300s, which is probably too late a date for the conception of the doctrine of Mary's perpetual virginity in the West and does not explain the prior existence of that doctrine in the Eastern church.

Another Jerome, Jerome Murphy O'Connor, a priest and Bible scholar who has argued that Mary was embarassed by and unbelieving in Jesus until the resurrection, has cited the virtual unanimity of the early church on Mary's perpetual virginity as his reason for believing that Mary had no other children.

I agree with you that there is not sufficent evidence in the New Testament alone to argue that Mary remained a virgin after the birth of Christ. A third Jerome, Jesuit Jerome H. Neyrey, makes a strong case against the traditional (in the West) "cousins" reading of the gospel passages you mentioned in the HarperCollins Encyclopedia of Catholicism.

Not surprising that the Commonweal "interview" has become a source of apocryphal Internet quotes -- which is a disservice to both pope and faithful.

Wikipedia actually has a page on Mary's perpetual virginity  :)  ...  ... which goes into the history of the traditional belief, with its supporters and detractor - pretty interesting!   

Speaking for myself, I'm unconvinced of the doctrine of perpetual virginity.  The ideas that she was always a virgin, that she was immaculately conceived,  just seem to me like the church's effort to "clean up" a normal human woman so that she could credibly be Jesus' mother.  But the neat thing about Mary (and God) for me is the idea that she *was* just a normal woman, and still God thought she was good enough as she was.

Saying that the Church is a woman or that Mary is more important than bishops seems to have little to do with actual power dynamics "on the ground." I mean, isn't that just gloss?

I don't think many, if any, of our present hierarchs have a sanguine view of Cardinal Newman's motto:  Cor ad cor loquitor.  I wish that heartfelt conversation could make a difference.

As much as I don't like to admit it:  In the matter of women's role in the church, I think we need to rely on our heads, rather than our hearts.

How could Jorge Bergoglio rise to the rank of cardinal-archbishop of Buenos Aires, then be elected pope without the support of the most conservative and reactionary cardinals in the conclave?

How could we now expect Papa Francesco to so easily turn his back on the very men who catapulted him into the papacy by doing something that is considered so subversive?

The most that Catholics could expect from Francesco would be for him to keep the discussion open and on-going for awhile, maybe for the rest of his papacy.

IMHO, in the meantime the only way that we will ever see expanded roles for women in the church is for a national church or bishops conference to demand it, and move to begin ordaining women and married men.  Only something like that would force the Romans' hand.  

And that will not happen until such time as we Catholics reform and renew the priesthood from parish to pope - which will take us years, decades, even centuries to pull that one off.

The fly in the ointment for that very rosey prospect is that unless we Catholic make big changes in the way we do priesthood, we may not make it to the end of this century as it is.

Pope Francis said he would like "a poor church for the poor", but he didn't say that he would like "a women's church for women". He said that "the church is a woman", but he didn't say "the church is poor". In the case of poverty, he has a definite idea in mind and he knows very well that we are not there yet. In the case of women, not so much.

I'm not too optimistic that Francis will do a lot to change the official attitudes towards women.  He obviously likes women (which many hierarchs obviously don't), and no doubt wishes us well.  But I doubt that he has had the opportunity to see many capable women in action, and so I doubt that he realizes what the specific problems are and how deep they are.  He'll see to it that Rome listens to us a somewhat better, but seeing to it that women's potentials are fully utilized by the Church?  Sadly, he has given us no evidence that that will happen.  Band aids.  We'll get  ban aids.  

(And then there's the Holy Spirit.  What will She do?)

...seems to have little to do with actual power dynamics...

It's both offensive and refreshing when people inadvertently come clean, and reveal that, cant aside, all it really is about is power:  Who's got it, who doesn't, and how do I get me some more of that good stuff.

What would Mary say?

Nice try, Mark.

IMHO, in the meantime the only way that we will ever see expanded roles for women in the church is for a national church or bishops conference to demand it, and move to begin ordaining women and married men.  Only something like that would force the Romans' hand.  

Married men and women are different cases, and the barriers are quite different in magnitude.  The topic here seems to be women.

I remember in the early 1980s, when some things seemed more possible than they have in recent years, a priest told me that it could play out as Jim J described here.  He thought that it might happen in the developing world - possibly in Asia, perhaps Africa.  He thought that presenting Rome with a fait accompli could force change.

Based on what we've seen since then, I don't think it would play out that way.  For one thing, I don't think it would be possible to achieve unanimity or consensus among the bishops of a national conference to go down this path.  For another - I think, if Rome were presented with this, it would respond with the hard measures it would deem appropriate.

The path that seems the least unlikely to me right now is the diaconate.  There is a definite movement afoot to ordain women to the diaconate.  This might be the papacy that would acquiesce to that.  Not that the diaconate is a locus of much authority in the church, if that is one of the desiderata.  


If you want people to feel like they belong, they have to have a say in things. That is, they have to have some power, one way or another. 

Maybe people are disaffected from the church institution because they don't have a say - women least of all -, so they don't feel like they belong: the church institution becomes something identified with "them" - pope, cardinals, senior curial officials, bishops, and priests at the parish level. Everything is organized and decided by "them". Our joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties might not even be open for discussion! They, the deciders, are not interested in our opinion or our input. With no power, no influence, no visibility, women may disengage. We're on the outside. It's a different world, we are not part of it (no woman in the sanctuary!), and what they say no longer concerns us. The mystical Church becomes disconnected from the church hierarchy.

Having some power is part of belonging. When we have some power, we become invested in how things go, and some loyalty is built. We want things to work well. We feel responsible. We have a sense of being vested with a mission, however modest, a sense of being part of the Church that is being built.

I know that until the 18th century and a little beyond, there were absolute monarchies, people were loyal to their king and slaves loyal to their masters, but I do not know how that worked and how the church institution plans to bring back that attitude.

Or maybe I'm largely making this up. But I just moved from a place where decisions are taken by the Assembly of Professors, so that every full professor had a real say in decisions, to a place where no one who is not at least chair of his or her department has any power. It makes a tremendous, and quite unexpected, difference in my view of the institution. The former fosters loyalty, the latter naturally tends to lead to disengagement. The point is that it's perfectly valid to complain about lack of power. Shared power is good.

Maybe people are disaffected from the church institution because they don't have a say - women least of all -, so they don't feel like they belong: the church institution becomes something identified with "them" - pope, cardinals, senior curial officials, bishops, and priests at the parish level. 


This may help explain the phenomenon in which many Catholics feel connected to the local parish - where, even though the pastor is at the top of the pyramid, in many instances there are women with real authority and responsibility - but feel considerably less connected to the universal church.

Yes, maybe so.


I suppose that I should be thankful that this blogstream discussion has at least, finally, begun to focus on the sub rosa issue in the ordination of women debate:  Political power in the Catholic Church is solely in the hands of an all-male feudal oligarchy that has lost its legitimacy in the modern world.

I don’t say this because I think it is profound – only because it should be obvious.  Catholics have a political problem, not a theological, or even pastoral problem. 

It is my contention that if you want to change the hearts and minds of the hierarchs about the ordination of women to priesthood (and I would add, married priesthood as well) you are going to have to take away, or severely limit the source of the hierarchs’ power: Unaccountable and unfettered access to mountains of money [in the $billions] with which the hierarchs use to fuel their near complete political hegemony over the church.

This concentration of political power and the wealth to support and underwrite the hierarchs' political agenda has to be broken-up if real, meaningful reform and renewal of the church is ever to evolve.

The Golden Rule of Politics is:  She/he who has the gold, rules.  Once Catholics take away from the clerics the unassailable discretion to spend money, on whatever, the ordination of women will come in due course - Because the PEOPLE are way ahead of the hierarchs on engaging life in the 21st century.

[This should be at least one of the lessons we take away from the recent experience in Limburg, Germany with Bishop “Bling” Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst, don’t yah think?]

The inherent corruption of concentrating all the political power in the hands of feudal oligarchs should not be a surprise to Americans since our form of self-government separates wisely the executive and legislative functions by giving the “power of the purse” to the congress.  The analogous arrangement for the church would be that the PEOPLE decide how the money is to be spent providing a system of checking the political power of the hierarchs.

Face it, the hierarchs, Papa Francesco included, from all the evidence before us, are incapable of making the necessary choices to reform and renew the church. 

Catholics would best not look to the discredited and corrupt hierarchs to lead on the issue of enhancing the role of women in the church.  Only the PEOPLE have the competency to pull-off this historic shift in Catholic Church praxis.

If you want women to be ordained priests, if you want priests to be able to marry, then there is only one way to go:


I'd like to add to my comments this mantra:  Seperate the MONEY from MINISTRY!

The idea that the church might change first in other countries is like what's been happening in the Anglican Communion.  While the Churxh of England is still arguing over women bishops, there have been women bishops for years in the US, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, etc.  The difference is that in our church, no bishops have the courage (or the will) to disagree on this level with high command.  It probably also helps that in the Anglican Communion, the layity does get a part in decision-making.

@ Crystal Watson:  My wife and I have close friends in Pleasant Hill, CA where Bruce is an Episcopal priest pastoring there now for over twenty years.  It's just not getting to play "a part in decision-making."  The PEOPLE are the ones who ultimately control the MONEY.  

That is a huge lever the PEOPLE have to moderate and contain their priests and bishops - who are still the major movers and shakers in their congregations.   But the PEOPLE provide the checks and balances.  

Here in California, when it came time to pick their bishop, Episcopal folks from all over California where included in the process - if they choose to - not just the priests and deacons.

Let's separate the MONEY from MINISTRY.



There is a lot to like about the Episcopal Church  :)

I find it completely ironic that in order to shield themselves from lawsuits relative to abuse, the Vatican argued that Bishops have jurisdiction over their diocese and are not branch managers of the Vatican. This is correct ecclesiology albeit misleading. The Pope does have full and complete ordinary jurisdiction over the whole church (east and west technically).

Still, it is basically correct. However, a bishop may not act outside of the discipline of the Roman Church. So yes, they are branch managers.

Just an example where seemingly abstract ecclesioogy has a profound impact on practice. Ditto for married priests. A bishop could or should be able to ordain a married man to the priesthood if what the Vatican argues legally is correct. Or for that matter appoint a woman as representative on key committees. 

But reform is always happening. I heard that the Capuchins, as a protest to the Vatican policy insisting that only clerics may serve as major superiors, have historically always forwards a brother as major superior just so the Congregation can decline it. But the point is made decade after decade.

What I like about the ECUSA is the idea and independence of the Vestry.  A friend who joined the ECUSA is now on the Vestry and was totally impressed with the way in which the Vicar and Vestry realize that they jointly run that parish.  The Vestry also seems to be the Finance Council.

I'm sure that this brings its own share of problems (Episcopalians lurking here ... please opine), but the Vestry's existence is not dependant on a whim of the Vicar/Rector/Priest in Charge, now does is need to SUGGEST to him/her with the final vote being not the Vestry's.

Another good thing is the relatively small size of Episcopal parishes which means that members had a good idea as to what is going on, who is doing it and how their voice can be heard in a meaningful way.

You have to like that.

"now" should be "nor."


Please introduce an edit feature.  Puhleeeeeeeeeeeez.

Has anybody here ever even been to a clown mass or heard of one happening where they are? I have never. I have seen the picture circulatin around the internet and it is the identical picture every time!!

I think it is largely an urban legend.

The only clown mass I can think of is when the Catholic chaplain celebrates mass for members of congress and parliament but that is not quite the same thing!!

George D. --

Americans seem to have a thing about clowns.  Not only is there the urban legend about clown Masses (I'm still waiting to see an eye-witness report of one), but there is also the urban legend about the evil clowns who kidnap people in the mid-west.

Sure, dressing as a clown might disguise a kidnapper, but it would also draw attention to him, so I say the stories are extraordinarily unlikely.  Dressing as a clown would also disguise a bank robber, but they seem to have better sense than the alleged kidnappers.

I think you've summed up the situation of the bishops very well Crystal--no courage and no will.  They all seem to be crossing their fingers and waiting for the challenges to dissolve.

I agree that there are things to admire about the Episcopal Church, as there are in virtually all denominations.  But while noting that they are our sisters and brothers in Christ, I would also note this:

The term "smaller, purer church" is occasionally tossed about here on dotCom, with a negative connotation: the idea seems to be that those that wish for a smaller purer, church wish to cast out those who are clinging to communion, who are managing to live on the margins.  I daresay that one of the reasons we all embrace Pope Francis is that we sense that he doesn't desire a smaller, purer church.

This outsider's view of the Episcopal Church is that they are quite far down the path, possibly irretrievably, of the smaller, purer church program.  The more they pursue some sort of progressive religious Utopia, the smaller they seem to shrink.  It's not difficult to find individuals, or entire parishes, or now, apparently, at least one entire diocese, that has left the Episcopal Church - has made it smaller - because of the failure (or refusal) to measure up to whatever purity tests the denomination's democratic processes and ideological convictions have established.  

I suspect that the Roman Catholic authorities see the troubles that roil the Episcopal Church, and the Anglican Communion more generally - the divisions, the recriminations, the severing of communion, the lawsuits, the doctrinal flip-flopping on the basis of majority voting, the seemingly inexorable wittling-down of membership, et al - and say, "No thanks".  


". . . the divisions, the recriminations, the severing of communion, the lawsuits, the doctrinal flip-flopping on the basis of majority voting, the seemingly inexorable wittling-down of membership . . ."

Jim P. =

Except for the flip-flopping, doesn't this describe the RCC?  And never forget -- the second largest religiously identifiable group in the U. S. is the ex-Catholics.

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