Equality for Women Is Clearly Not on the New Pope's Agenda
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The new, conservative Pope Francis has thus far shown himself to be more humble and open than his predecessor. But avid observers I spoke with in Rome don't see in him as an advocate of equality for women in the Church.
It's no coincidence then that American nuns are also leaving the church in record numbers, according to Catholic World News. Their number has dropped from 180,000 nuns in 1965 to 75,000 in 2002, and to 56,000 today. They are expected to drop to well below 40,000 by 2020.
Democratising the Church
The Church has long made humanitarianism, at least in theory, a hallmark of its Christian mission. But the humanitarian surely begins with fairness and equality to half of humanity: women.
It is common sense that women who make up the majority of the Church's worshipers, should have equal influence over a church in crisis and incapable of truly reforming itself.
Strangely, the Church recognises hundreds of women as "Saints" for their "great deeds or meritorious conduct", yet won't recognise them as priests or cardinals.
Many women have lost their lives in defence of the faith, but they aren't entrusted with the bureaucracy of the Church.
Just as women are breaking the glass ceiling everywhere to become ever more influential in most fields, the Vatican is lowering the ceiling on its own.
But Pope Francis who comes from a predominantly Catholic country knows all too well that Argentina and its neighbours Brazil and Chile - all influential Latin American nations - have been led by democratically elected women, Kirchner, Dilma, and Bachelet, respectively.
Why not the Vatican? Why should it remain an exclusive club for men?
It's hardly revolutionary to argue that progressive and feminist voices are ever more needed - on all levels of authority - to undo the terrible imbalances and abuses of power in the church.
In fact, only such infusion could truly save the church from its own excesses and better prepare it to deal with modernity. And I don't mean dealing with issues limited to women such as contraception, but rather the broader challenges facing the church in the 21st century.
And this is a bottom-up struggle as it is a top-down necessity.
While I am not sure that nuns can or even want to liberalise the church, I am certain women are more likely to be progressive and fair than the men currently controlling and, in some cases, abusing the power of Vatican's bureaucracy, the Curia.
Alas, lack of fairness and equality isn't limited only to the Vatican. After all, a woman cannot become Pontiff for the same reason that she can't become an Ayatollah, a Chief Rabbi, head of Al Azhar, or a Patriarch: it's about old men controlling powerful institutions in the name of god.
Remember, power has no religion.