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Equality for Women Is Clearly Not on the New Pope's Agenda

Although the new Pope is seen as a reformer, equality for women clearly isn't on the agenda.
 
 
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In light of the historic resignation of one pope and the election of another, my Al Jazeera show  Empire has travelled to Rome asking after the future of the Catholic Church as it bleeds worshipers and loses influence. As we take stock of the new Pope's priorities, it's clear that the role of the women in Church isn't one of them.

Ever since the 4th century Christianisation of the Roman Empire, which gave birth to an imperial Vatican, the Church has had a global reach like no other.

The Vatican has enjoyed religious authority worldwide, directly controlling more than a million bishops and nuns who are followed by 1.2 billion worshipers: more than any other Christian sect.

However, in recent decades, the Church has been losing the faithful at an alarming rate.

In Latin America, the home of half a billion Catholics, the Church has been losing more than a million adherents each year.

And in North America, US bishops closed down 1,373 churches from 1995 to 2010, according to Jason Berry, author of  Render unto Rome: The Secret Life of Money in the Catholic Church - that's more than one parish per week for fifteen years.

While there's been a  surge of believers in Africa and Asia, the Church has lost even more in Europe, including in Italy, which has witnessed a two thirds-drop among churchgoers over the last several decades.

Sex abuse scandals

There is little doubt that the latest sex abuse scandals have played a major role in shrinking the Church's membership and undermining its credibility.

In a recent  New York Times article " Beyond the Bedroom", columnist Frank Bruni argued that "It's on matters of sexual morality that the church has lost much of its authority. And it's on matters of sexual morality that it largely wastes its breath."

And that's true to a large degree, Ending mandatory celibacy would go a long way to deal with much of the hypocrisy witnessed over the years. It would also confirm the Church's pronounced commitment to the family and so-called "family values".

However, sexual matters in all forms - abusive, excessive, "sinful" - are symptoms of a greater problem facing not only the Vatican but also the other organised Abrahamic faiths.

The problem is the monopolisation of power among old men who are unwilling to change any aspect of religion or matter of faith.

Indeed, it's the absence of women from the all decisive and leadership roles that sets up the antiquated Vatican and other organised religions against progress.

Keeping the women down

Within the church, it's the hundreds of thousands of nuns that are the true global foot soldiers for the Catholic empire.

They staff and "man" healthcare centres, hospitals, schools, and orphanages in mostly impoverished Catholic societies around the world where people earn on average less than $2 a day.

But women can't ever reach senior positions in the church. They can't become priests, let alone cardinals or popes: positions that determine the governance of the church and the articulation of its doctrines.

The Vatican has rejected  pleas by one umbrella group that represents most American nuns to include women "in all ministries of our church", including the priesthood.

Instead, the Vatican  accused the "Leadership Conference of Women Religious" last year of numerous grave breaches of doctrine and decorum.

According to news reports, The Vatican has rebuked the organised nuns for spending extra time "promoting issues of social justice" and not enough time speaking about "issues of crucial importance to the life of the church and society", such as abortion and gay marriage.

 
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