Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, speaks as Monica Maggioni and Anna Maria Tarantola look on during a press conference at the Vatican Feb. 2.

CNS PHOTO | PAUL HARING

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, speaks as Monica Maggioni and Anna Maria Tarantola look on during a press conference at the Vatican Feb. 2.

February 23, 2015
CINDY WOODEN
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE

Saying the history of the subjugation of women continues to have a negative impact on how women are treated, Pope Francis called for greater roles for women in the Church.

Women also need greater workplace flexibility to ensure they can make the best choices for themselves and their families, Pope Francis told the Pontifical Council for Culture Feb. 7.

The pope said the council's study of women's cultures was a topic "close to my heart."

There is a need "to study new criteria and methods to ensure women feel they are not guests, but full participants in the various spheres of the life of society and the Church," he said. "This challenge can no longer be postponed."

The preparatory document for the meeting said that in the West, more and more women between the ages of 20 and 50 are leaving the Church.

Many have "reached places of prestige within society and the workplace, but have no corresponding decisional role nor responsibility" in the Church.

Pope Francis told the council – whose members are all cardinals, bishops, priests and laymen – he is convinced women must be offered space in the life of the Church.

In its Feb. 4-7 assembly, the council explored a range of topics affecting women in both the Church and society.

Those topics included violence against women, cultural pressures regarding women's physical appearance, attitudes that subjugate women or that ignore male-female differences and the growing alienation of women from the Church in some parts of the world.

The preparatory document was published in late January, and four women involved in writing it joined Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, council president, at a news conference Feb. 2 at the Vatican.

Ravasi said he is planning to establish a special group of female consultants in his office to provide women's opinions and points of view on a variety of issues.

The council said the meeting aimed "to identify possible pastoral paths, which will allow Christian communities to listen and dialogue with the world today in this sphere."

It also recognized that in different cultures and for individual women the situation is different.

While cautioning against generalizations, the document rejects the notions that there are no differences between men and women, and that each person "chooses and builds his-her identity; owns him-herself and answers primarily to him-herself."

INPUT FROM WOMEN

In preparing the document and the plenary discussions, the council sought input from women around the world.

However, the process was not without criticism, particularly for the English version of a video featuring an Italian actress, Nanci Brilli, asking women to send in their experiences.

Many women felt the use of a heavily made-up actress ran counter to the point of seeking input about the real lives of most women. The council quickly took the English version off YouTube.

At the news conference, Brilli said, "as a woman, a professional, a mother, I feel like this is the first time we have been asked for our opinion" by the Church.

"The women who responded do not want to be cardinals, but want to take part in the discussion."

In the section on women and the Church, the document described "multifaceted discomfort" with images of women that are no longer relevant.

The Christian community, it said, seems to value women's input even less than the world of business and commerce does.