Women Missing from the Pope’s Address to US Bishops by Gina Messina-Dysert

Gina Messina-Dysert profilePope Francis offered many words of wisdom and discussed key issues in his address to US Bishops in Washington DC.  He acknowledged the sex abuse scandal as a crime and called for bishops to be healers.  He asked that bishops move beyond their own perspectives and be open to dialogue.  And his personal call to act as pastors to immigrants in the US is one that we should all adhere to.  However, I must ask, what about the women?

Noticeably absent from Pope Francis’ address are the many issues that are directly connected poverty and keep women suppressed in the Catholic Church. While he has addressed particular women’s issues on certain occasions, the pope’s comments have been brief and not followed with action. In addition, they do not honor the ongoing struggles women endure as a result of institutional violence that stems from Vatican teaching.

Refusing women’s ordination, denying reproductive rights, and maintaining a theology of complementarity, calling it an “anthropological fact,” continues a culture that perpetuates gender based violence; one that does not offer pastoral care.

In his address to the bishops Pope Francis stated, “The path ahead … is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyteries, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly.”

He continued, “Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his hear. Although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”  Yet, not acknowledging women seems to eliminate the option of dialogue on these issues.

While Francis did mention abortion and called for bishops to “not look the other way,” he did not mention the women who struggle with such decisions.  It seems lost on the pope and bishops that women make such decisions with care and that many feel continually abused for choosing their own health and safety.  Likewise, this ignores the complexities that exist in relation to reproductive justice and its interconnection with poverty.

Although Francis has stated that we need a new theology of women, he has made clear that the door to priesthood is closed.  How does this offer effective dialogue with the many women who have been called to the priesthood?  What about a priesthood of laity? Can we not embody the Spirit of Christ?

While Pope Francis has called for dialogue, I wonder, when will women will be welcomed to the conversation?



Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D., is Dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies at Ursuline College and Co-founder of Feminism and Religion.  She is the author of Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence (Routledge, 2014), and co-editor of  Feminism and Religion in the 21st Century (Routledge, 2014) and Faithfully Feminist (White Cloud Press, 2015).  She is a widely sought after speaker and has presented across the US at universities, organizations, conferences, and in the national news circuit including appearances on Tavis Smiley and MSNBC.  Gina’s WATER Teleconference, “In Search of Healing: Confronting Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence,” can be accessed here.  She has also spoken at the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations to discuss matters impacting the lives women around the globe.  She is active in movements to end violence against women and explores opportunities for spiritual healing for those who have encountered gender-based violence.  Gina can be followed on Twitter @FemTheologian and her website can be accessed at http://ginamessinadysert.com.

Categories: Catholic Church, Feminist Theology, Vatican

Tags: , , , , ,

5 replies

  1. There’s a telling scene in the play and movie by John Patrick Shanley, Doubt (2008), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doubt_%282008_film%29 that shows what’s been going on in the Catholic Church for centuries and what the pope is not addressing. It’s suppertime. The nuns are eating gristle and drinking water. They hardly speak. The priests are eating prime rib, drinking good wine, smoking cigars, and, well, whooping it up.

    I’m glad Francis spoke about pedophilia and more or less chastised the bishops, but until he attends to women, I’m not a really big fan.


  2. Going off of what Secretary General Ban’s stated at the UN after Pope Francis spoke, as we continue to talk about the caring for the environment, preferential treatment of the poor, and overall themes of liberation – these things can never truly be resolved until the issue of gender inequality is resolved – and you hit the critical component of that missing dialogue. Only with the additional of recognizing gender equality will the underlying message of liberation be truly implemented.


  3. Priesthood of all believers (or laity)? That’s Martin Luther not Catholicism. I’m not holding my breath on any doctrinal changes from Francis or those who follow.


  4. Excellent commentary, Gina. Thank you.



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