VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis said women's "vocation and mission" today remain essentially connected to their capacity for motherhood, but warned against unjustly restricting their participation in the Church or civil society on that basis.
"Many things can change and have changed in our cultural and social evolution, but the fact remains that it is the woman who conceives, carries in her womb and gives birth to the children of men," the pope said Oct. 12.
"This is not simply a biological matter, but carries a wealth of implications for the woman herself, for her way of being, for her relationships, for the way in which we lend respect to human life and to life in general," he said.
"Calling a woman to maternity, God entrusted the human being to her in an altogether special manner," he said.
Pope Francis made his remarks in a speech at an academic conference sponsored by the Pontifical Council for the Laity to mark the 25th anniversary of Blessed John Paul II's apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem (The Dignity of Women).
The pope described it as a "historic document, the first of the papal magisterium dedicated entirely to the subject of woman."
Pope Francis warned there are two ways of betraying women's inherently maternal role: "two opposed extremes that demolish woman and her vocation."
"The first is to reduce maternity to a social role, to a task, albeit noble, but which in fact sets the woman aside with her potential and does not value her fully in the building of the community. This is both in the civil sphere and in the ecclesial sphere," he said.
"I suffer – I speak truly – when I see in the Church or in some ecclesial organizations that the role of service – which we all have and should have – that woman's role of service slips into a role of servitude . . . when I see women who do things out of servitude, and that it is not well understood what a woman ought to do," he said.
But the pope said there is also the "other danger in the opposite direction: that of promoting a type of emancipation which, in order to occupy spaces taken away from the masculine, abandons the feminine with the precious traits that characterize it."
"Woman has a particular sensitivity for the things of God, above all in helping us to understand the mercy, tenderness and love that God has for us," he said.
Pope Francis praised Mulieris Dignitatem for its "profound, organic reflection, with a solid anthropological basis illuminated by revelation," and said the document was a point of departure for further study and efforts at "promotion" of women.
Noting that the Italian word for Church (chiesa) is a feminine noun, the pope exclaimed that the "Church is a woman. The Church is a mother. And that's beautiful, eh? We have to think deeply about this."