VATICAN CITY – The Catholic Church is not going to change its position on the inadmissibility of women priests, Pope Francis said, but it does have to stop linking all decision making to ordination.
In his apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium (The Joy of the Gospel), Pope Francis wrote that women need a role in the Church's deliberations.
"I readily acknowledge that many women share pastoral responsibilities with priests, helping to guide people, families and groups and offering new contributions to theological reflection," the pope wrote.
At the same time, he said, "demands that the legitimate rights of women be respected, based on the firm conviction that men and women are equal in dignity, present the Church with profound and challenging questions which cannot be lightly evaded."
"The reservation of the priesthood to males, as a sign of Christ the spouse who gives himself in the Eucharist, is not a question open to discussion," he said.
"But it can prove especially divisive if sacramental power is too closely identified with power in general."
The idea that ordination equals power not only robs the Church of valuable contributions from women, he said, it presents a misguided view of the priesthood and the sacraments.
"The configuration of the priest to Christ the head - namely, as the principal source of grace – does not imply an exaltation which would set him above others," Pope Francis wrote.
Even when considering the priest's role within the hierarchical structure of the Church, he said, "it must be remembered that 'it is totally ordered to the holiness of Christ's members.'
"Its key and axis is not power understood as domination, but the power to administer the sacrament of the Eucharist; this is the origin of its authority, which is always a service to God's people."
Pope Francis said the Church and society need women and always have benefited from their contributions, including "the sensitivity, intuition and other distinctive skill sets which they, more than men, tend to possess."
"I think, for example, of the special concern which women show to others, which finds a particular, even if not exclusive, expression in motherhood.
"But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church," including "the possible role of women in decision-making in different areas of the Church's life."