Pope Francis says Catholic ban on female priests likely to last forever

Pope Francis today reaffirmed the Roman Catholic Church’s ban on women serving in the priesthood, adding that he believes the ban will likely be forever.

“Concerning the ordination of women in the Catholic Church, St. Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this and it stands, this stands,” the pope said during a news conference aboard a flight from Sweden to Rome on Tuesday. Pope Francis is referencing the late pope’s 1994 declaration that the church has “no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women.”

A Swedish journalist had asked whether the Catholic Church would allow women to be ordained into the priesthood in the future, adding that Pope Francis met with Lutheran Archbishop Antje Jackelen, a woman, during his recent visit to Sweden to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

In a follow-up, the reporter pressed: “But forever, forever? Never, never?”

“If we read carefully the declaration by St. John Paul II, it is going in that direction,” the pope responded, adding however that “women can do many other things better than men.”

Though Pope Francis’s remarks do not contradict his previous statements on the subject — he said in 2013 that the door was “closed” on women becoming priests — in August he approved a commission to study the role of women as deacons in the church, a move which some believed could be a move to end the Catholic Church’s long-standing practice of excluding women from the clergy.

Allowing women to be ordained as priests in the church has been suggested as a solution to the growing shortage of priests worldwide. According to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate, the total number of priests worldwide dropped from 419,728 in 1970 to 414,313 in 2014, while the ratio of Catholics per priest increased from 1,895 in 1980 to 3,126 in 2012.