VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis said Tuesday women have “legitimate claims” to seek more justice and equality in the Catholic Church, but stopped short of endorsing more sweeping calls from his own bishops to recognize the “urgency of an inevitable change” to give them leadership roles.
Francis issued a document inspired by an October 2018 meeting of the world’s bishops on better ministering to today’s young Catholics. The meeting was marked by demands for greater women’s rights, and the bishops’ final document called the need for women to have positions of responsibility and decision-making in the church “a duty of justice.”
In his lengthy document, “Christ is alive,” Francis endorses no such conclusion. He says only that a church that listens to young people must be attentive to women’s “legitimate claims” for equality and justice, and must better train men and women who have leadership potential.
“A living church can look back on history and acknowledge a fair share of male authoritarianism, domination, various forms of enslavement, abuse and sexist violence,” Francis writes. “With this outlook, she can support the call to respect women’s rights, and offer convinced support for greater reciprocity between males and females, while not agreeing with everything some feminist groups propose.”
The document, known as an apostolic exhortation, covers a wide range of issues confronting young people today, noting that many feel alienated from the Catholic Church because of its sexual and financial scandals, and are themselves suffering from untold forms of exploitation, conflict and despair.
A hefty chunk of the document focuses on both the promises and perils of the digital world. It calls for an urgent reform of Catholic schools and youth ministry programs, saying they are often focused on self-preservation and protecting the young from outside errors, and are divorced from the reality of the lives lived by the young.
“At times, in the attempt to develop a pure and perfect youth ministry, marked by abstract ideas, protected from the world and free of every flaw, we can turn the Gospel into a dull, meaningless and unattractive proposition,” he writes. “Such a youth ministry ends up completely removed from the world of young people and suited only to an elite Christian youth that sees itself as different, while living in an empty and unproductive isolation.”
The document acknowledges the importance of sexuality to young people as part of their development. But it uses the term “homosexuality” only once in the entire 299-paragraph document, and doesn’t repeat the language of the October 2018 synod final document calling for deeper anthropological, theological and pastoral study on sexuality and sexual inclinations.