Pope Francis and women cardinals: pipedream or possibility?
Speculation continues at a feverish rate
Picture: Religion News Service
- David Gibson for Religion News Service
- October 21, 2013
Could a woman vote for the next pope?
Pope Francis has said repeatedly that he wants to see greater roles for women in the Catholic Church, and some argue that he could take a giant step in that direction by appointing women to the College of Cardinals – the select and (so far) all-male club of “Princes of the Church” that casts secret ballots in a conclave to elect a new pope.
Whether it’s even possible is a matter of debate. But that hasn’t stopped the feverish speculation, which was sparked last month by an article in a Spanish newspaper in which Juan Arias, a former priest who writes from Brazil, wrote that the idea “is not a joke. It’s something that Pope Francis has thought about before: naming a woman cardinal.”
Arias quoted an unnamed priest — a Jesuit, like Francis – who said: “Knowing this pope, he wouldn’t hesitate before appointing a woman cardinal. … And he would indeed enjoy being the first pope to allow women to participate in the selection of a new pontiff.”
That was enough to start the ball rolling. The report was quickly picked up by Catholic media in Italy and then raced around a church that, in the months since Francis’ election, has been primed to expect the unexpected from this pope.
In the U.S., the Rev. James Keenan, a fellow Jesuit and a well-regarded moral theologian at Boston College, started a post on his Facebook page soliciting nominees for the first female cardinal. Keenan said he wrote the post mainly as a way to recognize the many women who would be “great candidates.” On his list: Linda Hogan, a professor of ecumenics at Trinity College Dublin; Sister Teresa Okure, a theology professor at the Catholic Institute of West Africa in Nigeria; and Maryanne Loughry, associate director of the Jesuit Refugee Service in Australia.
But Keenan is not the first to float the idea.
Just last year, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, was asked during an interview on Catholic television whether a woman could be named a cardinal. Dolan agreed that it was “theoretically” possible, adding:
“You know, in fact, get this, and I’ve heard it from more than one person, that one time somebody said to Blessed John Paul II, ‘You should make Mother Teresa of Calcutta a cardinal.’ … And the pope said, ‘I asked her. She doesn’t want to be one.’”
So what’s to stop Francis from taking that step – assuming he finds a woman willing to say yes?
Source: Religion News Service