The Catholic Church has far from a clean record when it comes to the issue of human rights in general, and women’s rights in particular. Whilst much of the world has evolved on the issue of women’s rights, the Catholic Church seems to have adopted a slower approach tackling issues such as women’s leadership –which is still a point of much contention within the Church today.
Elected in March as the first Jesuit Pope, Pope Francis has been hailed by many as a potential source of reform for the Catholic Church. He has declared a strong opposition to wealth inequality, choosing to live a simple life and rejecting the Papal apartment as his official residence. This has suggested to many that Pope Francis could be a new kind of Pope– one that may usher in a period of reform, and move away from the seemingly archaic rules of the Catholic Church.
Unfortunately for the 600 million Catholic women in the world, there does not seem to be any indication that Pope Francis will enact any reform on women’s issues. In fact, his previous record does not seem to stray from mainstream Catholic beliefs. Pope Francis’ views fall on a conservative right-wing line, with a strong opposition to homosexuality and same-sex adoption. This provides little hope when it comes to the tackling of social issues within the Church.
As far as women’s rights are concerned, Pope Francis has come out as a vocal opponent of contraceptives and has likened the pro-abortion movement to a “culture of death”. These being key women’s rights issues, it does not seem as if the new leadership will spark a sea of change from the Catholic church any time soon. Until the Catholic Church can provide a more sympathetic pro-life view to those who are in favour of abortion rights, the Church will continue to be at odds with feminist views and isolate a large number of its members.
In a speech on the 3rd of April, Pope Francis stated that women were a “fundamental” part of the Church, as witnesses of the Catholic faith to their children. However, he stopped short of demonstrating support for equal leadership roles for women. It may be considered significant that Pope Francis is making mention of women, and emphasising their importance. What’s more, Pope Francis has stated, “there is a move towards putting more women in key roles where they are qualified”. However, until the new Pope and the Catholic Church recognise that human rights are inclusive of women’s rights, and that equality is a fundamental right, the Church will not progress. Simply recognising that women have a role in the Church is not enough –the Church must recognise that women’s roles in the Church are equal to those held by men.