Rome — During his regular Wednesday blessing, Pope Francis called it “pure scandal” to pay women less than men for equal jobs, though he gave no indication that he would be testing that theory any time soon at the Vatican.
“Why is it expected that women must earn less than men?” he said. “No! They have the same rights. The disparity is a pure scandal.”
The popular pontiff has not always had an easy time when it comes to women. In one of the first comments he made after his election in March 2013, he raised eyebrows when he told America Jesuit magazine that he was wary of equalizing the sexes too much. “I am wary of a solution that can be reduced to a kind of “female machismo,” because a woman has a different makeup than a man,” he said. “But what I hear about the role of women is often inspired by an ideology of machismo.”
He has also made what could be considered serious gaffes when referring to women in the past. He called a group of intellectual female theologians “strawberries on the cake” at a ceremony inducting them into the Vatican’s Theological Commission and he likened the European Union to a “grandmother who is no longer fertile or vibrant.”
He even joked with a female reporter for Il Messaggero newspaper last year that she ought to remember that “women were taken from a rib” when he was pressed about a greater role for women in the church.
Now, it seems, the pope is changing his tune. In his Wednesday address, the pope insisted that while there are certain parental roles when it comes to maternal and paternal responsibilities, there should be no such divide when it comes to bringing home the bacon, implying that perhaps that inequality actually added unnecessary pressure to family life.
“Many consider that the change occurring in these last decades may have been set in motion by women’s emancipation,” the pope said according to Vatican Radio. “It’s an insult! No, it is not true!”
He also said that people who blame societal problems on women’s rights are wrong. “It is a form of chauvinism that always wants to control the woman.”
The softer stance comes on the heels of more good news for women in the church as the Vatican officially closed both of its highly divisive investigations of American nuns this month. Announcing the stand-down on their website, the American Leadership Council of Women Religious welcomed the truce by issuing a joint statement between their group and the Vatican and personally thanking Francis for “providing leadership and a vision that has captivated our hearts and emboldened us as in our own mission and service to the church.”
However, there is still no indication that the head of the Catholic Church is willing to put them on equal footing within the Church itself. The pontiff has recently championed for women in more leadership roles in the church, although on the issue of women’s ordination, the door is still closed. Last year he told La Stampa’s Vatican Insider that he doubted ordaining women into the priesthood was a good idea. “I don’t know where this idea sprang from,” he said. “Women in the Church must be valued, not clericalized. Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”
While true equality in the Catholic Church is still light-years away, there is little doubt that the gap is closing, no matter how small the steps may be.