Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation announcement has re-sparked the debate about diversity in the Catholic Church: It’s time for a Black Pope! It’s time for a Latino Pope! An Asian Pope! But…what about a female Pope? What if instead of a Papa we could have a Santa Madre or a Mater (Latin for mother)? The idea may sound far-fetched, but a recent Washington Post op-ed claims the best choice to replace B16 is a nun.
Being a feminist and a woman—who, as a child, was told I could be anything I wanted to be—I dream of the day when women are allowed to be priests. But I’d settle for a nun being promoted to Pope! If nuns are an example of what a female Pope would be like, the evidence is promising. The work they carry out throughout the world is remarkable: working with needy children and the homeless, victims of domestic violence and immigrants, just to name a few. They live, not in opulent churches and palaces, but many times in harsh conditions such as deserts or disaster areas. Nuns truly live the Gospel daily. They are bravely working with the world’s forgotten, disadvantaged and marginalized populations. Isn’t this what Jesus did, after all?
GOOD FOR WOMEN & GIRLS
I’d like to think that if a woman were the head of one of the largest religions in the world (Roman Catholics count approximately one billion followers), women would not be treated as disposable or second class citizens. Baby girls in China wouldn’t be abandoned and female fetuses wouldn’t be aborted in parts of the world where sons are preferred. In the United States, women would receive the same pay as men. In addition, our roles as mothers would not be seen as a burden, but rather as good for society; and the U.S. wouldn’t be one of the only countries in the world without paid maternity leave.
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With a Mater, I believe that the Church would be more equitable, transparent and democratic. Elections would be held to choose cardinals and other high-ranking officials. A female Pope would be more likely to reach out to other countries, religious leaders and organizations such as the United Nations, to discuss world problems and work together for solutions. A female Pope would look at a study conducted by Guttmacher Institute stating that 98% of Catholic women have used some form of birth control, or the U.N. Report that points to the importance of family planning (and why it is a human right) and not dismiss these, but rather, take them into consideration when making decisions about the rules and doctrines of the Catholic Church that affect women.
In his vast research on women’s issues, renowned journalist and author of Half the Sky, Nick Kristof explains that “when women hold assets or gain incomes, family money is more likely to be spent on nutrition, medicine and housing, and consequently children are healthier.” Kristof found that women spend money on education and healthcare, whereas men spend money on alcohol and outings. Perhaps a female Pope would better manage the Vatican’s resources—we women have a way of making things work and making due with little resources.
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GOOD FOR FAMILIES & SOCIETY
I envision a female Pope’s contributions to the Catholic Church as having a snowball effect: If women were accepted into the priesthood, they could embrace marriage and family life in the priesthood, which could elevate the importance of family life in today’s society. Family is the most basic building block of society. Why should the Catholic Church’s leaders not be allowed to take part in this?
Once priests are part of the structure called family, they would understand the trials and tribulations that a husband and wife experience in their marriage. They would understand that “planning” a family is not against God’s plan, but rather, it is a responsible, loving act towards one’s children, and towards society. When men have a high stake in reproduction, they understand and support it. Furthermore, if more planning were done, maybe fewer abortions would take place. If priests were allowed to be married, they’d probably support family planning and perhaps there would even be fewer sex abuse scandals.
A Santa Madre could elevate women’s status all over the world. Women would have more access to education, more opportunities and better employment conditions (paid leave!) and more protection from violence. If women were empowered to be educated, felt safe and were able to support their families, they could lift their children out of poverty. If children were lifted out of poverty, they could receive an education, which would again decrease their chances of living in poverty. If fewer children grew up to be poor, perhaps there would be less violence and war. I could go on and on, but you get the picture…everyone would benefit. To quote Kristof, “Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.” I only wish the Catholic Church would take heed.