Pope Francis said yesterday the Catholic Church had to acknowledge a history of male domination and sexual abuse of women and children and repair its reputation among young people or risk becoming “a museum”.
But, in a major document in which he mentioned an array of scandals and again admitted significant failings by clergy, he also said the Church “could not agree with everything some feminist groups propose”, a clear reference to the Church’s ban on a female priesthood.
The Pope is grappling with criticism over the Church’s response to a decades-long clerical sexual abuse crisis that has gravely damaged its standing around the globe and seen it pay out billions of dollars in compensation.
Francis made his comment in a 50-page ‘Apostolic Exhortation’ about a month-long meeting of bishops in October on the role of young people in the 1.3 billion-member Church.
Francis (82) urged young people not to be disillusioned by the sexual abuse scandal, but to work with the overwhelming majority of priests and other clergy faithful to their vocation.
He said clergy sexual abuse was “a tragedy” and asked young people to help the Church in “this dark moment”.
“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,” the pontiff said.
“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,” he said.
Some women’s groups seek a female priesthood.
The Church has ruled this out, arguing Jesus chose only men as his apostles.
This month the all-female staff of the Vatican newspaper’s monthly magazine on women’s issues resigned, saying a new editor sought to put them “under direct male control”. Recent stories in the magazine include one on sexual abuse of nuns by priests. The editor has denied their accusations.
Francis acknowledged the Church had to win back many young people who see it as insignificant in their lives or a nuisance.
He said such a view of the Church can “have serious and understandable reasons: sexual and financial scandals; a clergy ill-prepared to engage effectively with the sensitivities of the young”.
The Church had to keep and attract young people by better explaining its doctrine, he said.
“A Church always on the defensive, which loses her humility and stops listening to others, which leaves no room for questions, loses her youth and turns into a museum,” he said.
A hefty chunk of the document focuses on both the promises and perils of the digital world and dedicates ample space to the plight of migrants.
It uses millennial lingo, calling the Virgin Mary an “influencer” and describing relations with God in computing terms: “hard disk”, “archive” and “deleting”.
Francis wrote that he was inspired by all the reflections from the bishops’ synod and refers readers to the 2018 recommendations.
He said he wanted to use his new text to “summarise those proposals I considered most significant”.