VATICAN CITY – Pope Francis on Tuesday assigned a Vatican office to concern itself with the role of women in the Catholic Church and their "equal dignity" – his latest effort to address longstanding complaints of women's second-class status in the church.
Francis approved new statutes for the Vatican's laity and family office, one of the big new departments he created as part of his reform of the Vatican bureaucracy. The original statutes made no specific mention of women.
The new ones say the office should contribute to a reflection "on the identity and mission of women in the church and in society, promoting their participation."
Francis recently appointed three women as consultants for the Vatican doctrine office, the first time in its history. At Francis' request, the Vatican's commission for the Latin American church also dedicated its recent assembly to women, and proposed the Vatican convene a whole church meeting of bishops on women.
The head of the commission, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, recently told the Vatican's women's magazine "Women Church World" that the assembly – which for the first time included women – was an eye-opener for him.
"I have to confess that the meeting profoundly changed the ideas I had on the issue," Ouellet was quoted as saying. As a Canadian, Ouellet said he was familiar with the "near dogma" of women's equality, but said he had never assimilated what that actually meant in his life as a priest, bishop and now prefect of the Vatican's bishops' office.
"I had never had the deepening of an exchange of ideas that we had. Authentic dialogue changes us," he said. During the meeting, which fell during the March 8 International Women's Day commemorations, Ouellet issued a symbolic mea culpa to the women in the room "for all the sins of men against women."