VATICAN CITY, ROME — As Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world gather for a conclave in Rome, and pilgrims watch for the white smoke that heralds a new pope, some Catholics are pushing for more progressive actions, such as allowing women into the priesthood.
Time can appear to move slowly at the Vatican, where religious orthodoxy rests on solid pillars.
But Giuseppe Visotto thinks the time has come for a little flexibility. “The church has to adapt to modern society. The world is changing rapidly and the church has to follow in each and every respect,” he said.
Half a world away, one Catholic congregation meeting in a Protestant church in Baltimore, Maryland, has already cast aside the prohibition on female clergy.
They are part of a movement that started in Pope Benedict’s native Germany in 2002. There are now around 150 ordained Catholic women worldwide, and Gloria Carpeneto is one of them.
“Women represent half the experience in the world,” Carpeneto said.
She adds, the church loses out by limiting the priesthood to men. It’s not that they do not understand women, she says.
“But there are some unique experiences that women in the pews have and they’ll never hear those or see those reflected if there’s not a woman’s voice," Carpento said. "Nor will the men in the pews by the way. ”
Ryan Sattler agrees. “God does want women - Jesus wants women - to be full members of this beautiful traditional church we call Catholic,” he noted.
Around one third of people raised as Catholics in America have left the church. Some join Protestant denominations that do ordain women.
So why not do the same?
“Many Roman Catholic women priests have asked that of themselves, because it would be like that [snaps fingers],” explained Carpento.
But she says it would be unfair for the church to say to them: “‘We raised you. We called ourselves your mother. We kept you in the fold. We taught you. And now when you are in the fullness of your spirituality and you want to serve God, go down the street, the Episcopals will take you," said Carpeneto. "That’s just the craziest thing!”
So they hope things will someday change.
The Vatican has decreed that any bishop who ordains a woman priest is automatically excommunicated.
Despite this, Italian priest Romulo Fenu says women are revered in Roman Catholicism. “The woman, with Christ’s Maria, acquires a fundamental importance in the life of the church," he said. "So it’s absolutely not discrimination.”
Sister Clare Marie Klein, a member of the Felician Sisters order, shares that view.
“Oh, absolutely, I think if Christ wanted to ordain women, he would have ordained his blessed mother, like she is seen as the highest but that does not downgrade the dignity of women at all," she said.
It’s widely expected that the next pope will be at least as conservative as his predecessor. But if he is, he risks driving away even more progressive Catholics from the body of the church.