ABOARD THE PAPAL PLANE — On Sunday, Pope Francis called female genital mutilation a “crime” and said the fight for women’s rights, equality and opportunities must continue for the good of society.
“How is it that today in the world we cannot stop the tragedy of the infibulation of young girls? he asked, referring to the ritual cutting of a girl’s external genitalia. “It is terrible that today there is a practice that humanity is not able to stop. It’s a crime. It’s a criminal act!”
Francis was answering a question about women’s rights on his way home from Bahrain. He was asked if he supported protests in Iran sparked by the death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, who was detained by vice squad after allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women.
Francis did not respond directly, but spoke at length about the way women in many cultures around the world are treated as second-class citizens or worse and said, “We have to keep fighting this because women are a gift.
“God (…) created two equals: man and woman,” the pope said.
Francis has done more than any pope to give women more decision-making roles in the church. He has appointed several women to key leadership positions, including No. 2 in the Vatican City State administration, as well as several other high-level leadership positions. He also appointed women — lay people and nuns — as consultors in Vatican offices dominated by male clergy, including those who choose bishops.
“I saw in the Vatican that every time a woman comes in to work, things get better,” he said.
He said society would do well to follow suit, noting that his native Argentina remains a “macho” culture, but such attitudes are “killing” humanity.
“A society that excludes women from public life is an impoverished society,” he said.
Francis was also asked about new cases of sexual abuse and clergy cover-up that have emerged in the French church, with evidence that a bishop has been allowed to quietly retire in 2021 despite having been convicted by a church inquest of spiritually abusing two young men by making them strip naked during confession. Other victims have reportedly come forward since the scandal was first reported.
Francis did not respond when asked if such church sanctions should be made public in the future. But he insisted the church was on the right track, even reviewing past bad canonical investigations and redoing them. He said the church is committed to not hiding abuse even though there are still some in the church “who still do not see clearly, who do not share” the need for justice.
“It’s a process that we are carrying out with courage, and not all of us have courage,” he said. “Sometimes there is the temptation to compromise – we are slaves to our sins.”
But he said the aim was to bring more clarity, noting he had recently received two reports from victims lamenting their abuse and how their cases had been “covered up and then misjudged by the church”.
“I immediately said ‘Study this again, make a new judgment.’ So now we are revising the old judgments which were not done well,” he said. “We are doing what we can. We are all sinners.
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