During discussions ahead of a major gathering next year, the Vatican gave a Catholic organization advocating the ordination of women priests space on its website.
While the Church continues to reject women priests, the inclusion of Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC) reference material is part of a widening of dialogue on a range of themes that has gratified liberals while irritating traditionalists.
It comes after a Catholic LGBT rights advocacy group posted material on the same portion of the website dedicated to the gathering, known as a synod, last month.
That publication was criticized by Catholic conservatives who have accused Pope Francis and the Vatican of sending mixed signals on traditional teachings.
“The courageous dialogue called for by the synodal process must include open conversation about women’s ordination,” WOC said in a Tweet welcoming the inclusion of its material on the synod website.
The U.S-based organization’s package of background material is called “Let Her Voice Carry – a Synod Toolkit for Ordination Justice Advocates”.
The group calls itself the “uncompromising feminist voice for women’s ordination and gender equity in the Roman Catholic Church” and its leaders assist at the ordinations of female priests, which Church leaders say are illegitimate and invalid.
The 2023 synod, called “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission” is already steeped in division.
Supporters see it as an opportunity to change the Church’s power dynamics and give a greater voice to lay Catholics, including women, and people on the margins of society.
Pope Francis has said he wants the long consultative phase to be broad and inclusive, but conservatives say the three-stage process of dialogue – local, national and international – may erode the hierarchical structure of the 1.3 billion member Church and, in the long run, dilute traditional doctrine.
The Catholic Church teaches that only men can be priests because Jesus chose only men as his apostles.
Supporters of a female priesthood say Jesus was merely conforming to the customs of his times and that women played a greater role in the early Church than is commonly recognised.
The pope has ruled out a female priesthood, saying the “door is closed” on the issue.
He has allowed women to have greater roles in a number of Vatican departments.