Pope Francis Tells Nuns Not to Be 'Old maids'

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman. This is "The World". Pope Francis has gotten rave reviews from the faithful since taking over the Catholic Church almost two months ago. He's regarded as much warmer and humbler than his predecessor, but he's not immune to controversy as the Vatican may be finding out this week. Yesterday, Francis told an audience of some eight hundred nuns that they should engage in a fertile chastity and generate spiritual children in the church. "The nuns should be like mothers," said the pontiff, "not like spinsters or old maids." depending on the translation. That last thought got a laugh from the nuns in the audience, but Doctor Lavinia Byrne is not laughing. She's a former nun and also a theologian and commentator on women in the Catholic Church. Doctor Byrne, what were your impressions of the Pope's comments saying nuns should avoid being spiritual spinsters?

Lavinia Byrne: I do wish he'd had a proper briefing with some senior nuns because that kind of language, it's so old-fashioned and so inappropriate nowadays. Nobody wants to be called a spinster and nobody really wants to be considered uniquely in terms of their fertility. After all there are lots of married women who don't have children either.

Werman: I mean the Pope also stressed obedience and said that nuns should have an attitude of adoration and service. Was this a rebuke to nuns, and particular nuns in the US who have been calling on to the Church to allow women a more prominent role in the Church.

Byrne: I think so. What I fear frankly is that his reticence is that he's not looking at the of what really should be looked at which is the place of women in general in the Church and the aspiration some women to be ordained. We cannot go on living in the medieval period.

Werman: So if you had a chance, Doctor Byrne, to sit down with Pope Francis in a little one-to-one, what advice would you give him at this point?

Byrne: I'd say to him, "Please, please consider what the Church has done for women. It's changed their aspiration by saying to them, 'You have the right to be well-educated. You have the right to have opinions.' So please take our education and our opinion and don't go on punishment women for a sin they never committed. Ordain them for God's sake."

Werman: Former nun and now theologian and still a practicing Catholic, Doctor Lavinia Byrne. Thank you so much for speaking with us.

Byrne: Thank you.