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Nuns not in running for top Vatican job

A nun stands in front of St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican Feb 12. (Tony Gentile/Reuters)

Will the next pope be a Canadian, a Nigerian or a Ghanaian?

One thing is for certain: The pope won’t be a woman.

There’s a simple explanation: there are no women cardinals to elect a female pope. There are no female popes to elect the cardinals. And there are no female priests – at least ones recognized by the Catholic church – to climb the hierarchical ladder and seize the helm of the foundering institution. So the powerlessness of religious Catholic women to alter the increasingly conservative direction of the church is complete.

Not that they’ve given up without a struggle.

Their silence was broken in the last few years by an unlikely movement of North American nuns who created their own pulpit to trumpet women’s rights – and climbed onto buses to spread the message of equality and concern for the poor during a fraught U.S. election.

Their protests, modest as they were, drew furious response from Pope Benedict’s Vatican. Its medieval-sounding watchdog, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, did its own investigation and declared the renegade nuns had “serious doctrinal problems.”  Meaning that they wanted to open discussion on ordination of women, marriage of priests and a range of social issues.

A deeply conservative (male) bishop, Peter Sartain, was chosen to ride herd on the straying mavericks, and bring them back to the ancient principles of the church. Those who didn’t get the point were reminded by a 2010 Vatican law – revised under Pope Benedict – that put women seeking ordination as priests on the same level of sin as priestly pedophiles.

It all harks back to the church’s interpretation of Christ’s appointment of 12 all-male Apostles – a sign, it insists, that women should never hold holy office. But 2000 years ago, women were little more than chattels in many countries. Today, religious institutions are among the few that have not moved on.

Trouble is, many Catholics have. At a time when women are heading governments, parliaments and corporations worldwide, it’s a doctrine whose shelf life has long expired. Meanwhile, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents the nuns trying to drag the church into the 21st century is still under investigation and even threat of excommunication. It can only pray for change.

Olivia Ward has covered conflicts, politics and human rights as a correspondent and bureau chief from the former Soviet Union to the Balkans, Northern Ireland, the Middle East and South Asia.She has won both national and international awards, collaborated on two Emmy-winning films and is one of the few journalists to have a war requiem written to her work.




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The Coda for the election of a Pope in the Roman Catholic Church are clearly outlined: only Catholic Men in good standing may ascend the throne of the Holy Roman Empire.

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