Pope Francis has again publicly indicated he is not considering appointing women to leadership positions in the nearly all-male Vatican bureaucracy, saying to do so would be to promote a "functionalism" of women's roles in the Catholic church.
But the pontiff has also indicated an equality in ministry between men and women in the church, saying that all women have the "same work" the Virgin Mary had in receiving the Holy Spirit along with the twelve apostles at Pentecost.
Speaking in a rambling off the cuff address to priests and religious of the Salesians of Don Bosco in this northern Italian city Sunday, the pope said he is often asked: "But don't you have to make stronger decisions on women in the church?"
"Oh, certainly," Francis replied to his own question. "But do you think nominating the head of a dicastery will be a strong decision?"
"All believe that this is a strong decision," he continued. "This is a 'functionalism.'"
"The woman in the church has the same work ... that the Madonna had with the Apostles on the morning of Pentecost," said the pope. "The Apostles without Mary wouldn't work. Jesus wanted it this way."
Francis was speaking Sunday during a two-day visit to Turin, the historic and once Italian capital on the country's northwestern French and Swiss borders. The pope is in the city partly to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of St. John Bosco, the Salesian founder.
The pontiff was speaking extemporaneously to religious of the order after declaring his prepared text "too formal." He spoke about women while speaking about three "white loves" he said had permeated Bosco's life: that of the Madonna, of the Eucharist, and of the pope.
Women in the Catholic church are not allowed to be ordained as priests, and thus cannot administer the sacraments or serve in key governance positions.
While Francis has said he is not considering the question of women's ordination, many have asked if he might be considering appointing more women to leadership positions in the Vatican bureaucracy. There is currently only one woman serving at leadership level among the various church offices.
Pentecost is celebrated by the church as the day when the apostles and about 100 others, including Mary, received the Holy Spirit and were sent forth able to speak in every language, in order to proclaim the Christian faith to all.
Francis also spoke in his address about the need to help find work work for young people in Italy, which has a some 40 percent unemployment rate for people under 25. The pontiff suggested that Salesians, who have a teaching charism, could help young people learn crafts so they could earn money.
Earlier on Sunday, the pope met in Turin with representatives of laborers and entrepreneurs in the city, calling on them to not blame immigrants for their struggles. He also celebrated Mass in a crowd of thousands that dominated the city's Piazza Vittorio, one of Europe's largest open-air squares.
The pontiff also prayed in front of the famous Shroud of Turin and called it an "icon of love" that can represent "the face of every person who is suffering and unjustly persecuted."
Francis, whose parents emigrated from near Turin to Argentina, is to spend time with members of his extended family Monday afternoon.
[Joshua J. McElwee is NCR Vatican correspondent. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @joshjmac.]