Women, she said, “are already doing a lot and many times they do it in silence, just responding to God's vocation wherever God puts them...but there is always a lot happening,” especially in mission territories.
Just because a woman teaching catechesis or caring for the sick in a poor country isn't visible to the rest of the world, it “doesn’t mean she isn’t there and that the Church isn’t growing because of her daily work and giving of herself,” Villa said.
It’s important to know that these things are already happening, she said, but cautioned that while on one hand it’s good to make them visible, “on the other hand you wonder, is it really necessary to make them visible? For whom?”
“God knows. God calls them, they are responding and the Church is growing because of them,” she said, explaining that not all women are meant to be in the global spotlight.
“When they come out to the public like Mother Teresa, that’s wonderful, but not all of them are called to have a public dimension to their vocation,” she said, and pointed to the example of women contemplative orders, who are “always hidden,” but sustain the Church constantly with their daily prayer and devotion.
“They are there in the monastery living their daily fidelity...they sustain the Church and nobody knows about it,” she said, explaining that this is part of the beauty of how women serve, and that this must be valued.
Villa’s instinct that a dangerous and largely unrecognized clericalism often drives the discussion on women, as well as her insistence that those who adopt this attitude have got it wrong, mirror Francis’ own take on the issue.
When Pope Francis told journalists on the way back from Sweden Nov. 1 that women will never be ordained priests, he was likely acting against “the ‘disease’ of clericalism, and the danger of clericalism setting the tone for discussions of women in the Church,” John Allen of Crux wrote.
“Despite the fact that he stands today at the apex of the clerical pecking order, there's a sense in which Pope Francis is the most anti-clerical pontiff in Catholic history,” Allen said, adding that “one has the sense when he uses the word 'clericalism' that he's virtually talking about the sin against the Holy Spirit.”
Pope Francis' innate disdain toward clericalism, particularly surrounding women, can be seen from almost the beginning of his pontificate. In an interview with Vatican Insider in December 2013, Francis responded to a question on whether or not he'd ever consider naming a woman a cardinal.
In his answer the Pope said that “I don’t know where this idea sprang from. Women in the Church must be valued not 'clericalised.' Whoever thinks of women as cardinals suffers a bit from clericalism.”
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Throughout the three years since, Francis has consistently called for a more “incisive” feminine presence in the Church, yet has refrained from limiting this presence to a mere position.
In a May 16, 2015, speech to men and women consecrated of the diocese of Rome, the Pope said that when people tell him “women must be dicastery heads,” his immediate thought is “Yes, they can, in certain dicasteries they can; but what you are asking is simple functionalism.”
Simply putting a woman in charge of a department “is not rediscovering woman’s role in the Church. It is more profound,” he said, explaining that while women are certainly able to hold leadership positions and that this is happening more often, “this is not a triumph.”
“This is a great thing, (but) a functional thing,” he said, noting that “what is essential to the woman’s role is – speaking in theological terms – acting in a manner which expresses the feminine genius.”
“When we face a problem among men we come to a conclusion, but when we face that same problem with women the outcome will be different. It will follow the same path, but it will be richer, stronger, more intuitive,” he said.
“For this reason women in the Church should have this role, they must clarify, help to clarify the feminine genius in so many ways.”