Pope Francis told reporters on the papal plane that the Catholic church's ban on ordaining women priests is likely to last forever.
"Saint Pope John Paul II had the last clear word on this, and it stands, this stands," said Francis on Nov. 1, according to The Guardian.
The reporter pressed him. "But, for ever, for ever? Never never?"
Francis replied, "If we read carefully the declaration by St. John Paul II, it is going in that direction."
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The late pope's 1994 declaration points to the fact that in the Bible, Christ only chose men to be his apostles. "Christ's way of acting did not proceed from sociological or cultural motives peculiar to his time," the document says.
It adds, "in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time."
In his remarks to journalists, the pope emphasized the "feminine dimension of the church," and especially, the role of Mary. "People ask me," he said, "who is more important in the theology or in the spirituality of the church, the Apostles, or Mary? It is Mary."
Earlier in 2016, the pope commissioned a study of the role of female deacons in the early church, signaling that he might be open to expanding the role of women in the church.
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He said in May the church needed to treat nuns with more respect, saying, "Your vocation is for service, service to the church ... but not of servitude ... [If someone asks] you to do something that is more of servitude than service, you are courageous to say no!"
But despite those shows of support for women in the church, Pope Francis' statements in Sweden were unambiguous.
They came following a meeting in Sweden with the female head of the Swedish Lutheran Church, Antje Jackelen. The purpose of the visit was a joint declaration of friendship between Lutherans and Catholics.
The show of unity comes a year before the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's nailing of his 95 theses to the doors of a Catholic church in Germany. His act led to the Reformation in Europe, the schism that split Lutherans off from the Catholic Church.
The declaration says, in part, "While we are profoundly thankful for the spiritual and theological gifts received through the Reformation, we also confess and lament before Christ that Lutherans and Catholics have wounded the visible unity of the church."