Papal contender says issue of women in church 'secondary'

Cardinal Marc Ouellet weighs in on major social issues of our time, including women's role in the church and the challenges the institution faces in the 21st century.

Canadian cardinal weighs in on controversial issues within Catholic Church during CBC exclusive interview

Cardinal Marc Ouellet Pt. 2

10 years ago
Duration 10:52
Part two of Peter Mansbridge's exclusive interview with Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet.

Marc Ouellet, the Canadian cardinal who many believe has a shot at the papacy, says that questions regarding the role of women in the church, gay marriage and abortion are important but "secondary."

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In  the second part of a world-exclusive English language interview with CBC’s chief correspondent Peter Mansbridge, the cardinal weighed in on major social issues of our time, including women’s role in the church and challenges the institution faces in modern times.

"Obviously these questions are, have their importance, but it is secondary, you know, and it has been always secondary," said Ouellet.

At present, women cannot be ordained, which means they cannot become priests — the first step in becoming the pope.

When specifically asked how far the cardinal would go in letting women be promoted within the church, Ouellet said, "I would not go to ordain ministry, for example, which is always the question that was raised, often, even now."

‘Not easy to move forward’

Therese Koturbash, the international ambassador for, an organization working towards achieving equality for women in the Catholic Church by using theological and academic arguments, said there are three historical reasons why women are not allowed to be priests.

Women were considered:

  • Unclean during menstruation.
  • Inferior in every way.
  • The source of original sin because of the Book of Genesis’ Adam and Eve story where a snake tricks Eve into eating from the tree of knowledge, which God had forbidden the pair from doing.
Marc Ouellet is one of three Canadians — including Cardinal Thomas Collins from Toronto and Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte from Quebec— who will participate in the upcoming conclave to select the next pope. (Patrick Hertzog/AFP/Getty)

Although the cardinal said the church’s current stance toward women "must be kept for the future," he believes there is room for women’s role to grow within the church.

"You have many women working in key positions, even if they are not ordained, but this is open to further development, but we have to go, you know, with the time — and it’s not easy to move forward."

Terence Fay, a Jesuit priest who teaches at the University of Toronto’s school of theology, echoed the cardinal’s sentiments.

"Respecting women and giving them a larger role in the church is very important but, that takes time to move in that direction," said Fay.

He said the pope is the CEO of the largest corporation in the world and, like any administrator moving into a new leadership position, can only move so much on the political spectrum during a term. Making radical changes, such as starting to ordain women, would destroy the pope’s constituency.

"Whereas the Western world may be ready for women clergy and so forth, a lot of the world is just not ready for that yet," said Fay.

‘The great drama of our times’

It will be up to 115 cardinals — the pope's most senior advisers — to convene at the Vatican to elect a successor to Pope Benedict XVI sometime mid-March.

The election will be a historic one, as it has been sparked by Benedict's retirement — the first time a pope has stepped down in almost six centuries.

Ouellet discussed the pressure the College of Cardinals is under with this month's decision. He said he did not believe the church was at a turning point but, rather, a time of "orientation."

Opposed to issues of gay marriage and abortion, the cardinal emphasized the main challenge for the church is helping unite people with God.

"This is a great drama of our times, you know, to live without God," he said. "And so this is the awareness of the church and we have to respond to the need of the people — and they need the creator, they need this relationship."

In the first part of the interview, which aired on March 4, Mansbridge and Ouellet discussed criticism over sex abuse scandals that have rocked the centuries-old institution in recent years, the chance of Ouellet becoming the next pontiff, and what Benedict XVI’s unexpected retirement means for the church in the 21st century.