Chapter 1 - The Legend of the Female Pope
Chapter 2 - The Legend under Scrutiny
Chapter 3 - The Real Female Pope
For many centuries it was accepted almost without discussion that the priesthood, and pastoral work more generally, was exclusively a male domain. Women had a role within the Christian Church, as nuns or lay workers, but the giving of the sacraments was seen as a male preserve. Recently this view has been questioned. Some scholars have pointed to accounts of the Early Church that indicate women had some sort of a role in the staffing of the Church. Some denominations have recently allowed the ordination of women: the Anglicans from 1992, the United Church of Canada since 1936 and Methodism since it was founded in the 18th century.
The Roman Catholic Church has, by contrast, stood firm against the ordination of women. The issue began to be raised in the 1970s, and more seriously in the 1980s Pope John Paul II issued the apostolic letter "Ordinatio sacerdotalis" in May 1994. In it he stated " the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful." Canon law No.1024 is equally clear "Only a baptised man can validly receive sacred ordination."
It would seem clear, therefore, that Catholic priests must be male. By extension those higher up the ladder of authority within the Church must be male too for only priests may be bishops, archbishops, cardinals or, indeed, pope. And yet for centuries rumours and legends have swirled about that one woman did get to be pope in Rome. The Catholic Church has always denied the stories, but they refuse to go away.