Historically, women have been shut out of the priesthood. This has translated into a lack of women in high positions, exhibiting a "glass ceiling" within the church. The Catholic Church has been losing support in recent years, possibly due at least in part toward its attitude toward female priests.

The new Pope Francis has made some positive statements encouraging an increasing role for women both in the church and in the workplace. However, it is unclear what effect his words will have because the former Pope John Paul II also praised women for their "charisma" and place in the church, yet during his rule seven women were excommunicated after being ordained as priests.

The position is contentious and, during the last Pope's papacy, a priest who supported women's ordination had even been defrocked. Female ordinations in the future will be a test of how Pope Francis will control this particular issue in his church.

The new Pope previously made clear back in November that the ban against women's ordination will stand. Although he encouraged what he called "the indispensable contribution of women in society, in particular with their sensitivity and intuition toward the other, the weak and the unprotected," his view on the ban is that it should stand.

He added that "many women share some pastoral responsibilities with priests in looking after persons, families and groups," saying that "spaces for a more diffuse and incisive presence in the church" should be expanded.

The ban forbidding women from becoming priests seems to fly against the Pope's stated mission of making the Catholic Church more welcoming. The Church's main argument for the ban is that Jesus and his apostles were men.

His statements about how he hoped women could get more positions in the public and professional spheres was made in Italy, where women have the lowest rate of workplace presence in the European Union.