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Pressed on Women's Role, Pope Emphasizes Tradition

September 18, 1987|From Times Wire Services

SAN FRANCISCO — Pope John Paul II was urged once again today to grant Roman Catholic women a wider role in the church but he responded by reminding women of their traditional role of "begetting and educating their children."

The Pope's speech to 3,000 Catholic laity on the ninth day of his 10-day tour of the nation yielded not an inch to his critics, many of whom say they have grown increasingly estranged from the Vatican because of its refusal to allow equal participation to women.

Later in the morning the Pope offered Mass to an estimated 70,000 people at Candlestick Park.

As the Pope prepared to leave here this afternoon for Detroit, the last stop on his nine-city visit, he once again faced the issues that have dogged him throughout: demands that women, homosexuals, divorced people and minorities have more say in their church.

'Let Me Walk With You'

During an exchange of speeches at St. Mary's Cathedral, Donna Hanson, bishop's secretary for social ministries in Spokane, Wash., urged the Pope to "let me walk with you. . . . Your Holiness, please let me know that you are also willing to walk with me.

"Accustomed as I am to dialogue, consultation and collaboration, I do not always feel that I am heard. . . . Though I know the church is not a democracy ruled by popular vote, I expect to be treated as a mature, educated, responsible adult. Not to question, not to challenge . . . is to deny my dignity as a person and the rights granted to me both by church and society," Hanson said.

John Paul listened attentively as Hanson spoke and, when she concluded to a standing ovation, he placed his hand on her forehead in blessing.

He did not directly answer her but said the church recognizes that the "special gifts" of women are needed more than ever. And in an apparent concession to sensitivities on the issue, he did not use the occasion to repeat the church prohibition on women becoming priests.

'Cooperate With God'

However, his remarks on church doctrine were firm, particularly on the matter of childbearing as a duty and the ban on artificial birth control.

"The love of husband and wife . . . constitutes the first way that couples exercise their mission" as laity in the world, John Paul said.

"The service of life rests on the fact that husband and wife cooperate with God in transmitting the gift of human life, in the procreation of children," he said.

"In this most sacred responsibility, the service of life is united to the service of love in the one conjugal act, which must always be open to bringing forth new life," he said.

'Equal Dignity, Responsibility'

John Paul praised the contribution of women to the life of the church and said their access to the church "must be ensured . . . precisely because of their equal dignity and responsibility."

But he also quoted from "Humanae Vitae," Pope Paul VI's 1967 denunciation of birth control, which is generally considered to be the single most significant document in the estrangement of the American church.

Outside the cathedral, 75 mostly homosexual demonstrators chanted "Shame, shame!" as the Pope exited for the short drive to the stadium, where colorfully dressed dancers and singers entertained.

"No religious figure is going to say to us that we cannot respond fully . . . to members of our own sex," said John Wahl, coordinator of the Papal Visit Task Force, which organized the protests. "God help anybody that tries to stop us."

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