A retired Italian bishop and several Catholic theologians have suggested that the Vatican take a radical step to make the College of Cardinals—whose main duty is to elect the pope—more inclusive by appointing women to the college.

At present all 183 cardinals are ordained males, the vast majority of them bishops.

"The present system, which restricts to male cardinals the right to choose the pope, is a product of history," Giuseppe Casale, 77-year-old former bishop of Foggia, in southern Italy said. "It [the system] could evolve, changing in a progressive and cautious way to include categories of the people of God who have been excluded until now.

"The current formula for electing a pope is out of date," Bishop Casale added. "We should certainly not act hastily, but neither should we stick rigidly to the present system, putting limits on the work of the Holy Spirit. It is indeed possible to imagine lay cardinals, ordinary members of the faithful, both men and women, participating in the process of choosing the Bishop of Rome [the Pope].

"It should be remembered that the position of cardinal is not covered by the sacrament of ordination, and so there is no problem of dogma [with lay cardinals]. The position of cardinal is simply a product of history, and the method of electing the Bishop of Rome has undergone major changes throughout history."

Severino Dianich, a professor at the Theology Faculty of Central Italy, based in Florence, and president of the Italian Theological Association said, "It is possible there will be some changes in the future."

Professor Dianich added that the sacrament of ordination includes bishops, priests and deacons. While ordination had a divine element and therefore could not be changed, the job of cardinal ...

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