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Francis says John Paul II ruled out women as priests

The current pope, too, appears to have ruled out women's ordination. Francis says the "last word" on the question was delivered two pontiffs previous, by St. John Paul II, and that he does not foresee any changes.

Pope Francis said he believed the Catholic Church's ban on female priests would endure - possibly forever. "The last word was clear and was given by St. John Paul II, and it stands," Francis said.

In his 1994 apostolic letter, Pope John Paul II declared that "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."

The Catholic church bans the ordination of women because Jesus chose only men as his apostles, but supporters of women in the priesthood say Christ, the faith's central figure, had only followed the cultural norms of his time. Equality activists say the church's global priest shortage could lead a future pope to overturn John Paul II's decision.

In August, Francis set up a commission to study the role of women deacons in early Christianity, raising hopes among equality campaigners that women could one day have a greater say in the church that regularly claims around 1.2 billion members worldwide.

Though they cannot celebrate Mass, deacons can preach, teach, and conduct baptisms, wakes and funeral services.

'Receive a refugee'

Francis received a warm welcome from the 18,000 people who braved the weather to see him at Malmo's soccer arena on All Saints' Day. The pope called on Catholics and Protestants to unify in "a way of living and acting that draws us close to Jesus and to one another." He invoked Swedish saints Bridget of Vadstena (1303-73), who founded the Order of The Most Holy Saviour, canonized in 1391, and Elizabeth Hesselblad (1870-1957), whom he canonized this year.

The pope had arrived Monday for a joint commemoration of the Reformation - the origin of the Catholic-Protestant schism. Sixty-four percent of Sweden's 9.9 million people belong to the country's Lutheran Church, which is led by a woman. "Our separation has been an immense source of suffering and misunderstanding," the pope said in his sermon in Lund cathedral on Monday.

On Tuesday, Francis - who has called on the EU to take in more displaced people - allowed that governments could assess their integration capacities when accepting new residents. In 2015, 1 million people sought asylum in the EU. Sweden granted refugee status to 245,000 people in 2014 and 2015.

"I think that, in theory, you can't close your heart to a refugee," the pope said. "It isn't human to close the doors and the hearts."

Watch video 25:57

Faith Matters - The Archbishop: A German Clergywoman in Sweden

mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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