Pope calls gender wage gap 'pure scandal.' But does he practice what he preaches?

At his weekly general audience remarks in St. Peter's Square, Pope Francis decried the wage disparities between men and women. But what about the Vatican's employment practices?

Alessandra Tarantino/AP
Pope Francis arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican , Wednesday.

In comments widely covered by media, Pope Francis championed women's employment and equal pay, calling wage disparities between men and women "pure scandal."

But a closer look at the Vatican's hiring practices suggests the Pope may have some work to do in his own backyard.

"Why is it taken for granted that women must earn less than men?" the Pope told tens of thousands of people at his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square. "No! They have the same rights. The discrepancy is a pure scandal," he said, adding that Catholics must "decisively support the right to equal pay for equal work."

The 78-year-old Pope's comments on wage equality were actually part of a wider reflection on the role of marriage in society. But it was his comments about equal pay that drew the most interest.

Francis said that Christians around the world, whose faith tradition espouses "radical equality" between spouses "must become more demanding" in achieving that equality in the workplace.

In the US, which has made progress toward closing the pay gap, including such programs as President Obama's Equal Pay Day measures, designed to bolster enforcement of equal pay laws, there still isn't a single state where women are paid as much as men, a report by the American Association of University Women found. In fact, on average, women make 78 cents for every dollar earned by a man.

But according to recent reports, when it comes to hiring women, the Vatican itself has a less-than-stellar record.

In 2014, only 18 percent of Holy See employees were women, according to statistics released on the eve of International Women's Day and reported by the Associated Press.

In Vatican City's government, which runs the Vatican Museums, the Vatican supermarket, the pharmacy, and the department store, 19 percent of employees were women in 2014.

The Vatican itself views the same statistics as a sign that the presence of women is growing at the Vatican, pointing out that the number of women employees of the city-state's government has nearly doubled over the past decade, from 195 in 2004 to 371 in 2014, from 13 to 19 percent.

Because the Vatican doesn't provide financial or earnings data, it is difficult to calculate and compare wages of the men and women who work there.

But no matter how you consider the statistics, there's no disputing the fact that women rarely hold top offices in the Vatican. And though Francis has pledged to give women a greater role in the Roman Catholic church and the Vatican bureaucracy, he has ruled out the possibility that women could become priests or head congregations (or pope, for that matter), saying the "door is closed."

Francis also drew scrutiny recently for some tone-deaf comments about women, as the AP reported. "He said Europe in many places resembles an "infertile" grandmother. He urged nuns not to be "old maids." And he welcomed new female members of the church's most prestigious theological commissions as "strawberries on the cake.""

While Pope Francis may have some work to do bolstering the Vatican's employment practices – and perhaps polishing his own gender-themed commentary – this is not the first time the Vatican has spoken out on gender equality.

In 1995, Pope John Paul II wrote a “letter to women" addressing inequality head-on. He said "there is an urgent need to achieve real equality in every area: equal pay for equal work, protection for working mothers, fairness in career advancements, equality of spouses with regard to family rights.”

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