Pope Francis Has a Woman Problem

03/31/2015 02:22 pm ET | Updated May 31, 2015

Two years into Francis's revolutionary papacy, and it's clear: the Catholic Church still has a significant woman problem, and it isn't getting much better. Shortly after his election, Francis called for a new theology of women, saying that "it is necessary to broaden the opportunities for a stronger presence of women in the church." To date, the church hasn't gotten the memo.

So in the context of Women's History Month, how can the church step up its game?

First the church must acknowledge where it's gone wrong. Women today face a myriad of systemic injustices, which manifest themselves into unfortunate everyday realities. They endure domestic violence, sex trafficking, the gender wage gap, lack of access to education and widespread poverty among many others.

Why hasn't the church spoken more forcefully against these structural sins? Instead, the Church too often limits "women's issues" to sexual ethics, most notably contraception and abortion.

There is no better example than last month's Vatican Conference on Women.

At the four day conference, after discussing gender stereotypes ad nauseum, the Vatican shifted gears to the number one issue facing women globally: the morality of plastic surgery.

At a time where the sexual exploitation of women is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world, where women's access to education remains limited, and where there is a scandalous pay gap between men and women globally, the Catholic Church needs to focus on gender inequality, not the morality of plastic surgery.

Amid this bleak picture, there are signs of hope.

Under the leadership of Pope Francis, the Church is rediscovering the radical discipleship of women throughout its history. And now it can begin to examine new ways to promote gender equality both in the Church and in society. Pope Francis has said that we need a new theology of women, but perhaps more than that we need to recognize more fully the contribution women make every day in this church, a contribution that goes far beyond sexual ethics and femininity.

Kerry Robinson is one such example. A prominent lay woman in the United States, she uses her intellect, business acumen and fundraising capabilities to help create a better managed missionary church.

Robinson isn't alone. Religious women have been fulfilling Francis' call for a missionary church for decades. Sister Dorothy Stang, of the Sisters of Notre Dame De Namur, exemplifies this spirit. She spent much of her life courageously fighting for the rights of poor farmers in the Amazon and sought to protect the forest's rich natural resources from loggers and ranchers. Her prophetic leadership wasn't without cost -- she was martyred in 2005.

These two examples aren't exceptions. Catholic women everywhere are on the front lines and in the trenches, serving the excluded, defending the poor and spreading the joy of the gospel. If these women give it all up in service of the church, they too should be a part of its decision-making authority.

As my colleague Christopher Hale rightly notes, this is the way it was in the beginning:

After Jesus' death, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb to remove his body. On the way there, she encountered a gardener. The gardener revealed himself to be the risen Christ. As Mary ran to tell the other disciples the good news, she held within her the very reason of the church: to share God's saving love in Jesus. In that moment, some argue that she was the church.

The gardener knew what Pope Francis and the church must learn: when you want to get a tough job done, give it to a woman.