VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s commission of Latin American church leaders is demanding greater decision-making opportunities for women in the church and proposing that Pope Francis call a special meeting of the world’s bishops to discuss women.

The Pontifical Commission for Latin America said after its recent plenary that the church needs a radical “change of mentality” in the way it views and treats half of humanity. The article was published in Thursday’s Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.

The commission members – 22 Latin American cardinals and bishops, plus 15 women who joined the panel for the meeting – said it was both possible and “urgent” to increase opportunities for women at the parish, diocesan and Vatican level.

“This opening isn’t a concession to cultural or media pressure, but the result of a realization that the lack of women in decision-making roles is a defect, an ecclesiological gap and the negative effect of a clerical and macho conception,” the communique said.

They warned that if the church doesn’t fix the problem soon, women will simply leave.

The statement marks the latest evidence that history’s first Latin American pope is increasingly aware that centuries of institutionalized discrimination against women is indefensible today and is hurting the Catholic Church.

Francis personally proposed that the commission make the theme for its plenary “Women, building block of the church and society in Latin America.” He has repeatedly called for greater roles for women in the church, though he has upheld church teaching that the priesthood is reserved for men.

In one of his most significant acts, he created a commission to study the role of women deacons in the early church, amid calls for women to once again assume the ministry to help relieve priest shortages.

The issue of women’s roles in the church is already on the agenda for the next two upcoming synods of bishops – the regular meetings of church leaders at the Vatican. Later this year, bishops will take up issues about young Catholics – male and female – and next year they will discuss ministering in the Amazon, where women are the primary carriers of the faith.

The Latin American commission, though, proposed that an entire synod be dedicated to “women in the life and mission of the church.”

Such a meeting would be fraught, however, given a conference room full of men making and voting on proposals about women.

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