In St. Peter's Square Francis started off with the evangelical story of the resurrection to promote the “primary and fundamental” role of women in the early Church and today's Church.”
John Paul II had spoken about the female brain and Benedict XVI poured praise on female figures such as Hildegard of Bingen, Dorothy Day and Etty Hillesumon, on more than one occasion.
Pope Francis appeared to be taking a step forward by washing the feet of two young female offenders during his recent visit to the Casal del Marmo prison in Rome.
But any kind of majorly revolutionary move from the Pope, such as conceding the priesthood to women, seems unlikely.
The Pope's emphasis on the role of women in the Church could mean that the Church is going to pay systematically greater attention to the female question.
A theologian who is close to the new Pope, German cardinal, Walter Kasper, recently asked himself: “Can't today's Church do something similar to what it did back in the 3rd-4th century when it created a sort of sui generis ministry with female deacons to baptise adult women? Given today's challenges, couldn't it establish a ministry for women (not the diaconate) but a body with an independent profile, as it did in the past?”
The German Episcopal Conference has expressed its commitment “to promoting the role of women further, respecting their responsibility, entrusted to all Christians for the life of the Church” and “increasing the number of women in positions of responsibility.”
The Archbishop of Milan, Angelo Scola, underlined that Francis' focus on the role of women “is hugely important.”
But while Rome appears to be opening up to the gentler sex, Moscow remains closed to to it.
The Patriarch of Moscow and All Russias, Kirill, warns against the “danger” of feminism, condemning the existence of a propaganda which encourages women to take on roles that jeopardise their household and family duties.
“I believe that this phenomenon, feminism as it is called, is very dangerous,” Kirill said in a speech to an organisation of Ukrainian Orthodox women, the content of which is published on the official website of the Russian Orthodox Church.
“Feminist organisations proclaim a pseudo-freedom for women, which must be manifested outside of marriage and the family,” Kirill said, adding that “it is the man's job to take care of things outside the home; he must work and earn, while the woman's place is inside the home, looking after the family.”
“If this incredibly important role the woman has is broken, then everything else will collapse along with it: family and, in a broader sense, the country,” he added.
Nevertheless, Kirill did say he was in favour of women pursuing careers, as long as they got their priorities straight, fulfilling their duties as wives and mothers.
The Patriarch’s statements came in light of the latest protest staged by feminist group Femen, which focused its attack on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is currently attending the Hannover Messe show.
Topless Femen members turned up at the fair shouting “Fuck the dictator”, provoking a half ironic, half scornful reaction from the Kremlin's leader.
The Russian Orthodox Patriarch was also one of the major critics of the Pussy Riot, the punk feminist group, whose anti-Putin performance in Moscow Cathedral led to one of its members being sentenced to two years in a labour camp.
So the Pope and the Patriarch are divided over the issue of women.
Rome is supporting them, while Moscow is condemning feminism.