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On NBC's 'Today,' Maria Shriver Frets Over 'Stained Glass Ceiling' for Catholic Women

Appearing on Tuesday's NBC Today as part of its Vatican coverage of Pope Francis's installation mass, former correspondent Maria Shriver offered a report that urged the Catholic Church to allow female priests: "Catholic women, and nuns in particular....cannot be ordained, they cannot say Mass and they cannot vote for the pope. Now millions of women think it's time for the hierarchy of this Church to open its eyes to the reality of what women can and should be allowed to do." [Listen to the audio]

Speaking to Sister Judith Zoebelein, a high-ranking Vatican official, later in the report, Shriver wondered: "You know in the United States, we often talk about the glass ceiling for women professionally. Is there a stained glass ceiling?" The headline on screen throughout the segment read: "The Stained Glass Ceiling; Maria Shriver On Women's Roles in the Catholic Church."

Shriver included sound bites of dissenter nun Joan Chittister proclaiming: "The woman's issue is a big one because they feel that they are made invisible by the Church....I really want those questions of ordination, of participation, of inclusiveness, I want them to be very high on the Church agenda. We can't ignore them much longer."

In a 2010 interview with LifeSiteNews.com, Chittister labeled the Church as "sexist" and questioned the Church's opposition to contraception and abortion. In an article she co-authored on The Huffington Post in October of 2012, Chittister and Rabbi Arthur Waskow fretted over the "suicidal silence" over climate change in the presidential debates and remarked: "Today the Pharaohs are the drug lords of fossil fuel and the overseers of degrading disemployment."

Shriver touted how "many" in the Church "are hoping this pope has the courage to reform the Church from the inside out, and include many who have felt marginalized....America is a deeply spiritual nation and many who work in the field say the Church better open up or risk losing its faithful."

Shriver even turned to people of other faiths to criticize the Church, asking Rabbi David Volpe: "Everybody is watching this transition in Rome with bated breath. How will they handle women? How will they handle past sexual abuses? How will they handle divorced Catholics? Gays? Are you hearing people talking about that in your pews as well?"

Volpe replied: "Anybody who's done any work in the developing world knows the Catholic Church does remarkable things. They also would have seen a systemic violation of what it is that the Church stands for, and people crying out and not being heard."

The day after Pope Francis was elected, NBCNews.com posted a papal "to-do list" that urged women and married priests, as well as "modernization" on social issues like gay marriage and abortion.

Here is a full transcript of the March 19 report:

7:31AM ET

MATT LAUER: We're going to begin this half hour with that question about what the future holds for women in this Catholic Church. Maria Shriver is one of the more than 30 million Catholic women in the United States alone. Maria, welcome back, good to have you here.

MARIA SHRIVER: Thank you so much, Matt. Well, people all over the world are incredibly excited, as we know, about this pope, and perhaps no group is more hopeful than Catholic women.

[ON-SCREEN HEADLINE: The Stained Glass Ceiling; Maria Shriver On Women's Roles in the Catholic Church]

Catholic women, and nuns in particular, have long run the parish schools, the hospitals and they have cared for the sick and the poor. But as we all know, they cannot be ordained, they cannot say Mass and they cannot vote for the pope. Now millions of women think it's time for the hierarchy of this Church to open its eyes to the reality of what women can and should be allowed to do.

SISTER JOAN CHITTISTER: The woman's issue is a big one because they feel that they are made invisible by the Church.

SHRIVER: Sister Joan Chittister is a Benedictine nun from Erie, Pennsylvania.

CHITTISTER: I really want those questions of ordination, of participation, of inclusiveness, I want them to be very high on the Church agenda. We can't ignore them much longer.

SHRIVER: The call for healing and unity resonates for many who are hoping this pope has the courage to reform the Church from the inside out, and include many who have felt marginalized.

SISTER JENNIFER GAETA [LOS ANGELES HOUSE OF RUTH]: I have a staff of mostly Catholics, only two actually practice, a number of them have gone to some of the Christian churches.

SHRIVER: Sister Jennifer Gaeta is a nun who works with the poor in Los Angeles.

GAETA: The Christian churches meet their social needs, their real needs, and I think the Catholic Church has become too much about maintaining the structure.

SHRIVER: America is a deeply spiritual nation and many who work in the field say the Church better open up or risk losing its faithful. Marianne Williamson and Rabbi David Volpe are on the front lines. Everybody is watching this transition in Rome with bated breath. How will they handle women? How will they handle past sexual abuses? How will they handle divorced Catholics? Gays? Are you hearing people talking about that in your pews as well?

DAVID VOLPE [AUTHOR, WHY FAITH MATTERS]: Anybody who's done any work in the developing world knows the Catholic Church does remarkable things. They also would have seen a systemic violation of what it is that the Church stands for, and people crying out and not being heard.

SHRIVER: What do you think the kind of large evangelical churches have been able to do that the Catholic Church has not been able to do?

MARIANNE WILLIAMSON [AUTHOR, THE LAW OF DIVINE COMPENSATION]: They actually talk about God's action and principles in people's lives.

SHRIVER: Already Pope Francis's emphasis on simplicity, poverty, and forgiveness seems to resonate with people hungry for leadership and change. What is your best dream for what the Church can become?

GAETA: That there would be women in government – governance of the Church.

SHRIVER: While much of the world waits to see what Pope Francis does, one woman who already works in the Vatican believes all of us would do best to worry less about defined roles. Sister Judith Zoebelein is one of the highest ranking women at the Vatican. Do you think that people miss the point when they're saying women aren't equal unless they're ordained?

SISTER JUDITH ZOEBELEIN: Why should I have to take on a man's role in order to be a good woman?

SHRIVER: You know in the United States, we often talk about the glass ceiling for women professionally. Is there a stained glass ceiling?

ZOEBELEIN: I don't see a ceiling. I see trying to become more and more who I am as a woman, as a religious, as a person dedicated to the Church in that way, and I don't see that there's a ceiling on that.

SHRIVER: I love that she said she doesn't see that there's a ceiling, it reminded me of a comment my dad made many years ago when he was in Alzheimer's, and he said to me, "If you want to get eternal, you got to go internal."

LAUER: Well said.