While Francis said the priesthood would continue to be men-only, he said the "feminine genius" has important contributions to make both in the church and in society at large, the Catholic Reporter said.
"I'm happy to see many women sharing certain pastoral responsibilities in accompanying persons, families and groups, and in theological reflection, and I've voiced hope that spaces for a feminine presence that's more capillary and incisive in the Church will be enlarged," the pope said.
Francis addressed the Italian Women's Center, founded in 1944 as a federation of Catholic women's organizations. The group celebrates its 70th anniversary in October.
The pope called the home and family "the domestic church" and said for many women there is tension between their public and private roles. He urged women to model themselves on Mary, who was with her son at many of the public events of his life.