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Vatican says talk of female cardinals 'not remotely realistic'

The Vatican is throwing cold water on rumors that Pope Francis could appoint a woman a cardinal. Guido Montani / EPA file

The announcement that Pope Francis will name new cardinals next year sparked some fevered speculation that he could bestow one of the red birettas on a woman.

But the Vatican is doing its best to dispel the rumors, saying that while it's "theologically and theoretically" possible, there won't be a princess joining the princes of the church anytime soon.

"This is just nonsense," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told the Irish Times.

"Being a cardinal is one of those roles in the church for which, theoretically, you do not have to be ordained, but to move from there to suggesting the pope will name women cardinals for the next consistory is not remotely realistic.”

Pope Francis has made it clear he's not averse to breaking with tradition, and he has spoken about promoting the role of women in the male-dominated church.

That fueled talk that he might be open to a female cardinal, and some commentators started circulating candidate wish-lists last week with names like former Irish President Mary McAlese and Congo-born Italian minister Cecile Kyenge.

Current canon law dictates that cardinals must be a priest or a bishop — of which there are no women — but in theory that's a rule that could be changed without violating church teachings.

Based on Lombardi's comments, however, it appears that won't happen — at least not before Francis' first consistory (formal meeting of Cardinals) in February.