VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis on Wednesday decried violence and prejudice against women and said granting equal pay and opportunities could help create a more peaceful world, as a new survey of Catholic women showed that many felt the Church discriminated against them.

In a book preface published by the Vatican News website on International Women's Day, Francis stressed the differences between men and women but called for "equality in diversity" on "a playing field open to all players."

"I like to think that if women could enjoy full equality of opportunity, they could contribute substantially to the necessary change towards a world of peace, inclusion, solidarity and integral sustainability," the pope said.

Francis has condemned discrimination against women in the past but, like his predecessors, he has ruled out a female priesthood. The Catholic Church teaches that only men can become priests because Jesus chose men as his apostles.

A survey released on Wednesday by the University of Newcastle in Australia showed that nearly 80% of more than 17,000 Catholic women respondents in 104 countries said women should be included at all levels of Church leadership.

The survey, which was presented at the Vatican, showed that two-thirds, or 68%, of respondents strongly agreed or agreed that women should be eligible for ordination to the priesthood.

There was majority support for a female priesthood in all of the 104 countries surveyed except Poland and South Africa.

In the preface of the book titled: More Women's Leadership for a Better World, the pope extolled the differences between men and women.

"They are more attentive to protecting the environment, their gaze is not turned to the past but to the future," he said.

"Women know that they give birth in pain to achieve a great joy: to give life and open vast, new horizons. That is why women want peace, always."

He said women need to get equal remuneration with men for equal roles and described ongoing pay gaps as "a serious injustice."

The pope condemned the "plague" of violence against women, recalling a speech he delivered in 2021 when he called it "an open wound resulting from a patriarchal and macho culture of oppression."

Francis has appointed several women to managerial roles since he became pope, and said last year that "every time a woman is given a position (of responsibility) in the Vatican, things improve." (Additional reporting by Philip Pullella, Editing by Christina Fincher)