Pope Francis said he "suffered" when he saw "in the Church, or in certain Church organisations... that the woman's service role slips into one of servitude," the agency I-Media quoted him as saying.
He also singled out two dangers facing Catholic women, beginning with "motherhood being reduced to a social role".
On the other hand, he said that the "sort of emancipation" that allows women to enter traditionally male domains may rob them of "the very femininity that characterises them".
The 76-year-old Argentine pontiff, elected in March, also said he likes to think of the Church as feminine.
"The Church is a woman, a mother, that is what is beautiful," he told some 150 people attending the conference marking the 25th anniversary of the publication of papal text on the woman's vocation.
Francis said the text, an encyclical by pope John Paul II titled "Mulieris dignitatem", was a "historic document, the first from the papacy that was entirely devoted to the subject of the woman."
Whatever cultural and social changes have occurred or may occur, "the fact remains that it is the woman who conceives, carries and brings into the world the children of men," the pontiff said.