Pope Francis revealed that women may have a say in choosing the Catholic Church’s Bishops who are all men. This is a significant step forward in including women in higher decision-making roles.
By Dipavali Hazra
Pope Francis has been spearheading some radical reforms in the Vatican Church that have opened up doors for women to play a role in the seat of Catholic power. While women cannot move up in the religious hierarchy in the Catholic Church, they will, for the first time ever, have a say in the appointment of Bishops- who are all men.
Though this has not been officially announced yet, the Pope revealed in an interview with Reuters that: “Two women will be appointed for the first time in the committee to elect bishops in the Congregation for Bishops.”
He did not elaborate on who were the women who could be appointed to this committee that comprises cardinals, bishops and priests nor did he say when the announcement would me made official. However, the presence of women in one of the top decision-making bodies is a significant step forward in the fairly orthodox religious organisation. This image of the Catholic Church is one that Pope Francis has been trying to modify.
His tenure has been marked with more openness toward not only women but also homosexuals. He has previously supported same-sex “civil unions” calling for their right to be in a family. As Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he did not support same-sex marriage but did back legal protection for those who chose such living arrangements.
Though his previous comments have appeared to flip flop on homosexuality, his more conciliatory approach has divided people, with liberals welcoming his words, conservatives unhappy and analysts observing that real change would come only when legal protections are given in the church doctrine and homosexual behaviour is no longer considered a “sin”.
Also, in the backdrop of the US Supreme Court abortion ruling, the Pope condemned the practice and compared it to “hiring a hit-man to solve a problem”.
Meanwhile, as far as women’s representation is concerned, Pope Francis, during his 9-year tenure, has certainly paved the way for more opportunities in the Vatican.
In March 2022, he had approved a new constitution for the Vatican’s central administration known as the Curia. The new constitution replaced St John Paul II’s founding constitution, which was written in 1988. One of its key reforms was to permit any baptised lay man and woman to head any of the Vatican’s ministries. In a big shift from positions of power being held only by male clergy, the preamble to the new constitution which was adopted on June 5 says, “The pope, bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelizers in the Church.” Another section of the constitution reads: “Any member of the faithful can head a dicastery (Curia department) or organism.”
When he was asked during the Reuters interview about which Vatican departments could be headed by a member of the public as opposed to the clergy he said that such positions could be cleared in the department for Catholic Education and Culture and the Apostolic Library.
Last year Pope Francis had appointed Sister Raffaella Petrini, to the number two position in the Vatican City Governorate which oversees the Vatican offices and residences in the Vatican city state as well as in Rome. Petrini is the first woman to hold the position.
The current Pontiff has made several other appointments of women to high-ranking administrative posts. In January 2020, Francesca di Giovanni was named Undersecretary for the multilateral sector in the Secretariat of State’s Section for Relations with States and International Organizations, another first.
Sister Nathalie Becquart, Sister Alessandra Smerilli, Sister Carmen Ros Nortes are other women who have been appointed to important positions.
Despite the advances made so far, women have traditionally never been ordained and cannot become priests, bishops or popes in the Catholic Church. The Anglican Church, however, has set a precedent by ordaining women Bishops.
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