Pope Francis is being advised to appoint more women to senior positions as part of his efforts to reform the Roman Curia — a move the Vatican describes as a "natural step."
Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who Pope Francis recently chose to coordinate a privy council of eight cardinals advising him on governance and reform, told Britain’s Sunday Times he was backing more posts for women.
Responding to the cardinal's comments, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said it was “a natural step – there is a move towards putting more women in key roles where they are qualified.”
Benedict XVI had already begun efforts to appoint more women to senior positions at the Vatican, most notably at the semi-official Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. The publication has launched a women’s supplement, its English language editor is a woman, and it has several female columnists. Its first woman journalist didn’t start writing for the paper until 2008.
Women also hold some key roles at the Vatican, although the number is small and they are not the most senior positions. Sister Nicla Spezzati is undersecretary of the Congregation dealing with nuns and religious, and laywoman Flaminia Giovanelli, is undersecretary at the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. St Peter's basilica is administered by Maria Cristina Carlo-Stella.
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Italian journalist and historian Lucetta Scaraffia is one of L’Osservatore Romano’s regular writers who also helped found the supplement. She suggested last year that if more women were in positions of authority in the Church, the cover-ups of the clerical pedophilia scandal would not have happened.
A proponent of more women leaders in the Vatican, she believes that one day a woman will head a Vatican department. Traditionally such roles have been held by bishops and cardinals, but as the work is administrative and not sacramental, there is nothing in canon law to prevent a woman from occupying such a position.
Some fear that granting such roles to women will open the door to women priests – something the Church has definitively forbidden – but supporters of an increased presence of women in Church dismiss these fears as groundless.
Scaraffia, like many women at the Vatican advocating Church leadership roles for their sex, remains faithful to Church teaching, most notably on life issues. Although a feminist, she is not a radical one, and opposes abortion, defends priestly celibacy, and agrees with the Church’s teaching on the male priesthood.
Pope Francis last week lent his backing to the Vatican's assessment that a major group of US sisters were guilty of promoting "radical feminism" and straying from the Vatican's tough line on same-sex marriage and abortion.
In a general audience address April 3, Pope Francis reiterated the "fundamental" importance of women in the Church, saying women had a special mission as the first witnesses of Christ's resurrection, and because they pass on their faith to their children and grandchildren.
"In the Church, and in the journey of faith, women have had, and still have, a special role in opening doors to the Lord," he told pilgrims.
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