Church in the World
Revealed: the true role of women in the VaticanRobert Mickens
- 26 August 2006
Salesian Sister Enrica Rosanna, under-secretary of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, sits next to Archbishop Franc Rode, prefect of the congregation, speaking at a conference in 2005 at the Vatican. Photo: CNS
Women continue to be overlooked when it comes to key posts in the Vatican, despite a recent assurance from the Pope that they are "very present in the departments of the Holy See", research by The Tablet reveals.
Pope Benedict XVI won praise earlier this month after a rare interview in which he hinted that a greater role should be given to women in the life of the Church. But as generously as the media may have interpreted the Pope's words, the reality inside the Vatican is that women continue to be almost totally excluded from decision-making positions.
"We believe that our faith and the constitution of the college of the apostles obliges us and doesn't allow us to confer priestly ordination on women. But we shouldn't think either that the only role one can have in the Church is that of being a priest," the Pope said in a 5 August interview with German journalists. He then pointed out that today women "are very present in the departments of the Holy See". However, the highest-ranking among them - Sr Enrica Rosanna FMA - shares only the No. 3 position in her department with a priest, as one of the two under-secretaries at her Congregation serving the Religious. In the rung below, 23 people are listed as a capo ufficio (section chief) in 13 different congregations and pontifical councils, but only two of them are women.
"But there's a juridical problem," Pope Benedict said in defence of the low numbers during his recent interview. "According to canon law the power to take legally binding decisions is limited to Sacred Orders." But historically this was not always so. Canon lawyers point out the distinction between the clergy and laity in what is called "jurisdiction" has only gradually become more acute, culminating with the new Code of Canon Law in 1983. Before that - from the earliest centuries up until the late nineteenth century - laymen did have certain juridical powers.
A counting of women listed as Roman Curia officials, found in the Annuario Pontificio 2006, shows that among the major departments of the Holy See (congregations, tribunals, pontifical commissions and pontifical councils) women make up slightly more than 15 per cent of the formally registered office staff. The Congregation for Divine Worship, the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, and the three major tribunals (the Apostolic Penitentiary, the Apostolic Signature, and the Roman Rota) have no women at all. The Congregation for Catholic Education has only one woman on its staff of 23.
Five women are among the 35 people who work at the Congregation for the Docctrine of the Faith (CDF), but four of them are technical staff. The CDF has no women among its 33 "consulters" from around the world. There are no women among the 22 members of the Pontifical Biblical Commission and only three among the 32 members of the International Theological Commission - both offices presided over by the CDF prefect. There are also no women - just 27 men - on the CDF's special commission that deals with the dissolution of marriage cases.
Nineteen Vatican congregations and pontifical councils have a combined total of 595 outside "consulters", people who are consulted for their knowledge, experience and expertise. Only 66 of these are women, just 11 per cent. When the total figures of office staff and "consulters" are combined, 201 women (mostly women Religious) appear among the 1,214 names - just over 16.5 per cent. Even in offices where the constituency, as it were, is mainly women, men still hold the upper hand. For example, there are four times as many women Religious as there are men Religious in the world, but in the Congregation for Religious only 13 of the 34 staff are female.
Vatican officials will point out that despite the apparent disparity, women have made great strides in taking up better positions within the Roman Curia. No women worked inside the Apostolic Palace until Pope Pius XII arrived, and it was not until the 1980s that Cardinal Agostino Casaroli hired religious sisters to work in the Secretariat of State. And then there are those "behind the scenes" women, the extent of whose influence we may never really know. It is said that Pope Benedict XVI has long relied on the theological help of Professor Ingrid Stampa. She appears in the Annuario Pontificio as a firstclass addetto di segretaria - the same rank as the Pope's personal secretary, Mgr Georg Gänswein.