09 October 2023, The Tablet

Sister appointed secretary to religious orders dicastery

Women now comprise twenty-six per cent of the workforce of the Roman Curia.

Sister appointed secretary to religious orders dicastery

Pope Francis with Sr Simona Brambilla in 2017, when she was superior general of the Consolata Missionary Sisters.
L’Osservatore Romano / CNA

Pope Francis has appointed a religious sister to serve as the number two official the Holy See office which oversees religious orders. 

Sr Simona Brambilla, 58, is from Monza in northern Italy and is a member of the female branch of the Consolata Missionaries. She led the order for twelve years until May 2023. 

Sr Simona trained and worked as a nurse before entering the order in 1988 and later worked in youth ministry in Mozambique. She received a doctorate in psychology from the Institute of Psychology at the Pontifical Gregorian University and was a lecturer there. 

Her appointment as secretary of the Dicastery for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life is the Pope’s latest appointment of a woman to a senior position in the Vatican.

She follows Sr Alessandra Smerilli, who has been secretary at the Dicastery for Promoting Integral Human Development for over two years. The secretary of a Vatican dicastery is charged with the day-to-day running of the office and has traditionally been held by bishops.

Francis has also appointed Sr Nathalie Becquart as joint number two of the Synod of Bishop’s office, giving her a crucial role in the ongoing synod process, and Sr Rafaella Petrini as secretary-general of the Vatican City State administration. 

Sr Simona’s new role at the dicastery, which oversees communities of nuns worldwide, is a post that female superiors of religious orders have repeatedly called to be held by a woman. It was only four years ago that Francis appointed the first female members of that office (when Sr Simona was one of the appointees).

The Pope has gradually appointed women to leadership roles in the Vatican throughout his pontificate. These include female under-secretaries at the Department for Laity, Family and Life, the first female director of the Vatican Museums, six women to the board overseeing Holy See finances, and a female deputy director of the press office. 

He has also named the first woman members of the Dicastery for Bishops, the powerful Vatican office which chooses bishops, and the first female consulters to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith.

In 2021, he chose Sr Nuria Calduch-Benages to become the first woman secretary to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, led by the prefect of the doctrine office, Cardinal Victor Fernández. Women now comprise twenty-six per cent of the workforce of the Roman Curia

Sr Simona is participating in this month's synod assembly in the Vatican, a process that has seen calls worldwide for greater inclusion of women in decision-making and leadership in the Church

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