ROME— Probably the most trusted adviser to Pope Francis, and a man who holds the position traditionally considered the Vatican’s “Prime Minister,” said Tuesday that in his view there’s no reason a woman one day couldn’t have his job.
“A woman could become Secretary of State, in the sense that the role of the Secretary of State is evidently not bound to the sacraments or the priesthood,” Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin said in a brief session with reporters on Tuesday.
“In any case, I repeat, let’s look at the path that has been traveled, and the Lord will tell us how far we can go,” he said.
Parolin was speaking during the presentation of an overhaul of a special section of the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano, dedicated to women.
In its current form, the office of Secretary of State dates to the early 16th century, when popes needed someone to handle communications with the Vatican’s diplomatic missions. Over the years it grew to become the Vatican’s most important administrative position, responsible not only for foreign policy but also a wide swath of internal Church governance.
By the 19th century, it was commonly felt that the Vatican had adopted a president/prime minister model, with the pope as the head of state and the Secretary of State as the head of government.
Some theologians and canon lawyers may dispute Parolin’s assertion that a woman could hold his position, since traditionally a Secretary of State exercises authority in the name of the pope, and some believe to do so one has to be ordained.
Parolin’s comment, however, is consistent with Pope Francis’ stated desire to find a “greater role” for women in Catholicism, including participation in the “important decisions . . . where the authority of the Church is exercised.”
In the presentation of the redesign for the newspaper’s section on women, speakers agreed that’s an aim worth pursuing.
“Often we are still at the back bench,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, who edits the special section.
“From there, we observe the life of the Church without our contribution being truly appreciated. Yet,” she said, “something is changing.”
Scaraffia, who’s been coordinating the monthly publication “Women, Church, World” for the last four years, was presenting the redesign, which will turn it from being a black and white, four-page long publication, to a 40-page, full color one.
With a completely female editorial staff, the magazine is published under the sponsorship of L’Osservatore Romano. Writers come from various countries and religious backgrounds.
Scaraffia defined Parolin’s presence in the re-launching a sign that “more than beautiful, is auspicious.”
“The monthly publication not only makes known and enhances the presence of women in the Church, but it opens the way to a new and positive habit,” he said.
Parolin said that habit is “listening to women, looking at the many things they have to say and to the many initiatives they undertake, implementing the male and female synergy that so often has been invoked in official documents but not always put into practice.”
Speaking to journalists after the event, Parolin also said that apart from the priesthood, because “the Church has taken its stance on this matter,” women could take many other roles within the Church, including his own.
“I believe that women don’t want the ‘pink quota,’ but they want to move forward through their merit and their capabilities, without having institutionally reserved spaces,” he said, adding that more can be done to involve women.
Parolin admitted that there are some chauvinistic attitudes within the Church, but said that what’s still to be done shouldn’t undermine the many steps that have already been taken, such as the monthly publication of L’Osservatore Romano.
“More than lamenting over reality, we should make proposals,” he said.
The magazine covers traditional topics of major questions linked to the role of women in the Church, and meditations on the topic of each specific edition.
May’s edition as dedicate to the Visitation, and future ones will reflect on issues such as: Maternity as caring for the world, Women and Canon Law, Forgotten women, and Women of prayer.
The tape begins with Francis talking about the “undeniable” contribution of women in all areas of human activity, “beginning with the family,” after which he asks: “But only to recognize it…Is that enough?”
“We have done little for the women who are in very difficult situations – despised, marginalized, and even reduced to slavery,” the pope said.
The video asks for a global condemnation of sexual violence against women and for their full integration into social, political, and economic life, including an end to discrimination in the workforce because men and women are children of God.
“If you think this is clearly right, join my petition,” Francis says, amidst images of women suffering some of the situations he describes. “It is a prayer: that in all countries of the world women may be honored and respected and valued for their essential contribution to society.”