Kerry Robinson: Empowering women isn't a favor to them, but the Church

Kerry Robinson: Empowering women isn’t a favor to them, but the Church

Kerry Robinson: Empowering women isn’t a favor to them, but the Church

Kerry Robinson and Sister Simone Campbell, a Sister of Social Service, speak during the Voices of Faith gathering March 8 at the Vatican. The event, held on International Women's Day, had the theme "Stirring the Waters-Making the Impossible Possible." (Credit: Voices of Faith.)

According to Kerry Robinson, who's long been a leading voice in the Catholic Church in the United States, women should be in positions of leadership in the Church, not because they deserve it, but because the Church would benefit fully from what women have to offer.

ORLANDO, Florida — At a major gathering of almost 3,500 Catholic leaders from around the country, Kerry Robinson, founder of the Leadership Roundtable, said that empowering women isn’t about doing women a favor but doing one for the the entire Church.

Women should be in positions of leadership in the Church, she said, “Not because it’s what women deserve — though of course it is — but really because this is what the Church deserves,” Robinson told Crux.

“The Church deserves to benefit fully from women’s full complementary gifts, abilities and leadership capability,” she said.

Robison is the founding executive director and global ambassador of the Leadership Roundtable, dedicated to promoting excellence and best practices in the management, finances and human resource development of the Catholic Church. The roundtable held a meeting in Orlando just ahead of the convocation, where among things it bestowed awards for “best practices” in church management.

For Robinson, it’s not about women having a specific set of characteristics and men having others, because, “Frankly, I think we all have access to multiple characteristics. It’s more about the diversity of perspectives and experiences.”

She spoke to Crux during a break at the Convocation for Catholic Leadership, taking place July 1-4 in Orlando, Florida. The meeting, which has gathered people from 80 percent of the dioceses in the United Sates, includes a cross-section of laity and hierarchy, including five of the six active American cardinals living in the U.S.

“There’s such a diversity, and I feel like it’s a big family reunion,” she said of the convocation.

Robinson was one of the panelists during the gathering on “Feminine genius: The role of women in the Church,” that had some 500 people pre-registered.

What follows are excerpts of her conversation with Crux.

Crux: How do you feel the Convocation is going so far?

Robinson: Speaking very personally, I have found it remarkably joyful. Women and men, religious and laity, many of whom I’ve known for many years, they’re coming from all over the country, they represent incredible diverse ministries, they have important leadership positions in the Church. There’s such diversity, and I feel like it’s a big family reunion.

A big part of all those who are here are women. Many of whom are religious, but the majority are laity. How do you think we should read this?

I would definitely take this as a positive sign. Women comprise, especially in the United States a large percentage of active Catholics participating in our parishes and all of our ministries. I think the thing to pay attention to, though, is what happens as a result of these conversations. Is there a collective intentionality about ensuring women are in positions of leadership and at the tables of decision making? Not because it’s what women deserve, of course it is, but really because this is what the Church deserves. The Church deserves to benefit fully from women’s full complementive gifts and abilities and leadership capability.

We’ve been talking a lot about the need for women to be in positions of leadership in the Church. The conversation has been ongoing for a long time, and it’s something Pope Francis has spoken about, and his predecessor spoke about a lot, actually bringing a woman to direct the English version of the Vatican’s newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, and he was the first one to include women in the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. But what do we mean when we talk about women in positions of leadership in the Church?

Honestly, what I find fascinating, is that the past three popes now, each one has called for a greater presence, visible presence in the Roman Curia. I put some of my attention there. Frankly, I will begin with the advisory bodies, every dicastery has one, and they’re international. And I would use much more intention about including women in greater percentages on those advisory boards.

I would also expand the pool globally from where women are drawn to serve on those. It’s really who’s at the table of discussion, discourse and decision making. We all bring a certain myopia to what we do, and we benefit when there’s a diversity of viewpoints. And of course we have to presume goodness in the other, and insist on candor and charity.

You just mentioned that women bring something specific to the table. But many times, when it’s a man who speaks about the female perspective, women get mad. What do we women bring to the table?

I hesitate to make this about women have certain characteristics and qualities and men have different ones. Frankly, I think we all have access to multiple characteristics. It’s more about diversity of perspectives and experiences.

Women should be able to talk about what they experience. It would be more authentic and precise than if men were to comment or represent women in this discussion. That’s why I think the pool from which women need to be drawn into leadership has to be expanded as well, to ensure diversity of viewpoints.

Let’s go back to the convocation. Some 80 percent of the dioceses are represented. Some 3,500 people are here, the big majority of whom are laity. What do you hope they’ll do when they go back to their dioceses?

One thing we haven’t yet spoken about is the moment in time in which this convocation is taking place. It’s a time of intense polarization in America, and frankly, country by country, we see this all over the globe. So it’s particularly important that this convocation is taking place now. With an intentionality of bringing people across the theological and political spectrum into one big tent. And it’s structured in a way that people with really different formation, emphasis and experience, come together to talk about what it means to be a person of faith who lives with authenticity and joy, and is persuasive to others.

What I’m hoping is that we all return to our ministries, apostolates, dioceses, and we continue that commitment of encountering and then accompanying someone very different from us, even in our own faith family.

Many people have a quasi-parochial read of the pope. They think, “Pope Francis is my pope,” because he’s into social justice. And others say “John Paul II is my pope because he was very pro-life and into the non-negotiable values.” What do we do to let the people know that the pope is the pope, leading the Church regardless of what he looks like and where he comes from?

It’s a great question. And I think we mythologize the office of the papacy. And we need to remember that they’re complex individuals, and they’re both intellectual and loving. So it’s more than just a snapshot or a categorization.

We do a disservice, I think, to anyone if we categorize them and keep them in one particular niche.

Tells us something about the Leadership Round Table, and what inspired you to create it?

It is now 12 years old, our birthday is July 11. It began as a grand experiment, and it was a realization that Catholics in this country have risen to levels of affluence and influence and count themselves in the highest levels of leadership in every sector and industry.

After the sexual abuse crisis was revealed in the front pages of the paper, many Catholics said, “how can I be part of the solution, how can I affect healing and reconciliation, how can I bring what I do best in service of the Church that I love, call it to greater levels of accountability, transparency, ethics, trust and holiness.” That is what inspired the leadership roundtable.

We don’t attend to sexual abuse, but we do work closely with bishops and provincials, pastors and executive directors to inculcate a culture of ethics, openness, transparency. We bring senior level executives with breath taking financial acumen and managerial expertise, to the service of Church leaders to help them solve vexing temporal challenges.

It’s been a great success, really full of grace. Everyone said to us in the beginning, “great mission, urgent mission, it will never happen.” And that’s my sweet spot frankly!

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