New appointees to Francis’s financial powerhouse signal progress of women

New appointees to Francis’s financial powerhouse signal progress of women

Pope Francis leads the recitation of the "Regina Coeli" prayer from the library of the Apostolic Palace April 13, 2020. (Credit: CNS photo/Vatican Media.)

The recent appointment of six women to the Vatican's chief financial body has been praised as a significant stride in Pope Francis's consistent insistence that more women are needed in leadership roles.

ROME – Pope Francis has long advocated for a more “incisive” presence of women in positions of authority and leadership in the Vatican, and while some have complained about the pace at which changes are being made, the recent appointment of six women to the Vatican’s chief financial office has jolted things into warp drive.

On Thursday, the Vatican announced that Francis had named two women each from Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom to his 15-member Council for the Economy.

He also named one Italian layman and replaced six of the original eight cardinals on the council, naming Cardinal Joseph Tobin of Newark as the only American, and leaving in place German Cardinal Reinhard Marx of Munich as the body’s coordinator.

Established by the pope in 2014 with a 5-year term for members, the body oversees Vatican finances. The body’s statutes stipulate that the majority of members must be either cardinals or bishops, who are always male, however, until yesterday no woman has ever been named to the council.

Last year rumors went out that the Vatican was searching for a woman to take the place of Australian Cardinal George Pell, who at the time was jailed on charges of historical sexual abuse but who has since been acquitted, as head of the Vatican’s Secretariat for the Economy. However, in November 2019 Francis appointed Jesuit Father Juan Antonio Guerrero to the post.

The appointment of six women to the Council of the Economy now marks one of the most significant moves Pope Francis has made in making good on his many affirmations of the importance of women and their input.

In his speech to the Roman Curia right before Christmas in December 2016, Francis said that “of great importance” in Vatican reform “is an enhanced role for women and lay people in the life of the Church and their integration into roles of leadership in the dicasteries, with particular attention to multiculturalism.”

In a speech to consultants of the Vatican office for Laity, Family and Life in November 2019, he stressed that the Church must not be afraid “to include women in advisory positions, also in governance.”

At the time, he stressed that women are not mere “functionaries,” but that their advice “is very important.”

In 2017 Pope Francis named Barbara Jatta, an Italian art historian, as head of the Vatican Museums. Earlier this year, he appointed Francesca Di Giovanni, who has long been on staff at the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, as an undersecretary in that office.

Francis has also appointed two laywomen, Gabriella Gambino and Linda Ghisoni, as undersecretaries for the Vatican office for Laity, Family and Life.

Women named to the Council for the Economy include German Professor Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof, a professor of law at Heinrich-Heine University Dusseldorf and chairperson of the Hildegaris Association, an organization of Catholic women in Germany dedicated to assisting female students in need, and Marija Kolak, a mother of three who currently serves as president of The National Association of German Cooperative Banks.

Members from Spain include Maria Concepcion Osacar Garaicoechea, a founding partner of the Azora Group assent management company and is a trustee of the Official credit Institute Foundation and a member of the Governing Board of the Association of management progress. A mother of two, Osacar Garaicoechea has also held numerous positions with banks and other investment companies.

Also from Spain is Eva Castillo Sanz, who holds a degree in Law and Business Studies from the Pontifical University of Comillas in Madrid, and who sits on the board of directors for Spanish Bank Bankia S.A., and for the Zardoya Otis S.A. company developing equipment such as elevators, escalators and moving walkways.

She has held numerous other positions, including director of Merrill Lynch Private Banking for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA), and she also served as president of Merrill Lynch Spain and Portugal.

Ruth Mary Kelly, who served  as the UK Secretary of State for Education from 2004-2008 before joining the HSBC Global Asset Management company as Global Head of Client Strategy is also a new member. Kelly is currently Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at St. Mary’s University, Twickenham in south-west London.

The last woman to be named to the council is also from Great Britain: Harvard-educated Lesile Jane Ferrar, who served as treasurer for Prince Charles from 2015-2017.

In addition, Italian layman Alberto Minali, who holds a degree in Political Economy from the Bocconi University in Verona and has held numerous positions at financial and insurance companies, has also been named to the council.

Aside from Tobin, new members of the hierarchy who were named include Hungarian Cardinal Peter Erdo of Budapest; Brazilian Cardinal Odilo Scherer of Sao Paolo; Canadian Cardinal Gerald Cyprien Lacroix of Quebec; Swedish Cardinal Anders Aborelius of Stockholm; and Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi of L’Aquila.

While Francis has closed the door to women’s priestly ordination and has punted on the question of women deacons, he has continued to speak out about the need for women in leadership, and has acknowledged the abuse of women religious at the hands of male clergy.

In a recent interview SomosCONFER, the official publication of the Conference of Spanish Religious, an umbrella organization for religious congregations in Spain, Brazilian Cardinal Braz de Aviz criticized what he said is a state of “dominance” that men often hold over women in the Catholic Church.

RELATED: Vatican official laments system of ‘dominance, submission’ for women religious

In the interview, Braz de Aviz noted that, “In many cases, the relationship between consecrated men and women represents a sick system of relations of submission and dominance that takes away the sense of freedom and joy,” calling the dynamic, “a misunderstood obedience.”

In an interview published in the May edition of the Vatican newspaper’s monthly women’s insert, “Woman, Church, World,” Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet said there is a dysfunctional relationship between men and women in the Church, and called for more women to be involved not only in positions of leadership, but also priestly formation.

RELATED: Female theologians back Ouellet: Seminaries need women involved in formation

The real danger, “are men who do not have a balanced relationship with women. This is what we must radically change,” he said, insisting that frequent exchanges with women help seminarians interact with them in a natural way, and “to face the challenges represented by the presence of women.”

“This must be taught and learned from the beginning, not isolating priests who then find themselves brutally in reality, [because] then they can lose control,” he said.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

Latest Stories