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ROME – In the third part of a sit-down interview with Reuters last weekend, Pope Francis said he wants to appoint more women to top positions in the Vatican, including the nomination for the first time of two women to a previously all-male committee that assists in the selection of bishops.
In the first and second parts of the interview, published Monday and Tuesday respectively, the pope discussed hot-button topics such as the war in Ukraine, the United States Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v Wade, and the Vatican’s policy on China.
In the third part of the interview, which took place at the Vatican July 2, Pope Francis said he is open “to giving (women) an opportunity.”
“There is now a woman deputy governor (of Vatican City),” he said, referring to the appointment last year of Sister Raffaella Petrini to the number two position in the governorship of the Vatican City State, marking the first time a woman has ever held the position.
Petrini’s position makes her the highest-ranking woman in Vatican City.
Although the full transcript of the interview was not made available, according to Reuters, Pope Francis said that “two women will be appointed for the first time to the committee to choose bishops in the Congregation for Bishops.”
“This way, things are opening up a bit,” he said.
These appointments have not yet been made public, and Francis did not disclose who the women are or when their appointments would be announced. However, the decision to appoint them to a previously all-male committee is significant, because it marks the first time that women will have a say in selecting the Catholic Church’s all-male episcopate.
The committee, currently composed of cardinals, bishops, and priests, typically meets twice a month in Rome to discuss candidates.
This decision comes after a new constitution restructuring the Holy See’s central government went into effect last month, stipulating, among other things, that any lay person, man or woman, may lead most Vatican departments.
In the interview, Pope Francis said that in terms of what departments – called “dicasteries” – a layperson can lead, “I am thinking of the departments of education, culture, and the (Apostolic) Library, which is almost a dicastery.” All of these are currently led by male clerics.
Since he took office, the pope has called for a more “incisive” presence of women in leadership in the church and has advocated for laypeople generally to take on more areas of responsibility. Allowing laypeople to head most Vatican departments now enshrines that vision into concrete practice.
In addition to his appointment of Petrini last year, Francis has also named several other women, both religious and lay, to prominent roles in Vatican departments.
In 2017, he appointed two laywomen as undersecretaries for the Vatican’s department for Laity, Family, and Life, and last year, he named Italian Sister Alessandra Smerilli to the number two position in the Vatican office for Integral Human Development, which handles issues related to social justice.
Francis has also named French Sister Nathalie Becquart as co-undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops, which prepares major meetings of world bishops held every few years, and in 2020, he named six women to his 15-member Council for the Economy.
A laywoman, Barbara Jatta, is also currently serving as the first female director of the Vatican Museums, and another laywoman, Cristiane Murray, is the deputy director of the Vatican Press Office; both were appointed by Pope Francis.
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