Pope appoints women to formerly all-male board

For the first time ever, women have been appointed to the secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.

Until now the secretariat’s all-male board has been limited to priests and a bishop.

The secretariat prepares major meetings of world bishops held every few years on a different topic.

Catholic women’s groups are welcoming the appointments.

“It is great news because until now there were no structures for women to have an influence on synods while they are being prepared,” says a spokesperson for an international advocacy group promoting a greater role for women in the Church.

Under Pope Francis’s pontificate, the synod – which was founded more than 50 years ago – has become fundamental to setting the Church’s pastoral agenda.

Catholic women’s groups are welcoming the appointments.

Now he has appointed four women – three of them religious sisters – to act as consultants, offering advice and strategic direction to the body which organises the synod of bishops gatherings.

The women are:

  • Sr Nathalie Becquart, a former director of youth evangelisation and vocations for the French bishops conference
  • Sr Alessandra Smerilli, an economics lecturer at the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium”. Last month she was named by the Pope as an adviser to the Vatican City State’s administration. She is the first woman to hold such a position.
  • Sr Maria Luisa Berzosa, the director of the educational institute of the Spanish branch of “Fe y Alegría” (Faith and Joy).
  • Professor Cecilia Costa, a sociology lecturer at Roma Tre University.

Two priests, Fr Giacomo Costa and Fr Rossano Sala, have also been appointed as consultants. Both served as special secretaries to last October’s youth synod.

The four women also attended the youth synod.

Nathalie says the appointments reflect Francis’s desire for greater female representation at senior levels in the Church.

“He is asking for more women in leadership positions.

“I think Pope Francis, and many people [in Rome] are aware that things have to change.”

Nathalie says the importance of a voice for women in the Church came through powerfully during the youth synod – at which women’s rights was a recurring theme – and that changes are underway for this October’s Pan-Amazon region synod.

Women, religious and lay people are already involved in the preparatory committees for the gathering, and the role of women is in the preparatory document, Nathalie says.

In her view, implementing “synodality” is essential for the Church’s future.

“My main expectation [for the new role] is to help promote a synodal church.

“Synodality is key today for the reform of the Church, and we know it is key for Pope Francis.

“The great challenge is to implement synodality at every level of the Church’s life.”

At present, the synod of bishops is being pressured to allow women to vote during its proceedings. According to current rules, however, women can attend synods only as advisers or observers.

Throughout his pontificate, the Pope has sought to appoint more women to positions in the male-dominated Vatican.

He named the first ever woman consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, along with two female undersecretaries at the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life.

He also chose the first female deputy director of the Holy See Press Office, Paloma Garcia Ovejero – although she resigned her position at the end of last year.




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