Women in Church Leadership
Gender Policy: A roadmap for women's equality in the Church

gpIn the heart of the Vatican, women forge a brand new conversation about women's roles in the Church.

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On March 8, 2015, FutureChurch's Deborah Rose-Milavec moderated a panel discussion about the roles of women inside the Curia and the Church.  It proved to be a remarkable opportunity to advance the conversation around strategies such as gender policies to help create more gender balance in the Church.  



Pope Francis has called for “a more incisive presence for women” in the Catholic Church.  At the most recent Consistory of cardinals February 12 and 13, 2015, Fr. Federico Lombardi reported that the cardinals expressed the hope of “an increasingly active role” for women.  Although Pope Francis stated the door is closed on the question of ordination for women to the priesthood, he has been emphatic in his call for a stronger presence of women elsewhere.  He recently appointed Sr. Mary Melone, the first women, to head a Pontifical University, Sr. Luzia Premoli as a member of the Congregation on Evangelizaion and has stated that women should take up positions of greater leadership within the Vatican. So how many women are in positions of leadership within the Curia?  How many assert real influence? While it is difficult to accurately measure the level of influence women exercise, the chart below has been generated to further that discussion by showing the roles women currently play in Vatican congregations, pontifical councils, and other commissions, committees and offices. 


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While women have slowly gained certain leadership roles in the Vatican, you still need just one hand to count those who hold top-level positions in the secretariats, congregations and pontifical councils.  Sr. Nicoletta Vittoria Spezzati serves as undersecretary for the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and Dr. Flaminia Giovanelli serves as undersecretary for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.  There are other women of course, but of those in positions of undersecretary and above, less than three percent are women. 

Pope Francis has consistently called for a more “incisive presence” for women in the Catholic Church.  Last week at the Consistory, cardinals voiced the same clarion call. Father Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See Press Office, reported a number of speakers expressed the hope of “an increasingly active role” for women, especially when it comes to the issue of women holding positions of leadership within the roman Curia.  

If Francis and the cardinals are serious about a more incisive presence for women in the Church, there is a roadmap.

On March 8, 2015, Voices of Faith (voicesoffaith.org) will sponsor an event in the Vatican featuring women from around the world who are working to create a more just world for women and children, often in the face of difficult circumstances. One of the speakers, Dr. Astrid Lobo Gajiwala, a life long Catholic and leader for women’s equality in the Church, worked with the bishops conference of India to draft the first gender policy of its kind in the Catholic Church.  She will touch upon this experience in a panel discussion moderated by FutureChurch’s Deborah Rose-Milavec.

Approved in September 2009, the Gender Policy of the Catholic Bishops of India (http://cbci.in/DownloadMat/Gender_Policy.pdf) has yet to receive the attention it deserves.

Rooted in scripture and Catholic Social Teaching, the document contains a solid roadmap for opening doors to women’s leadership. 

  • Without qualification, the bishops state, “The ultimate goal of the policy is to achieve gender equality.”(2)  They say the Church’s mission is to form a “discipleship of equals,”(11) effectively avoiding the “complementarity” language that evokes gender apartheid rather than the full equality of women and men.
  • The document recognizes, “Gender equality is a cross-cutting issue that needs to be integrated in all the Commissions, Church bodies, institutions, policies and programs of the Church.”(12) Recognizing the current restrictions on women’s roles imposed by a ban on ordination, they seek to maximize women’s equality in all other ways possible.
  • The bishops of India understand achieving gender equality means women should have a right to decision making in the Church and must speak in their own voice.  The bishops write, “Gender equality is achieved through equal partnership and involves women’s equal right to articulate their needs and interested as well as their vision of society and the Church and to shape the decisions that affect their lives.” (13)
  • There is recognition that training for seminarians, women religious and even priests, bishops and major superiors is critical.  It recommends that these groups receive courses in “gender sensitivity” and feminist theology in their formation and ongoing education.
  • The bishops recognize that in order to achieve gender equality, “time-bound action plans” (xiv) must be developed that include monitoring mechanisms and strategies for “affirmative action” in reserving leadership positions for women. (33)
  • The bishops hope the Gender Policy of the Catholic Bishops Conference of India will inspire the Universal Church to create a world of co-partnerships. (x)

The bishops of India have written a remarkable document.  Pope Francis values the voice of bishops’ conferences when it comes to making vital decisions for the people they pastor.  He could showcase this initiative as a roadmap for creating more room for women’s leadership inside the Vatican and in the world-wide Church.  This is one effective way to create  “a more incisive presence” for women in our church!