Women rising … but when in Rome?

by Maureen Fiedler

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This week, Theresa May became the Prime Minister of Great Britain. Angela Merkel is already the Chancellor of Germany, and has been since 2005. And if the United States elects Hillary Clinton in November, she will be inaugurated in January as the president of the United States, the first woman president in American history.  

That means that women -- yes, women! -- will be the leaders of the three major powers of the Western world as of January 2017. Unprecedented … as long as Hillary makes it.

But alas! When will we be able to add Rome to the list of London, Berlin and Washington? I'm not talking about a woman becoming the prime minister of Italy, although it would be great to see a woman in that office too. (From my brief look at Italian history since the mid-19th century, there has never been one.)

I'm talking about Vatican City.

Now, I'm not so naïve as to think that a woman could become pope in the next … say … 10-20 years, unless, of course, God intervenes directly. But how about some women leading major pontifical councils (something like cabinet offices) in a revamped Vatican structure?  

There are lots of possibilities:

  1. The Pontifical Council for the Laity
  2. The Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity
  3. The Pontifical Council for the Family
  4. The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
  5. The Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerants
  6. The Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers
  7. The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue
  8. The Pontifical Council for Culture
  9. The Pontifical Council for Social Communications

Then, there is the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, or the Congregation for Education, or Divine Worship -- many significant posts to be filled.

And the first appointments to such "cabinet" posts -- not just one, but three or more for starters --  need to be done at the same time, so that the women chosen do not feel isolated in a largely male-dominated set of structures. And these women should be free to re-structure their respective department(s) to achieve greater relevance for the modern world.

My point is simple: at a time when women are assuming top leadership roles in the political life of major nations in the Western World, isn't it time that the Vatican take this as a sign of the Spirit and begin moving in the same direction? Begin by doing what many countries have done: open "cabinet posts" to women.

The lack of progress in the direction of gender equality in the Catholic church is frankly embarrassing, and has been for a long time.

So, let's be on with it. That study of women deacons started by Pope Francis should move swiftly and develop into a study of women as priests and bishops, followed by swift implementation of a vision of gender equality. We might -- and I suspect we would -- discover that hierarchical structures need to be eliminated, and that the famous "discipleship of equals" needs to be implemented. If that happens, we're talking about the beginning of a renewed church.  

Some day, we may see Theresa May, Angela Merkel, and Hillary Clinton as signs of the future.

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