They are more than half of the Catholics in the world and, however, in the high Vatican institutions, until very recently, they did not even have their own bathroom. They are the ones who clean the altar, the ones who change the flowers, the ones who serve the bishop or the parish priest but, historically, women have been and are second-class citizens in the Catholic Church. A reality that Pope Francis, very little by little, is beginning to change.
This Wednesday, for the first time in two millennia, Bergoglio appointed three women as members of the almighty Congregation of Bishops, the Vatican body that is responsible for selecting candidates to lead dioceses around the world. They are two nuns: Sister Raffaella Petrini, current deputy governor of Vatican City, and French nun Yvonne Reungoat, former superior general of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians; joined by María Lia Zervino, president of the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations.
Three small islands in a sea, that of the factory of bishops, dominated solely and exclusively by men and, until very recently, only by bishops and cardinals. Nor were there male laymen from whom they could choose their pastors. From now on, women will be able to participate in the process of electing bishops... although they will continue to be unable to do so.
Because, despite the advances of this pontificate, effective equality is not there, nor is it expected. Much less in the doctrinal, where any possible advance, requested by the majority of the faithful in recent synods, such as recovering the role of deaconesses, in force during the first centuries of the Church, has been conveniently paralyzed by a Vatican Curia that, in the process of reform, wants to stop any attempt to open.
So much so that it was considered a historic success (which raised blisters among the ultra sectors) that women can preach in some cases, or distribute communion.
And not only in the Vatican: the Spanish Church, in its recent conclusions for the Synod Summoned by the Pope, he avoided any reference to the female priesthood, despite the fact that it was one of the issues raised most forcefully by the nearly 200,000 Catholics who, according to the Episcopal Conference, were among the proposals sent to Rome.
There is still much to be done and few believe Francis will be able to do it. And it is that, with Praedicate Evangelium in hand –a historic and recent reform of the leadership of the Holy See–, any man (and woman), could preside over a Vatican dicastery, without necessarily being a cardinal, bishop, priest or religious. .
A Vatican minister? Bergoglio himself revealed a few days ago that he himself proposed that a woman be appointed head of Vatican financesbut that both the salary (she was an experienced European economist, whose name was not given) and, fundamentally, the gender issue, caused a designation to be stopped that, curiously, ended up falling on a Spanish Jesuit, Juan Antonio Guerrero, who refused to be appointed bishop or cardinal, as seemed mandatory.
The ministerial glass ceiling could break in the coming weeks. In Vatican circles it is taken for granted that the Pope will appoint the Italian nun Alessandra Smerelli as president of the Dicastery for the Service of Integral Human Development, of which she is currently secretary.
Other women, such as Argentina's Emilce Cuda, current secretary of the Commission for Latin America, or Nathalie Becquart, undersecretary of none other than the Synod (previously known as 'of bishops'), show that, despite everything, launched a path. Raffaella Petrini herself, in fact, has been Secretary General of the Governorate of the State of Vatican City since last November.
The Spanish nun Carmen Ros Norte, undersecretary of the Department for Religious, or Barbara Jatta, the first female director of the Vatican Museums (and a laywoman, not a religious), are other female names that, little by little, are gaining ground in the Vatican. Nataša Govekar, director of the Theological and Pastoral Directorate of the Dicastery for Communication; Cristiane Murray, deputy director of the Holy See Press Office; or Francesca Di Giovanni, undersecretary of the Multilateral Sector of the Section for Relations with States and International Organizations of the Secretariat of State, are also part of this small club of women in the Vatican, about a thousand in the entire small state. A figure that, however, has increased in recent years. Thus, while in 2010, still with Benedict XVI, only 17% of Vatican employees were women, ten years later, the figure exceeds 25%.
The steps that are being taken do not prevent that there is still a forest that hangs over, still too thick, on the reality of inequality in the Catholic Church. One of the next scandals to explode, after that of sexual abuse in the Church, is in the conditions of semi-slavery suffered by many nuns at the hands of bishops and parish priests, especially in developing countries, where some prelates come to exercise command as a kind of feudal lords. The Vatican itself recognized, a few months ago, that some nuns practically lived as servants of ecclesiastical officials.
The situation, in extreme cases, led many women, after deciding to abandon religious life, to find themselves in a situation of extreme poverty, even falling into prostitution or human trafficking networks, without their religious institutes reference did nothing to help the former nun in her exit to lay life.
A situation that is not only experienced in Africa or Asia: in Rome itself, the Scalibrinians have a shelter for former consecrated women who, after abandoning their habits, ended up practicing prostitution. A house that the Pope has visited on more than one occasion, and that shows how, in the Church, with regard to women, the contrast between Mary and Mary Magdalene continues to function: the virgin and the prostitute... even though the Magdalene was never a prostitute , and the virginity of Mary is, like so many other things in the Church, a matter of faith.
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