Abby Davis, FISM News
Pope Francis has appointed three women to serve on a previously all-male council that directly advises the pope on selecting bishops.
Two weeks ago, in an exclusive interview with Reuters on July 2, the 85-year-old pontiff said he intended to appoint two women to the Dicastery of Bishops, commenting, “I am open to giving [women] an opportunity.”
He followed through on that promise 10 days later. On July 13, the Holy See Press Office published a list of fourteen new members appointed to the committee. Three of the names belonged to women: Dr. Maria Lia Zervino, Sister Yvonne Reungoat, and Sister Rafaella Petrini.
This is not the first time Sr. Petrini has made headlines for a papal appointment. Last November the 53-year-old nun in the Franciscan Sisters of the Eucharist was named secretary-general of Vatican City, a position equivalent to that of a deputy mayor.
Dr. Zervino is the president of the World Union of Catholic Women’s Organizations, and Sr. Reungoat is Superior Emeritus of the Institute of the Daughters of Mary Help of Christians.
The Dicastery of Bishops is the final layer of recommendation that a potential bishop’s name must pass before being considered by the pope. Local bishops will discuss priests in their area who they believe would make good bishops and submit a list of candidates to their country’s nuncio, who is the pope’s representative for that country. The nuncio will then research the priests and narrow the list down to three names – a terna – which he submits to the Dicastery of Bishops.
The Dicastery will discuss and vote on this terna. If they accept it, the terna will be submitted to the pope, who has final say in appointing bishops.
Pope Francis has been vocal in his pontificate about expanding women’s roles in the church. In March of this year, he announced that women would be allowed to head departments previously only led by male clerics. In 2019, he appointed the first seven women, including Reungoat, to ever serve on the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life.
Some conservative Catholics criticize the move, saying that it goes against the hierarchical structure set up by Christ. Pope Francis has already come under fire for being too progressive, especially in his views toward the LGBTQ community.
Others say he didn’t go far enough. The Women’s Ordination Conference (WOC), whose mission is “to ordain women as deacons, priests, and bishops to an inclusive and accountable Roman Catholic Church,” released a statement about the dicastery appointments. While praising the move as a step towards women’s equality, the release went on to say, “We also note the deep irony that women may now aid in selecting bishops, a role they themselves are prohibited from holding on account of their gender.”
The WOC, which believes that “the Church, in fidelity to the gospel, must be open to the full and equal participation of women and people of all gender identities in all its ministries,” is considered by many to be heretical.