Are Women Already Running the Catholic Church?

An upbeat (for once) article in the Washington Post by Ashley McGuire of the Catholic Association. The Vatican sounds like it would be a really good place to work, actually, whether you are a man or a woman.

Are women already running the Catholic Church?

By Ashley McGuire, Published: March 8

This morning as I stepped out of a café in Rome, I was greeted by a smiling man offering me a sprig of mimosa flowers.

Today is the Festa della Donna, or Women’s Day in Italy, and the mimosa is the flower traditionally given to women on this day.

I found it perfectly appropriate that I began a week long trip in Rome for the upcoming papal conclave on Woman’s Day. With the Catholic Church at the forefront of international news given recent events, many are using the opportunity to frame the Vatican and the Catholic Church more broadly as a place that excludes women. The next pope will be a man elected by 115 men, therefore women must have no role in the life of the faith, the logic goes.

I returned to my home for the next week, a friend’s apartment, with two cappuccinos in hand. My friend, a woman, is studying to be a canon lawyer, an ecclesiastical role that entails tremendous authority in adjudicating church matters.

When we couldn’t figure out the credentialing process, she called a friend who is a Vatican journalist, or a Vaticanista as they are known around here. But she was too busy carting around journalists and cardinals.

So I emailed an American friend, a woman, who is a Catholic journalist. She referred me to “the Americans” in Rome, two of the more media savvy ones, also women.

Later in the morning, as I walked to the Vatican, I slipped coming down a step. The young nun passing by, gave me gave a friendly laugh, her veil lifted in the breeze and a blonde curl peeking out from the front.

I was on my way to meet another friend, Carolina Rea, who works in the office for the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums. She greeted me at St. Ann’s Gate, and as she shuttled me through the door of the Apostolic Palace, a Swiss Guard quietly saluted her.

She led me through the San Dammasso Courtyard, where the flagpoles stood barren because of the sede vacante. As we walked down a long hallway, empty but for the silent scuttle of painters, faint laughter could be heard around the corner. As we turned and entered her office, Carolina pushed back the door and female laughter burst out onto the stone. There stood four women, one of whom smiled and stretched out her hand, joking that, “this is where we have all the fun.”

One by one, I spoke with these women, asking them especially about life as a woman in the Vatican. When I told Sara, an Italian mother of two, that many in the American press have an impression that women are underrepresented in the Vatican and the Catholic Church, her eyebrow arched with suspicion and she leaned back, almost as if offended. “No,” she said. “Maybe twenty years ago.” (She was working at the Vatican then as well.) “Very important women are leading Vatican offices. Women are very, very important [here].”

Carolina chimed in, saying:

“We have a special place here. Because so many of the men here are priests, we have a different form of brightness and character that we come in with, it’s lightened the mood and the ambiance here.”

She continued: When we come in the door, they’re all wearing their clerics. And us lay women, we really bring it when we come in. When people see us come in and out, they do a double take. Romina leaves on her moped, Sara’s driving in with her Badgley Mischka Carter shades. People are looking through the gates and they can’t believe how many women are coming out. Fabulous women that are very well-educated and very well put-together.”

Carolina, who has a degree from Notre Dame, is wearing floral skinny jeans, black suede boots, purple cat-eye glasses, and her voluminous blonde waves are tied up in a chignon.

The women pointed out that the growing presence of women in the Vatican has led to a very pro-family environment. The Vatican, whose workforce is approximately 40 percent female, has a very progressive maternity leave policy, allowing women paid leave beginning two months before their due date and allowing them a year of paid leave after birth. When the women return, they are allowed to create a “milk schedule” so that they can structure their hours around their nursing needs.

By contrast, the United States only ensures that women cannot be fired for becoming pregnant and mandates that women who have given birth be granted a certain period of “disability” leave and mandates that a woman’s job be held for her for three months.

Romina, a new mother, nodded her head in vigorous agreement with the suggestion that the Vatican is a pro-mother environment.

Each of the five women of the office has a mimosa on her desk, brought in by the director of the office, Father Mark.

When I asked Father Mark, an affable young priest from Akron, Ohio, about his take on the contribution of women to the Vatican he says, “Huge. Any endeavor should involve their expertise.” He admitted that the Vatican’s “public image is very masculine.” But, he continued, “Anyone who is inside understands the amazing amount of authority and influence that women have in the daily operations of the Vatican.” Regarding gender politics, he waved his hand and said, “We’re past all that. The important thing is the professional qualities and expertise you bring to the table, more than if you are male or female.”

Read more here:

Hmm. So the Vatican has a 40% female workforce with a liberal maternity leave policy? Hope they’ve got a well staffed HR department; they could be getting a lot of applications.

Of course, if you wallk into any Catholic parish or school office, you will probably observe that it is women who run the place!

Um…to whom did Jesus first reveal Himself upon His resurrection?

Who were at the foot of the cross?

Let’s not make the mistake that God intends women to take an inferior role in life, as do so many of the Protestant denominations. It has been proven that women’s brain, though smaller than man’s, is more effective. God has created both sexes with important differences. I don’t personally feel comfortable with women as priests but, after all, that is more a conditioned response to my upbringing in an all-male Church (at that time). Unfortunately for their children (and yes it is unfortunate, since I believe a child needs a parent at home), women have to work (probably all over the world), so I should think a 40% staff of females is normal.

I wish I would have seen this article a few days ago when I was having an argument w/a lady who’s adamant that women in the catholic church are repressed and oppressed.

Thanks for sharing.


Are they running the place or just doing all the work?:wink:

What a great article. Really enjoyed reading it… Many thanks.:thumbsup:


Doing lots of work and receiving commensurate benefits?

They’re doing lots of work. I don’t know what the benefits are, but I’m sure most could find better pay and better benefits in a secular job. I had a friend who was beginning a career as an elementary school teacher, and explained to me the difference in pay between the Catholic parish school and the public school. I was astonished; saying I would have taken the public job. But this teacher didn’t. She preferred the Catholic school. Later, another Catholic school employee was talking about the differences in working conditions between public and Catholic schools. People were just nicer at the Catholic school. Again, I was startled to hear some of the stark differences. So I guess the benefits are not all monetary.

Of course, the cost of paying the lay employees is considerably more than paying the priests.

The difference between Catholic parish school and the public school is huge. Two people working at a Catholic school would have a hard time raising a family. My wife worked for 2 Catholic schools one had a good working conditions the other had a bad working conditions for teachers. The squeeze for funds can cause problems in any working environment.

I would hope that men and women who work for the Vatican make a living wage commensurate with their abilities. Too often in our society we think that if a position is important for the public then the people who occupy that positions should be willing to make large sacrifices because of that importance. What we should be thinking is that if a job is important then everyone must make sacrifices to support it; and those sacrifices demand that we provide a living wage to those who do the work. (You should not muzzle the oxen that thrash the grain.) Pardon my rant, but it does have a purpose, For I suspect that the Vatican has more resources than a typical parish, and I have full confidence in our leaders to passionately understand the point that I am ranting about.

The main cost of paying a priest is that he is not out there doing a priests job. The gain of paying a lay man/lay woman is diversity not only of appearance but of experience and abilities.

Thank you for this! Priesthood is not the only servant position in the Church. Something we protestants often fail to realize (or choose to fail)

The Vatican is probably the only catholic bureacracy in the world that is NOT staffed mostly by women. Go visit your average diocesan office or parish and I betcha its at least 2:1 woman to man, probably 3:1.

I actually think this is part of why God tailored Holy Orders as a role for men. He knew that one of men’s flaws is the tendancy to shirk responsibilities if someone else is willing to step up and take them on instead. For whatever reason, women seem more inclined to step up on faith issues. Consider it God’s affirmative action program. :wink:

I work at a Catholic high school and yes I get played less than someone who works in administration somewhere else, but at our school we are a community, a family, that all share a very special common bond. Even the families who are not Catholic love being there and sharing in all we do, both in and out of school. It is like being a part of a very small parish, one that is very close.

We do have several married couples who work there together and no they do not have big homes or fancy cars. Most of their “going out” is going to games, plays, or events at school. It is hard to explain what a special place it is. I am betting that most of the women who work for any church feels some kind of special bond there.

I agree. My parish school is supported by the entire parish, not just the parents. The next generation of Catholics is everybody’s business. But if every member of a parish tithed instead of only a minority, we could afford to pay our teachers more and be more equitabe compared with public school salaries.

I personally think that there is a high value to not hating your job.

So would you say working a school where your students are not children of the corn is a major intangible benefit?

If all Catholics who could afford it tithed 5% much could be different.

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