We all know that gender relations in religion is a complicated affair. Looking specifically at Catholicism, there appears to be an inherent inequality between the sexes. The very keystone of the religion, the Holy Bible paints women as being created for the companionship of man. Eve was subservient to Adam, always taking commands from him, rather than communicating with God himself. With this hierarchy originally created in the first moments of human life, it seems to follow that man should hold a position higher than that of woman within the Catholic Church, and this has been overwhelmingly the case throughout history.
However, recently, Pope Francis (considered to be the most ‘progressive’) has made a radical change in his choice of appointment of Secretariat of State, with Francesca Di Giovanni being the first woman to hold a position this high within the Church. The Pope has been commended on his revolutionary stances introduced into the church, including the advocation for the acceptance of married men into priesthood. This comes in stark contrast to the position of Pope Francis’ predecessor Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, who argued that celibacy among priests is ontologically necessary within the Church, in his co-authored book From the Depths of Our Hearts.
Di Giovanni’s role consists of co-ordinating relations between the Holy See (read: the Pope’s jurisdiction) and international groups such as the UN. While this is an outstanding advancement towards equality for women in the Church, there are several aspects of this news which call into question not only the legitimacy of this role, but the current state of the religious hierarchy in Catholicism in general.
Firstly, it is integral to point out that this role was created specifically for Di Giovanni and, while this may be considered positive, those better versed in the goings on behind the walls of the Vatican appear to see this as a clever ruse to appease groups such as the International Union of Superiors General (UISG), a group of nuns fighting for female representation within the church. Vatican Correspondent Joshua McElwee tweeted “It appears to me that Francis is essentially elevating what normally would be called a “capo ufficio” (department head) to an undersecretary role.” Is the Vatican overplaying the position they have given Di Giovanni simply to make headlines and appear more progressive? Do roles really have to be created just to allow more female inclusion, implying that they are just not capable of excelling in the ones that already exist and are held by men? Furthermore, what many news outlets neglect to mention is that this role is not Di Giovanni’s alone. She shares this position with Msgr. Miroslaw Wachowski, another man. You can already imagine the toxic workplace hierarchy this has created.
Taking a wider look at the church, we see laws within the jus canonicum (read: Catholic laws) that prevent women from retaining the roles of priests. With regards to her new role, Di Giovanni insists that “The Holy Father has made an unprecedented decision, certainly, which, beyond myself personally, represents an indication of an attention towards women. But the responsibility is connected to the job, rather than to the fact of being a woman.” It is important not to put Di Giovanni’s promotion down to an equality checklist, and to acknowledge her skill and right to be there as an intelligent lawyer. However, when the strongest argument for women not being priests is that Jesus never ordained any women, it becomes deeply prominent to promote the ability of women as women. It appears that ignorance continues to be the primary obstacle towards true gender equality within the Catholic Church and, with Pope Francis failing to address the neglect of women in religious succession, there appears to be no visible change on the horizon.
[Carrie MacNeill – she/her – @carriemac97]
[Photo credit: Quiang Huang Photography]