Pope Francis put a woman in a top Vatican role. It shows how little power Catholic women hold

NBC News Think

January 21, 2020

By Celia Viggo Wexler

Failing to empower women narrows the church’s vision and makes it less equipped to be a force for good in the world.

Recently, the Catholic Church took two small steps for womankind: This month, Pope Francis named the first woman to a managerial position in the Vatican’s most important office, the Secretariat of State. And in October, the world’s bishops suggested that Francis reconvene a commission he had created, at the urging of nuns, to study the ordination of women as permanent deacons — church ministers who are able to perform some of the duties of priests, but not to say Mass or hear confessions.

Yet these reforms only make clear how little power women hold in the church, where they constitute about half of Catholicism’s 1.2 billion adherents. Not only are women barred from ordination to the priesthood, they are not even allowed to vote at Vatican synods, convened to advise the pope about challenges facing the church.

Women, in comparison, have led the charge for action and accountability. In 1988, Barbara Blaine, who had been sexually assaulted by her parish priest, founded the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and petitioned Catholic clergy to do more to respond to the crisis. As the scandals increased, Catholic women continued to raise alarm bells and urged that the laity be more involved in ensuring that the church protect children.

In 2014, abuse survivor Marie Collins was named to a Vatican commission on protecting minors from abuse. But in a sign of how marginalized women’s voices were, she resigned in 2017 out of frustration that Vatican bureaucrats failed to implement the group’s recommendations.

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