Barred from priesthood, some Catholic women find other roles

ROME — Women aspiring to leadership in the Catholic church have long come to terms with the glass ceiling that exists in the male-dominated institution, but Pope Francis’ spate of female appointments in the Vatican hierarchy suggests that change, however modest, is underway.

A growing number of women hold consequential positions in the church and at the Vatican. But it’s the roles women occupy at the grassroots level — in parishes, dioceses and universities — that suggest to female Catholics that despite the institution’s slowness to change, women are taking the lead, making new demands and inspiring new perspectives.

Nuns in the United States have been among those setting the pace. Several of them have played prominent roles in social justice activism; two others have been the recent leaders of the Catholic church’s vast network of hospitals and health centers.

Women cannot be ordained and become priests, bishops or popes in the Catholic church. It teaches that because Jesus selected only men as apostles, only men can lead the church and perform the sacraments.

———

This story is part of a series by The Associated Press and Religion News Service on women’s roles in male-led religions.

———

What’s new is that female empowerment is “more and more an issue carried also by men, including priests, bishops and cardinals. Even the pope,” said Sister Nathalie Becquart, the first woman appointed undersecretary of the Synod of Bishops.

This important post, assigned to Becquart by the pope in February, was previously held only by bishops. She coordinates preparations for the summits of bishops at the Vatican called synods.

While synods have always been an exclusively male forum for clergy to discuss the church’s pressing issues, under Francis they have become a steppingstone for women. Sister Alessandra Smerilli, an Italian economist, was appointed councilor of the 2015 synod on youth before she rose in the ranks.

This year, Francis appointed a biblical scholar, Sister Nuria Calduch-Benages, as secretary of the Pontifical Biblical Commission. On Nov. 4, he chose Sister Raffaella Petrini to be secretary general of the governorship of Vatican City, making her the highest-ranking woman in the Catholic city-state.

The first woman appointed to a Vatican congregation was Sister Luzia Premoli, a nun from Brazil. She says her 2014 appointment by Francis to the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples demonstrated his commitment to include more women as decision-makers.

Premoli joined the Comboni Missionary Sisters at 23, rising to be a superior general overseeing missionaries in numerous African countries.

Speaking by telephone from her missionary post in the Central African Republic, Premoli said her Vatican appointment was slow to come about because of a “mentality within the church” that disapproves of women in top positions.

“But for Jesus it was different,” she said. “He invited women to follow him.”

The injection of women into Vatican positions of authority is already changing perspectives, Becquart says.

After she was elevated by the pope, Becquart lived for six months at a home for clergy close to St. Peter’s Square. The priests initially were hesitant, but after a few shared meals and conversations they got used to the new arrival. “Now they tell me, ‘We miss you. Come back!’” she said.

Worldwide, a growing number of women serve as chancellors in dioceses and as members of bishop’s councils. In January, Francis changed canon law to allow women to be lectors and acolytes, giving official recognition to female service during Mass.

In the United States recently, some of the most prominent women on the Catholic stage have been nuns engaged in social activism. They include Sister Helen Prejean, whose campaigning against the death penalty was featured in the film “Dead Man Walking”; Sister Norma Pimentel, renown for advocacy on behalf of migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border, and Sister Simone Campbell, who led cross-country “Nuns on the Bus” trips highlighting issues of economic and social injustice.

Among the nuns with clout is Sister Mary Haddad, who has served since 2019 as president of the Catholic Health Association of the United States. Its network of hospitals, health centers and long-term care facilities is the nation’s largest group of nonprofit health providers.

In high school, Haddad focused on sports, not a possible career in Catholic organizations, and went to Southern Illinois University with a field hockey scholarship.

A leadership opportunity arrived quickly. At 22, with a newly earned bachelor’s degree in education, Haddad became a substitute teacher at a Catholic school in her hometown, Gillespie, Illinois. The parish priest was so impressed that, within two months, he asked her to become the principal.

“I remember clearly thinking I’m not qualified — but if he feels I have what it takes, I’m going to do it,” she said. “That was my first entree into church leadership.”

Haddad subsequently earned two master’s degrees and joined the Sisters of Mercy of America, working in health care, social services and education in the U.S., Trinidad and Tobago, and Belize.

While joining the order, Haddad sometimes talked with another novice who resented the ban on women’s ordination and yearned to be a priest. Haddad says she never shared that frustration.

“People ask me what it’s like being a woman in a male-dominated church, thinking I must feel subservient, but I don’t feel that way,” she said. “I’ve been afforded opportunities to demonstrate my abilities to serve God’s church.”

“My father died in car crash when I was 3, and I saw my mother taking on his roles — she did it all,” Haddad added. “There’s nothing a man can do that a woman can’t.”

Among the lay women reaching positions of power in U.S. Catholicism is Carolyn Woo, who was dean of the University of Notre Dame’s business school for 14 years before serving as president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services from 2012 to 2016. CRS provides humanitarian aid in over 100 countries, spending more than $900 million a year.

Woo is not eager to debate women’s ordination. That argument “has taken up every ounce of oxygen,” she says.

Instead, in face-to-face conversations and an upcoming book, Woo insists there are rewarding options for women beyond the priesthood.

“When I meet with young women, there’s an undertone of ‘Women really don’t have much influence,’” she said. “It takes time to engage, to explain, ‘No, there are a lot of opportunities for women to lead.’”

In 2016, Francis created a commission to study the possibility of women deacons, who can preside over services except for Mass and cannot perform sacraments. In 2019, Francis said the commission’s report didn’t provide a “definitive response” and launched a new study that is unfinished.

“It’s all part of an effort to postpone so as not to address the problem,” said Lucetta Scaraffia, a history professor at the Sapienza University of Rome. In 2012, Scaraffia was appointed by Pope Benedict XVI to run “Women Church World,” a magazine published alongside the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano.

In 2019 she and many of her reporters resigned after publishing articles on the servitude and sexual abuse of religious sisters by clergy. Scaraffia says the Vatican hierarchy forced the resignations by applying a tight noose around the publication.

Scaraffia is nuanced in discussing female ordination. “I think that women should have authority in Vatican and church departments as normal women, as lay women, who see things differently,” she said.

Scaraffia believes the Vatican’s recent female appointments are “important from a symbolic and public image perspective.” But reflecting her own experience, she says these women “chosen by the ecclesial hierarchy, competent but obedient, don’t have a real chance to interfere with the Church’s decisions.”

Instead, she says Pope Francis should appoint members of the International Union of Superiors General, which represents more than 600,000 religious sisters worldwide, to serve on the Council of Cardinals, a group of prelates handpicked by the pope as advisers.

The cultural pressure needed for the Catholic Church and Vatican to empower more women can only come from the outside, Scaraffia said.

“The church is not changing — the women in the church are changing,” she said, “including religious sisters who were quiet and obedient for a long time. Now they are no longer silent and obedient. Now they are coming forward with their requests, their projects, their identity.”

———

Crary reported from New York.

———

Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through The Conversation U.S. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

News Related

OTHER NEWS

Luke Plange reveals attitude Wayne Rooney has instilled in Derby County squad

© Provided by Football League World Championship – Fulham v Derby County Derby County striker Luke Plange has told media that Wayne Rooney has convinced his players that they are ... Read more »

SA's major dams filled to capacity

© Provided by eNCA JOHANNESBURG – Four of South Africa’s major dams are filled to capacity, thanks to the recent heavy rains. The Vaal Dam in Gauteng, Sterkfontein Dam in ... Read more »

Class of 2021 cut from a different cloth, Zikalala commends students and teachers

© Provided by Independent Online (IOL) Durban – After achieving an overall pass rate of 76.80%, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala Friday commended the province’s Grade 12 class of 2021 for ... Read more »

Who is Friedrich Merz, the new head of Germany's CDU?

© Provided by DW Friedrich Merz, a successful businessman, appeals to the CDU’s conservative wing Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) voted to elect Friedrich Merz as the center-right party’s new leader ... Read more »

Germany's Lufthansa is set to buy 40% stake in Alitalia's successor ITA - paper

© Reuters/Kai Pfaffenbach FILE PHOTO: German air carrier Lufthansa holds general meeting in Frankfurt MILAN (Reuters) – Germany’s Lufthansa is set to buy a 40% stake in Alitalia’s successor ITA ... Read more »

‘I know' - Sky journalist makes live TV transfer claim involving West Ham and 28 y/o ‘beast'

© Provided by Transfer Tavern Diego Carlos Newcastle transfer news Speaking live on Thursday during Sky Sports’ The Transfer Show, as transcribed by West Ham Zone, Kaveh Solhekol has made ... Read more »

Beauty brand Juvia's Place criticised for posting makeup tutorial featuring anti-Asian slur

© Juvia’s Place/@hosoterratoma Influencer Maggie Carrie featured in a makeup tutorial for Juvia’s Place and used a racial slur in the video – Juvia’s Place/@hosoterratoma A beauty brand has apologised ... Read more »

Daniil Medvedev 'not stupid' as Australian Open hopeful makes Nick Kyrgios admission

Daniil Medvedev has opened up on his relationship with the Australian Open crowd after giving a salty on-court interview following his second-round win over Nick Kyrgios. The world No 2 ... Read more »

Dalal Street Week Ahead: Will Nifty continue to bleed in truncated week?

In a week where the trading range remained much wider on expected lines, the Indian equity market remained predominantly under pressure. For the four out of five days, Nifty sustained ... Read more »

The daily 6-minute routine that science says helps you get a better night's sleep

© Provided by T3 Woman stretching and smiling in bed A good night’s sleep can make a huge difference to your mood and wellbeing, as well as impacting health in ... Read more »

John Souttar 'injured' as Rangers pre contract star OUT of Hearts Scottish Cup tie

John Souttar is OUT of the Hearts squad for their Scottish Cup tie against Auchinleck Talbot, sparking speculation he could be ready to make his Rangers move this month. However, ... Read more »

What I gained (and lost) from walking 10,000 steps a day for five months

© Getty What we’ve noticed after walking 10,000 steps a day for five months – Getty On 2 January 2021, a friend told me that their New Year’s resolution was ... Read more »

Shehnaaz Gill REVEALS why Katrina has become 'Punjab Ki Katrina Kaif'; there's a Vicky Kaushal angle to it – Watch Video

© Provided by BollywoodLife.com Shehnaaz Gill is back ad fans are rejoicing this moment. Shehnaaz is today one of the most loved celebrities in India. But a few years ago ... Read more »

After Priyanka Chopra-Nick Jonas announce arrival of baby, netizens slam writer Taslima Nasreen's 'readymade babies' comment

© Provided by BollywoodLife.com Priyanka Chopra and Nick Jonas today announced that they have become parents via surrogacy. It seems the couple have welcomed home a baby girl. Nick Jonas ... Read more »

36 Farmhouse: Sonu Nigam reunites with filmmaker Subhash Ghai, says ‘Can never say no to anything he asks for'

© Provided by Pinkvilla Celebrated singer Sonu Nigam, who reunited with veteran filmmaker Subhash Ghai for ’36 Farmhouse’, expressed his gratitude to the filmmaker and said he helped shape his ... Read more »

Coronavirus: UAE reports 3,020 new cases and 1,333 recoveries

© Provided by The National People queue outside Parkview Hospital Covid-19 testing facility in Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National Live updates: follow the latest news on Omicron The UAE ... Read more »

The hidden lesson in the new free Covid-19 tests

© Philippe Francois/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images A woman receives a package with a rapid Covid-19 test in Gentbrugge, Belgium. In the US, free tests by mail are starting to ... Read more »

Stimulus checks: If you missed money in 2021, watch for this IRS letter

© Provided by CNET Every American who got a third stimulus check should receive Letter 6475. Angela Lang/CNET IRS letters may not be the most exciting mail, but you will ... Read more »

Chelsea's Rudiger talks continue as 'family feel great in London'

Chelsea defender Antonio Rudiger says his ‘family feel great in London’, as talks over a new deal continue. Rudiger, 28, is able to sign a pre-contract agreement with foreign clubs after ... Read more »

SN Draft Lab: What has Auburn's Jabari Smith Jr. skyrocketing up Mock Draft boards?

The SN Draft Lab puts the top college, G League and international players under the microscope as we build towards the 2022 NBA Draft. NBA scouts face the tall task ... Read more »

Man arrested after crash which closed M8 for hours

© PA Archive The motorway was closed between 12.55pm on Friday and 7.05am on Saturday (Andrew Milligan/PA) – PA Archive A 25-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of road ... Read more »

Pregnant woman, 24, jailed for life after stabbing boyfriend to death at New Year's party

© Essex Police Hannah Sindrey, 24, has been jailed for life after stabbing her boyfriend Paul Fletcher to death during a New Year’s Eve party – Essex Police A pregnant ... Read more »

3 Ways To Include Apricot In Your Beauty Regime For Fabulous Skin

Apricots are a magical wonder in the world of beauty. They offer distinctive properties that have been shown to enhance and nourish our skin. This fruit, which is high in ... Read more »

Rainbow Six Extraction tips and tricks – Best strategy for any mission type

© Provided by GamePur There are twelve mission types in Rainbow Six Extraction, and the specifics of how to complete their objectives are quite different. However, regardless of what type ... Read more »

The Eternal Flame: The Indian Armed Forces should not be milked for political ambitions

© Provided by The Financial Express Now that the Eternal Flame has been merged, it is unlikely at least under the present government that it will be changed. (PIB) By ... Read more »

'Those who made them migrate have migrated': Amit Shah in Kairana as he kicks off BJP's door-to-door campaign

© Provided by Jagran English Kairana/Lucknow | Jagran News Desk: Union Home Minister Amit Shah embarked on door-to-door campaign for Uttar Pradesh assembly polls from western UP’s Kairana. Raking up ... Read more »

And Just Like That, these trends are back

The highly anticipated reboot series of Sex and the City, titled And Just Like That, may have received mixed reviews for its storyline, but the show gets a thumbs up ... Read more »

Capt Amarinder Singh to contest Punjab assembly election from Patiala

© Provided by The Financial Express Capt Amarinder Singh has announced to contest the assembly polls from the Patiala seat. Punjab Lok Congress founder and former chief minister of Punjab ... Read more »

Everton vs Aston Villa - Premier League: Live score and updates

© Provided by Daily Mail MailOnline logo Everton host Aston Villa in the lunchtime Premier League kick-off on Saturday  Duncan Ferguson takes charge of the Toffees after Rafael Benitez was ... Read more »

Man in court after pensioner killed and husband critically injured in attack

A man has appeared in court charged with the murder of an 86-year-old woman in a “horrendous” attack which also left her husband with critical injuries. Vasile Culea was arrested ... Read more »

Russia accepts UK talks invite amid fears Ukraine invasion is 'imminent'

Russia’s defence minister has accepted an invitation to meet his UK counterpart Ben Wallace amid fears that an invasion of Ukraine is “imminent”. © Reuters Tensions are running high on ... Read more »

UN chief condemns airstrikes in Yemen that killed more than 70

United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres has condemned airstrikes in Yemen that reportedly killed more than 70 people this week. A facility in the northern city of Saada, which was used ... Read more »

Here are the five reasons why Hunarbaaz-Desh Ki Shaan should be on everyone's watchlist!

© Provided by Pinkvilla A one-of-a-kind talent hunt reality show that will keep you glued to your television screen, Hunarbaaz Desh Ki Shaan is going to be released tonight at ... Read more »

Learning a Lot from Senior Players in Bengaluru Torpedoes Squad: Varun GS

© Provided by News18 Varun GS, who will be showcasing his talent for Bengaluru Torpedoes in the upcoming edition of Prime Volleyball League, had to work hard to convince his ... Read more »

Suniel Shetty slams report about Athiya, KL Rahul's 2022 wedding: 'Unsure whether to be pained or amused'

© Provided by Zee News New Delhi: For past few days rumours have been rife that Suniel Shetty’s daughter Athiya Shetty and son Ahan Shetty are all set to tie ... Read more »

Shraddha Kapoor turns officiator of her makeup artist's wedding and it's beyond precious; WATCH

© Provided by Pinkvilla Friendships transcend time, distance and professions and putting this into practice, actress Shraddha Kapoor did something extremely special for her best friend and makeup artist Shraddha ... Read more »

Before Allu Arjun's 'Pushpa', Shreyas Talpade Also Dubbed For This Hollywood Film

© Provided by MensXP Sukumar’s directorial venture Pushpa, featuring Allu Arjun and Rashmika Mandanna in the lead roles, created history and turned out to be the biggest hit of 2021 ... Read more »

Breaking: South Africa fined for slow over-rate in second ODI against India

© Provided by Zee News South Africa have been fined 20 percent of their match fee for maintaining a slow over-rate against India in the second ODI in Paarl on ... Read more »

Arnold Schwarzenegger involved in multi-vehicle accident

© Michael Kovac/Getty Images Arnold Schwarzenegger Actor and former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was involved in a multi-vehicle crash Friday evening in Los Angeles with a representative telling People magazine ... Read more »

Who is Jackrabbit Jenkins? Why Titans CB Janoris Jenkins is going by his nickname in his 10th NFL season

© Provided by Sporting News Janoris Jenkins had one simple request after joining the Titans for the 2021 NFL season. Call him Jackrabbit. After spending the first nine seasons of ... Read more »
On free-english-test.com you will find lots of free English exam practice materials to help you improve your English skills: grammar, listening, reading, writing, ielts, toeic