As we reflect on International Women’s Day, it seems clear to me that one of the tasks awaiting the successor to Benedict XVI will be to explore how the Holy See, and the Roman Catholic Church, can use better the talents, energy and loyalty of the women in its ranks.
Anyone who works with the Holy See network will be aware of the vital role played by women religious in almost every aspect of Church life on the ground and across the world, be it in education, development work, health care, managing parishes, supporting Papal nuncios, or spreading the word about the faith.
There are over 720,000 religious sisters active across the world, and over 26,000 further members of female secular institutes, often working in conditions of great hardship. And, of course, there are many more female lay members of the Church, committed to the future of their Church and their faith.
I have come across many women doing wonderful jobs here in Rome.
Those with whom this embassy works include Sister Helen Alford, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the Angelicum University. Sister Jane Livesey, Superior General of the worldwide Congregation of Jesus – the Mary Ward Sisters. Sister Eugenia Bonetti, running the human trafficking network of the Union of Italian Mothers Superior.
I have recently discussed UN issues with Dr. Francesca di Giovanni and Prof Jane Adolphe in the Secretariat of State, and have worked on climate change with Dr Flaminia Giovanelli, Under Secretary in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. English speaking listeners of Vatican Radio will know well Philippa Hitchen, one of the key anchors of the global Vatican Radio service.
Ecumenists have much to thank Professor Donna Orsuto, Director of the Lay Centre. And the global Caritas Internationalis development and aid network is indebted to their Policy Director here in Rome, Dr Martina Liebsch.
We celebrate them all on 8 March, and the other women working for the common good on behalf of the global Catholic Church. And yet the public face of the Holy See, and the Roman Catholic Church, remains predominantly male. Stating that is not meant to be a criticism, but it is a fact.
I wonder whether the Holy See is doing all it might to mobilise this great resource – Catholic women worldwide? No society can afford not to do so.