ROME - The conclave is a mechanism entirely reserved for men, even though the pope elected will also be the spiritual guide for more than a half-billion Catholic females.
The only women involved in the process were those in the Casa Santa Marta – where the voting cardinals at and slept – and they all took the oath of secrecy. The Pari o Dispare organization, which strives for equal rights between the genders, pointed out this singularity with irony.
Back on March 8 – International Women’s Day – the cardinals discussed the role of women during their General Congregation meeting before the conclave that was held to lay out the priorities for the Church and new pontiff. Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, presented the women translators in the room with mimosas – the traditional yellow flower given on the annual celebration in Italy.
The gesture falls far short for the small communities within the Church who are asking the cardinals to “welcome women, married or not, who prove to be suitable for community service, even at the highest levels of Ministry.”
La Stampa spoke to four women – three nuns and a university professor. Here are their views on women’s roles in the Church, as the world's 1.2 billion Catholics look ahead to the new papacy of Pope Francis.
Sister Maria Barbagallo, General Superior of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart of Jesus
If I had been able to talk during the congregations, I would have said that women are essential to the new evangelization that Benedict XVI began. We feel that we are a living part of the Church, even when our role is recognized. Women do not chase after positions of power. In fact, our service to the Church is qualified but not self-interested – I have wanted to say to the cardinals that women in the Church can do more. Not only at the pastoral level, in preaching and charity, but also at the decision-making level. We can lead the rising Evangelism with a female sensibility, in order to discern the spirit of the times.
Jesus always had women around him. Saint Hildegard of Bingen confronted popes, bishops and abbots. In the U.S., Saint Francesca Cabrini overcame the sexist prejudices of the Church. Today, if there were women in positions of power, there would be fewer scandals in the Church like those of child abuse or Vatileaks. With a maternal sense we defend the right to life.
Even though we can become the president of the republic, but not the pope, we offer innovative contributions in the philosophical, spiritual, and mystical spheres. Men often walk around problems; we know how to overcome the bureaucracy. This is a world that must be looked at with the serenity of a God who is father and mother.
Lucetta Scaraffia, Professor of Contemporary History at the Roman La Sapienza University
During the cardinals’ meetings, the role of women was addressed. In society there is confusion between women's empowerment and women's liberation from her biological maternal destiny. The Church has continued to defend the female specificity, that of motherhood. Until the 20th century, the Church had given women more opportunities for development than the rest of society – just think of saints or the founders of lay congregations who travelled freely and managed large budgets. Then, in the last century, the situation was reversed, and the Church today does not recognize the equality of women within it.
Still, when it comes to defending women, the Church is always at the forefront. The changes in Western societies that opened spaces to women that had been previously reserved for men caused a revolution in the configuration of sexual roles. It introduced the question of whether the role of women should be expanded, also for the Catholic Church. It is a problem of equality that the Christian tradition has seen very clearly from the very beginning.
Sister Giuliana Galli, Vice President of the Compagnia di San Paolo
God created man and woman. Women are the carrier of life – without them there would be no evolution. So, more than just traditions, it is the word of God that counts: "The Word became flesh." And it became flesh through a woman.
"It was the women who took care of corpses; they mended the sheets and prayed on the Shroud." However, society and the Church still find it hard to enhance the role of women. Indeed, the most reactionary and closed environments towards female participation are the Church and finance. But a house without a woman falls into disrepair; it is cold, it doesn't breathe. The female contribution to the Church is like good wine forgotten in the cellar.
Evangelization is full of life. So, who better than a woman to bring this fullness to life? Are they worried that women will speak of just sentiment and love? We speak of love too much these days. A colossal hypocrisy has defaced the meaning of the word in the private dimensions of relationships, as well as publicly in institutions like the Church. There is the urgent need of a lay "11th Commandment": Though shalt not mention love in vain, in order to retrieve the radicalness of meaning of an abused and mistreated word.
Sister Maria Trigilia, World Delegate of the Salesian co-operators
Vatican II may have seemed like a "sexist" conference, however after the Council there were many visible changes. The 23 women who took part in the proceedings, starting in 1964, were auditors. Historical research has recognized the weight that these women – who were allowed into the room with a black veil on their heads, and whom the Synod Fathers called "mothers" – urged Vatican II to examine the real problems of the status of women and of women's rights. It is also because of this that in the Catholic Church nowadays there are female theologians – thanks to the Council, the male monopoly on theology has ended.
Joseph Ratzinger (the birth name of Benedict XVI) underlined the presence of women. The woman's mark is more central and fruitful than ever. Ratzinger's lesson has to be remembered – looking at Mary and imitating her doesn't mean orienting the Church towards a passivity, based on an outdated concept of womanhood, condemning it to a dangerous vulnerability in a world where what matters most is primarily domination and power. The way of Christ is neither that of domination nor of power as it is understood by the world. This "passivity" is actually the path of Love, it is a royal power that defeats all violence, and it is passion that saves the world from sin.