A female Vatican official has urged Catholic women to put their hands up for Church leadership “without being shy or feeling inferior”.

– On gender equality in the Church, “we are on the right track”

Alessandra Smerilli, a 45-year-old Italian nun with a doctorate in economics who since 2019 has been a councillor of Vatican City State, made the appeal in an August 21 interview with the German KNA Catholic news agency.

The Daughter of Mary Help of Christians (FMA), who is also Professor of Political Economy at the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences Auxilium, said that with regard to gender equality in the Church “we are on the right track”.

“Not only in the Vatican, but also in the Italian Bishops’ Conference”, the nun said. Under the aegis of that second body, Smerilli also serves as secretary of the organising committee of the Italian Church’s Catholic Social Week.

“In a male-dominated world like the Vatican, it’s not necessarily just a lack of will to hire women. One also knows a lot fewer women and doesn’t know about their skills”, the sister lamented.

And although she said “Pope Francis is sending out important signals” on the issue of women’s equality in the Church, “it can’t be up to him alone”.

Bringing more women into Church leadership “is just as necessary in the dioceses, the parishes and [Church] movements”, Smerilli explained.

“In addition, a special empowerment is required: we women have to bring ourselves into play without being shy or feeling inferior.

“I remember the 2018 Youth Synod, when Cardinal Reinhard Marx reported on German experiences of how women who were supposed to take on responsibility in Church institutions were specifically promoted and prepared. We need something like that more”, the nun insisted.

– “Young people tell me: You show us what is possible”

Asked whether she considers herself a role model for younger women, Smerilli said that “I try to break clichés a little and open up paths for others: as a religious, as an economist, as a consultant for politics”.

“That’s why I also take part in TV discussions”, she added.

“And if, as has already happened, someone tells me: Go back to the monastery to pray, I say: God became human in order to take care of the world and its problems. I am called to do that too. Young people in particular tell me: go ahead, you will show us what is possible”.

– Women leaders have dealt better with COVID-19

Looking even further than her own groundbreaking journey to date, Smerilli explained why women’s leadership in institutions like the Church is important by pointing to women’s widely-applauded management of the COVID-19 situation.

“The countries in which women were more involved in decisions on how to deal with the pandemic have so far been able to cope with the crisis better”, the nun observed, adding that in female-led nations like New Zealand under Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern “measures were decided and organised more quickly and communicated more clearly and empathetically”.

Ardern in particular has been widely praised for her ways of explaining anti-coronavirus measures simply, clearly and effectively to children and young people.

On that point, Smerilli observed that “reaching out to the future generation is a typically feminine trait and extremely important in the event of a pandemic”.

More on Novena on Catholic women’s struggle for equality in the Church:

“The discussion is still alive”: German archbishop, Austrian bishop want more debate on ordination of women

Theologian denounces “patriarchal and priestly worldview in which churchmen have been educated to feel doubly superior” to women

“You have the knowledge and experience”: support for female candidate for archbishop in France arrives from other side of world

Women on the Vatican economic council: a “progressive step” from the Pope or just a “fig leaf” covering up inequality?

War, poverty, climate change… you could be complicit, warns Vatican economy expert Sister Alessandra Smerilli


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Progressive Catholic journalist, author and educator. Working on social justice, equality and Church renewal.