Woman In St. Peter's Square In The Vatican. Photo: File

In Two Years a Woman Could Be Head of a Dicastery, But of Which One? 

The two possible Dicasteries in the Pope’s mind could be of the “Laity, Family and Life” and of “Integral Human Development.”

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(ZENIT News / Rome, 22.12.2022).- In an interview with Spanish newspaper ABC, Pope Francis announced that, for the first time in the history of the Holy See, he had in mind a woman to head a Dicastery of the Roman Curia. 

When journalists reminded him that he has already appointed several women to “top posts,” but there still isn’t a woman heading a Dicastery, the Holy Father answered: “It’s true, but there will be. I have one in mind for a Dicastery that will be vacant in two years. Nothing hinders a woman from heading a Dicastery in which a lay person can be Prefect.”

Then, asked about “on what it depends?”, the Pontiff replied that it depends “if the Dicastery is of a sacramental nature, in which case it must be headed by a priest or a Bishop. Although argued here is if the authority stems from the mission, as [Canadian] Cardinal [Marc] Ouellet thinks, or from a Sacrament, as [Spanish Cardinal Antonio Maria] Rouco Varela maintains. It’s a nice discussion among Cardinals, a question that theologians continue to discuss.” 

The first answer makes one wonder what Dicastery a woman could head. The Apostolic Constitution Predicate Evangelium states that the Roman Curia has 16 Dicasteries. As Pope Francis pointed out, some are “of a sacramental nature,” hence, they are headed by a Bishop. Classified in this case and, hence, discarded, as a possibility for women are: 1) Doctrine of the Faith, 2) Oriental Churches, 3) Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, 4) Causes of Saints, 5) Bishops, 6) Clergy, 7) Institutes of Consecrated Life, and 8) Christian Unity. 

There are others that seem to be halfway between a sacramental and a non-sacramental nature, as are Evangelization and Inter-Religious Dialogue. The remainder, which could have women heading them in the short term, are: 1) Service of Charity, 2) Laity, Family and Life, 3) Culture and Education, 4) Integral Human Development, 5) Legislative Texts and 6) Communication. 

However, Cardinal Konrad Krajewski of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity, is 59, so it doesn’t seem to be that Dicastery (resignations are set at 75 years of age). Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça has just been appointed for Culture and Education. He is only 57, so this Dicastery is also discarded. Archbishop Filippo Iannone heads the Dicastery for Legislative Texts and is 65, so his Dicastery also does not seem to be a candidate. Finally, Paolo Ruffini, the only layman heading a Dicastery, is 66, thus he is far from retiring from the Dicastery for Communication.

This means that the two possible Dicasteries in the Pope’s mind could be “Laity, Family and Life” and “Integral Human Development.” In fact, the Prefect of the first Dicastery, Cardinal Kevin Joseph Farrell was 75 on September 2, 2022. And Cardinal Michael Czerny, a Jesuit and Prefect of the second Dicastery, will be 77 on July 18, 2023. They are two Prefects on leave for reasons of age. 

This caution makes one note two more things: first that, whether it is Farrell or Czerny, they still have two more years in the Dicastery where they work at present. And, second, they are in fact the two Dicasteries in which women hold the second and third posts in the hierarchy: the case of the Dicastery for Human Development, is one of the few that has in fact a woman as number two — Sister Alessandra Smerilli; and, in the case of the Laity, Family and Life, the two Under-Secretaries (number “3 of the Dicastery) are women: Linda Ghisoni for the area of the Laity, and Gabriella Gambino for the area of Family and Life. 

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Jorge Enrique Mújica

Licenciado en filosofía por el Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum, de Roma, y “veterano” colaborador de medios impresos y digitales sobre argumentos religiosos y de comunicación. En la cuenta de Twitter: https://twitter.com/web_pastor, habla de Dios e internet y Church and media: evangelidigitalización."

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