A top Vatican official has said the revolution taking place in the Church is not just of advancing women, but also laypeople.
In an interview with ZENIT, Flaminia Giovanelli, the under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, a position appointed by the Pope, spoke on the role of women in the Church, stressing times are changing and that both the current Pope and the Pope Emeritus actively worked and continue to work to advance women’s role in the Church.
A native of Rome, Giovanelli has worked for the justice and peace council since 1974. A graduate in political science from the University of Rome and holding diplomas in library science and religious studies, she has said her work is not about a paycheck, and rather it is a vocation.
Moreover, she reveals to ZENIT the challenges she encounters, and what wisdom she would share with any woman wishing to serve within the Curia.
The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace under-secretary had been recently speaking at the conclusion of a closed-door Vatican seminar on “The Global Common Good: Towards a More Inclusive Economy,” organized by her dicastery, in collaboration with the Secretariat of State, July 11-12, in the Casina Pio IV of the Vatican Gardens.
ZENIT: Could you please describe your current position?
Giovanelli: Yes, I am the under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
I am accustomed to say I am sort of a dean of this office, almost a fixture within the Vatican, in a sense, as I have been here for 39 years, a very long period. I’ve had the chance to provide this interesting service here in the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.
ZENIT: Could you describe why your appointment is a first?
Giovanelli: Well, I don’t know why, but it came to be from a variety of different circumstances.
The fact that I am the only lay woman in this position of under-secretary in the Vatican, in some ways, to me, seems to have happened by “providential” chance. So, sometimes, this can be a bit strange, but anyway, the times are changing. One of the reasons really for my appointment was that I had been serving there for many, many years. In the previous year, the President, Cardinal Martino, retired, and the Secretary, who served there for 10 years, was appointed to Archbishop in Trieste. So my appointment was perhaps, as well, due to a question of continuity.
ZENIT: A few moments ago, when we were speaking you referred to your appointment to this position — being the first lay woman in the Vatican to ever possess it — as chance.
Giovanelli: Yes [warmly smiling]
ZENIT: What would you consider to be the biggest challenges that you’ve encountered as a female?
Giovanelli: Yes, well to be clear I am not alone, because we have many ladies working in our office and in the Vatican in general. But, of course, in a sense, you have to be discreet and do your best to advance in your formation as a member of an ecclesiastical body, [Smiling Laughs]
ZENIT: Do you think for women in the Vatican or in the Church, there is hope for them to move up or to advance? What is your opinion?
Giovanelli: I have seen many changes from the very beginning, from when I started, not only for women, but also for laypeople. So, I remember that many years ago, there were no laypeople representing the Holy See, or visible at meetings for instance, so now it’s obvious there has been a very big change.
I think that it has sort of been an evolution and a sign of the times.
ZENIT: Do you believe Pope Francis is changing the role of women in the Church?
Giovanelli: We shall both see! Many times Pope Francis has recalled the importance of women in the Church, from the Gospel, etc. He’s made some very big statements. But we also had heard some great statements with regard to women in the Church from Pope Benedict.
In any case, we have already seen some very important appointments that the Holy Father has made to various Vatican committees and congregations. For instance, some notable examples include in 2013 the appointment of Professor Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard University, who had been the President of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, as a member of the Council for the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR); the four women who were recently named members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors; and Leticia Soberon who already served in the Vatican and is now an expert of the recently instituted Committee on Vatican Media.
ZENIT: You mentioned that Pope Benedict advanced the role of women in the Vatican or in the Church, too. Could you elaborate on any efforts or contributions you believe he made in this regard? If indeed, you feel there are any.
Giovanelli: What comes first to mind is how he placed this emphasis during his weekly Wednesday audiences. I recall during the Wednesday audiences, he had dedicated a series of audience to female saints, to be more specific, I remember him dedicating an audience specifically to Saint Hildegard of Bingen, for whom he had an incredible devotion. Through recalling this great medieval saint, he acknowledged the scientific and cultural contributions of women to the Church.