“It is necessary to begin with the presence of women in the Vatican, and it must not be an ornamental or cosmetic presence, said, in an exclusive interview with ZENIT, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, President of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
The cardinal spoke in an aside from the presentation of the Feminine Consultation Group instituted by his dicastery on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. The Italian prelate stressed that he wished to create this new organism “in rosa” to give the dicastery’s activities a “feminine look,” which “offers pointers that we men don’t even suspect,” he specified.
Moreover, he added that this group does not stem from the need to reward “claims” of “quotas for women,” just as – explained the cardinal – “he did not want it even as a cosmetic element, a “beautiful presence” in a solely masculine horizon.” The 37 women chosen will, in fact, be active and heard.
Speaking to journalists, Cardinal Ravasi then offered a witty remark of the writer of Polish origin Joseph Conrad: “To be a woman is extremely difficult, because it is necessary to have something continually to do with men. And to have to do with priests – I add – is even more grave!”
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ZENIT: Can you explain the criteria with which the women of the Feminine Consultation of the Pontifical Council for Culture were chosen? How were they selected?
Cardinal Ravasi: This is an important question because it was perhaps one of my most difficult and demanding tasks. I thought, first of all, of the international “question.” Therefore, there are women from the United States, Ireland, Iran, Chile, Turkey and so on. Second, the inter-religious “question”: different “points of view” are represented, especially Islam, Judaism, Christianity, in their different forms, also the Protestant. The third was the criterium of professions, of activities, privileging, for example, women who work in the realm of culture, hence university, women artists, medicine, science, but in order to cover other realms, such as sport, see Fiona May, to have the whole horizon of the professions. The fourth criterium is that of family experience. There are unmarried women but also women who have a family, therefore, they experience all the problems of the growing up of children, etc. The last criterium is that of “sensibility.”
ZENIT: What do you mean by “sensibility,” Your Eminence?
Cardinal Ravasi: For instance, for politics – because I also wanted politics represented – I chose a person who is interested in the question of “waste,” namely, the waste of food, the recovery of food that otherwise would be wasted, and we speak be it for Italy be it for the world, of a third of all the food produced. And she is also a person interested in volunteer work, she is part of the Parliamentary Commission in charge of refugees, and so on. Moreover, I also wanted to consider the great questions of poverty, of migrations, in the spirit of Pope Francis. We can say that these topics are also represented in the Consultation, given that there are women who have engaged in activities of a charitable type, although we don’t want to have it noted, they exist. These are the criteria about which you asked me.
ZENIT: Does the Pope have thoughts about this consulting group? What’s his impression?
Cardinal Ravasi: Yes.
ZENIT: So you spoke about it . . .
Cardinal Ravasi: Yes, we certainly spoke about it. He shares very much the idea of this Consultation, because he has always spoken of the lack of feminine voices in the Roman Curia. We know that difficulties exist, the structures are complex, the past history is somewhat “heavy,” but it’s necessary to begin somewhere. And in fact, I repeat it again, because it is very important for me: the presence of women of the Consultation must not be only “ornamental,” only because some woman in the Vatican should be there by force, the ‘rose’ quotas, as is usually said!
It is necessary that there be space for all, then persons must enter these spaces with their competencies, not because they are women or men who enter automatically, as in the past: they were men, so they entered the Roman Curia automatically, even without any competence, without preparation …
Therefore, I also say: the function of these women is a real function, they are called to express judgments; they have already criticized me on some proposals and have put forward others! For instance, in connection with the forthcoming Plenary Assembly of the dicastery, on neuroscience, artificial intelligence, genetics, robotics, information technology, etc. on all these issues these women have expressed – as scientists and as women – judgments that we would be unable to formulate.
So true is it, I can say this, that the opening event of the forthcoming Plenary, which is the most important moment of the dicastery’s activity, is being organized by the feminine consultation; it will be a television show on which they have already begun to work.
ZENIT: Hence, this group is beginning to activate itself within the dicastery over which you preside. But would you say that this feminine consultation group is a kind of “experiment,” also to understand if something similar would potentially be instituted in other dicasteries?
Cardinal Ravasi: I hope so, in keeping with the principle of imitation . . . Then everyone has his way of acting and of functioning. However, I think that what Pope Francis said is possible, namely, that some functions in the Vatican dicasteries can be done by women, entrusted to women: I am speaking of women who would in fact enter in the dicasteries. Women are found only in positions as secretaries, or administrative positions. And this is a mistake! Therefore, I think of the principle of imitation for the future.