Kasper Proposes Appointing Women As Heads of Pontifical Councils
Vatican Insider | La Stampa
March 1, 2014
In his interview with Italian Catholic newspaper “Avvenire”, Cardinal Walter Kasper suggests putting women at the helm of the pontifical councils. According to the cardinal who is against careerism in the Curia and believes in time limits for mandates, “there are too many bishops in the Curia”
by ANDREA TORNIELLI
“Women’s role in the Church should be rethought and integrated into the Pope’s ideas for greater synodal dynamism and a missionary conversion”: women should be offered leadership roles within the pontifical councils and in the future Congregation for the Laity given how many bishops the Curia has. Temporary mandates should be introduced in the Curia to prevent careerism, calling priests who already have some pastoral experience. This was the crux of what Cardinal Walter Kasper said in a long interview with Stefania Falasca published in today’s issue of Italian Catholic newspaper Avvenire.
“Up until now, women have generally only attended the synod as auditors, holding roles of little significance,” Kasper said. “There are always two or three female auditors who speak at the end of the meetings when everyone has already spoken. I ask myself how it is possible to prepare two synods on the family without giving a role of primary importance to women? A family cannot exist without women. It makes no sense to speak about the family without listening to what they have to say. I think they need to be called and listen as of right now, as we enter the preparatory phase.”
The German cardinal who gave the opening speech at the recent Consistory on the family went on to say the following: “I think that women need to be present at every level and even given positions of full responsibility. The intuition which the female mind has to offer is a vital resource. A Church without women is a mutilated Church. There are so many of them actively involved in Church bodies. Can we imagine community, charity and cultural centres today with no women? Without them, parishes would close down tomorrow. Women are already ahead and out there in a Church like Francis’ that is “going out”.
In his interview with Avvenire, Kasper recalled Francis’ words about the authority of consecrated ministers is not to dominate but to serve the people of God and comes from the power of administering the sacrament of the Eucharist. Therefore, seeing the exercise of authority within the ordained ministry in terms of power is tantamount to clericalism. The reluctance of many presbyters – priests and bishops – to hand over positions of responsibility that do not require a person to be ordained, to lay people, is evidence of this. “In the Evangelii Gaudium, the Pope asks whether it is necessary for a priest to always be the leader. This actually leads to clerical immobility which sometimes shows a fear to give room to women and give them the voice they are entitled to in areas that require important decisions to be taken.”
The cardinal then dealt with the key issue of giving women a stringer presence in decision-making environments bearing in mind that “some roles in the Church require the exercise of jurisdictional power attached to the ordained ministry.” But not all government or administrative roles in the Church “imply jurisdictional power. Said roles could be entrusted to lay people and therefore to women as well. If this does not happen, there is no way to justify the exclusion of women from decision-making processes in the Church.”
Women “can have roles of responsibility – high level roles as well - in bodies, that do not necessarily imply the exercise of the power of jurisdiction that comes with the ordained ministry: the pontifical councils for example. The councils for the family, the laity (let us not forget that half of the laity are women), culture, social communications, and for the promotion of the new evangelisation, to name but a few. There are currently no women in any of these that hold a role of any importance. This is absurd. In the councils and in other Vatican bodies, women could be given positions of authority even at higher levels, with full responsibility.” Women’s presence could be invaluable in offices that deal with administrative and economic matters and in the courts. These are areas in which women are renowned for their professional skills but they are not given due consideration here.”
As far as the Congregations are concerned, the cardinal said: “Although the boundaries of authority remain clear, a woman can still be present in decision-making processes and can easily carry out the role of under-secretary. I am convinced, therefore, that even under the current canon laws, some things can be done in the Congregations, looking at possibilities individually.” The cardinal specifically mentioned the Congregation for Catholic education to illustrate how invaluable women’s talent in the field of education. Women’s contribution would also be invaluable in the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. “I exclude the possibility of giving roles of responsibility to women in the Congregations for bishops and the clergy. But in the Congregation for the doctrine of the Faith, for example, there is an assembly of theologians that prepares its sessions and where female presence is still nil. And yet we have so many female theologians who teach in the pontifical universities. Their contribution would be beneficial. This is even truer in the case of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life: 80% of consecrated people are women.”
The criterion for choosing the candidates “should be competence and spirit of service. Naturally, women can also be driven by the desire to build career for themselves, just as men are. Some do show this problem but many others don’t. So it’s about choosing carefully and selecting the right people.” The cardinal mentioned Mary Ann Glendon, a Harvard professor as an example. The Holy See has given her an important role as its representative at UN conferences and “she has done an excellent job that is recognised by everyone.” “I believe that a certain number of women like this could help rid the Curia of clericalism and careerism which is a terrible vice,” the cardinal said.
Speaking about careerism in the Curia, Kasper said “fixed-term roles could be a solution to this. People with pastoral experience with experience in dioceses and parishes could be employed and give fixed-term, five-year roles for example. After this, some could stay but all others would go back to the dioceses taking their experience to the local Churches. This could eliminate the problem posed by people who act in such a way as to move up the career ladder.”
Finally, Kasper asked himself whether it was necessary for “all secretaries of Vatican dicasteries to be bishops.” “There is a high concentration of bishops in the Curia today,” the cardinal noted. “Many are bureaucrats and this is not good. Bishops are pastors. Episcopal consecration is not an honorary title, it is a sacrament; it is to do with the Church’s sacramental structure. So why must a bishop carry out bureaucratic tasks? This is where the sacraments risk being violated in my opinion.”