Pope Francis has said he would announce the appointment of two women to the Vatican committee that elects bishops.
In comments to Reuters published Wednesday, the pope said “two women will be appointed for the first time in the committee to elect bishops in the Congregation for Bishops.”
In the July 2 interview in the Vatican, Francis did not identify the women or say when their appointment would be announced officially, instead saying he was “open to giving [women] an opportunity” and wanted to open things “up a bit.”
The Congregation of Bishops, a department of the Roman Curia, recently changed its name to the Dicastery for Bishops, in line with the new constitution that underpins the reform of the Vatican by Pope Francis.
The new constitution, titled Praedicate evangelium (“Preach the Gospel”), provides that any member of the faithful can also lead a Vatican dicastery or other bodies, “given their particular competence, power of governance and function.”
Asked which Vatican department could perhaps be headed by a lay man or woman, Francis suggested that they could include the department for Catholic Education and Culture and the Apostolic Library, according to Reuters.
The ultimate decision in appointing bishops rests with the pope, and he is free to select anyone he chooses. Usually, the pope’s representative in a country, the apostolic nuncio, passes on recommendations and documentation to the Vatican. The Dicastery of Bishops then discusses the appointment in a further process and takes a vote. On being presented with the recommendations, the pope finally makes the decision.
Francis has already named several women to Vatican departments. Barbara Jatta, a wife and mother of three children, was appointed director of the Vatican Museum in 2016 and took the reins in 2017.
More recently, the pope appointed Sr. Nathalie Becquart in February 2021 as under-secretary to the Synod on Bishops. Working with and under Cardinal Mario Grech, the French religious sister has been helping prepare the Vatican’s synod on synodality, scheduled for October 2022.
According to Cardinal Grech, Becquart will vote in future synods alongside other voting members, who are bishops, priests, and some religious men.
In August 2021, Pope Francis named the Italian economist and religious sister Alessandra Smerilli as secretary of the Vatican’s social development office.
The Salesian sister is an economist and professor. She was one of the principal organizers of the 2020 Economy of Francesco event.
Since 2019, Smerilli has also served as a councilor of the Vatican City State and a consultant to the secretariat of the Synod of Bishops.