March 14, 2008


Women in leadership roles

Both Pope Benedict XVI and the Holy See’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, have expressed their desire to elevate more women to positions of leadership in the Catholic Church. Sometimes, though, it appears that progress is slow.

Mary Ann Glendon, a law professor at Harvard University, has so far held the highest leadership position in the Church. She has been president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences since 2004.

Before that, she was the first woman to head a Vatican delegation to a major United Nations conference, the Conference on Women held in Beijing, China, in 1995.

Recently, President George W. Bush named her the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See. Pope Benedict received Glendon in her new position during a private meeting at the Vatican on Feb. 29.

Back in October, a group of U.S. and European lay women representing foundations traveled to Rome to discuss the role of women in the Church with some of the top Vatican officials, including five cardinals.

These are devoted Catholic women, and their foundations contribute a great deal of money to Catholic activities, so it’s not surprising that they were warmly received.

They are all members of FADICA (Foundations and Donors Interested in Catholic Activities), a consortium of about 50 foundations engaged in Catholic philanthropy. (Full disclosure: This writer was a member of the FADICA board from 1977-84.)

While at the Vatican, Kerry Robinson of the Raskob Foundation for Catholic Activities was interviewed on Vatican Radio. As the group had done in their meetings, Robinson expressed support for the pope’s stated desire for more women leaders and for the Church’s promotion of women’s dignity and rights in the secular sphere, but said that the institutional Church doesn’t seem to value women’s leadership as much as men’s.

The meetings with Vatican officials were described as extended, substantive and cordial conversation. The women expressed the need for the promotion of an internal Church culture that places high value on the leadership and gifts of women. They now plan to pursue options for collaboration with Vatican departments to advance the role of women in the Church.

Apparently, there was no discussion of women’s ordination since the women realize that this demand by some is not a possibility. The Church believes that a male-only clergy is a doctrine that cannot be changed.

It is a fact that women have always been more involved in service activities in the Church than men. Our parishes, schools and social service agencies couldn’t operate without the dedicated women who serve in both paid and volunteer positions. About 80 percent of ecclesial ministers are women. But they usually don’t have the leadership positions their numbers would seem to require.

In this respect, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis is probably ahead of most other dioceses in the United States, especially those in the Eastern states.

For example, seven of the arch­diocese’s nine parish life coordinators are women, filling the top leadership position in the parishes they serve. Most of the principals of our Catholic schools are women.

At the archdiocesan level, Suzanne L. Yakimchick is chancellor and executive director of Lay Ministry and Pastoral Services. Annette “Mickey” Lentz is executive director of the Secretariat for Catholic Education and Faith Formation.

Other women fill positions just below the secretariat level. The archdiocesan controller in Accounting Services is a woman (Julie Shewmaker) as are the directors of Catholic Charities in Bloomington (Marsha McCarty) and Tell City (Joan Hess), the directors of the Office for Pro-Life Ministry (Servants of the Gospel of Life Sister Diane Carollo) and St. Mary’s Child Center (Constance Sherman).

The archdiocese also has women on the Finance Council (Jackie Byers serves as president and Mary Horn is secretary), and women on the Catholic Community Foundation’s board of trustees (Cindy Lee Duran and Holly McKiernan).

We agree with the women who took their case to Rome that there is plenty of room for more women in leadership positions in the Church.

Since the pope and secretary of state have expressed their view on the matter, we think we will see more women in those positions in the future.

—John F. Fink

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