· Speaking to Corinne Boilley, the first Assistant General Secretary of the Transalpine Bishop’s Conference ·
A graduate of “Sciences Po” [L’Institut d’études politiques] in Paris and an expert in human resources, this radiant woman – 57 years old and the mother of three children – is the first woman ever to be Assistant General Secretary of the Conference of Bishops of France (DEF), which post she has held since 2012. She is responsible for the Conference’s economic, juridical and social affairs. Among other things her work consists of listening to, guiding and supporting the dioceses in the development of their financial resources and in the deployment of adequate and just human resource policies.
What was your reaction on learning of your appointment as Assistant General Secretary?
I felt stunned and called into question. I wondered: why me? My two predecessors had had more of a financial profile so I never for a moment imagined that I should fill this post. Then I listened to what this appointment caused to resonate within me. I accepted it because I identified with the dimensions of the role and with the way it is carried out, by paying conscientious attention to the needs of the dioceses and collaborating in constructive work with them.
You are the first Assistant General Secretary to be a woman: is this a source of pride to you or of pressure?
It was when others began to express their sincere surprise that I felt faintly anxious: “but you are the first woman!” they said to me. At first these reactions of astonishment upset me because they gave me the impression that the destiny of half humanity was weighing on my shoulders. Being seen as the first woman put me under great pressure. I am now used to it and glad about it.
Isn’t it somewhat annoying that everyone starts wondering as soon as a woman accedes to a post of lofty responsibility like yours?
A little. I am a professional woman. I have worked for years in human resources. Given that I have held important responsibilities since I was very young, I have never had the feeling that I was entrusted with responsibility because I was a woman. I would like to believe that it was my personality and skills overall that motivated my nomination, rather than the express desire to choose a woman for this post. And in me there are dimensions of femininity, of motherhood. It is a oneness, it is not by chance that I work in human resources. In a certain way there is something in the register of listening, of caring for others, of attention to others.
This appointment is a powerful sign all the same!
It is obviously a sign of modernity, of a Church anchored in her epoch. As a lay woman and a professional in human resources I take my nomination as an encouragement. Had there not been this encouragement from the institution, I should not have allowed myself to contemplate this mission. I neither militate for the ordination of women, nor do I claim to be a feminist. Instead I am convinced of the need for a word and acts of the ecclesial institution that are oriented to greater recognition of lay people’s actions.
Is there a need for a larger number of women in decision-making posts and if so, in which posts in particular?
It is impossible to do without half of humanity! Yes, it is necessary to ensure that there are more women in posts of responsibility. In the CEF there are many women who direct services: Nathalie Becquart, a Xaverian sister who holds a diploma from the Haute école commerciale (HEC), an important business school, is head of the Youth and Vocations Service, and Monique Baujard, a lawyer expert in ethical issues, directs the Family and Society Service of which I myself am Assistant General Secretary. At the highest level the institution has sent signs. The bishops in their dioceses and the parish priests in their parishes are and must be champions of all this as well. In the scene of lay people engaged in an ecclesial mission in the dioceses, there are a great many women but not in all fields. Very few serve as diocesan treasurers and there are still too few women members of diocesan councils…. As Pope Francis explained in his recent Apostolic Exhortation: “in virtue of their baptism, all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples”; and more specifically, on women in the Church: “But we need to create still broader opportunities for a more incisive female presence in the Church… and in the various other settings where important decisions are made, both in the Church and in social structures”.
The majority of your conversation partners are priests and bishops: how do they accept you as a lay woman in a post of great responsibility?
Trust is not decreed, it is built up: this sums up everything. When I arrived I felt, as they did, a certain reticence. Perhaps on their part it was because I was a woman, but on my part it was because they were priests. Until my arrival at the Conference of Bishops of France in 2007 the priests I would see most of were those who celebrated, who received my confession or who accompanied my spiritual retreats. In 2012 my work relationship changed and brought me into closer contact with the bishops. Trust developed little by little, it passes through a better knowledge, through a better understanding of shared situations and through profound respect. At the first Plenary Assembly in Lourdes, I was overawed. All the Bishops of France were facing me and hesitated to ask me questions. The following year the Assembly was quite different because in the meantime I had met some of the bishops in their dioceses and had worked with them.
You work in the field of human resources: as a woman, do you feel you have a special mission in relation to other women?
Here, at the CEF, there are no stakes of this kind. As I said, women with responsibility are present among the priests in various services. This does not prevent me from expressing to the bishops my surprise that there are so few women treasurers! In the dioceses and parishes the bishops and pastors must encourage women to get going. Women must be determined too, for determination inspires confidence. Since from 2008 to 2009, with the implementation of group congresses in the dioceses, the bishops have been paying special attention to staff management. In fact lay people in an ecclesial mission are the object of close monitoring and the question of women is more easily brought up. How, for example, can a bishop be encouraged to introduce women into his council for economic affairs? The answer is: by the proper expression of needs. It is not a matter of talking about women but of finding good people with good skills in the right place. Among them there will necessarily be some women. The development of the culture of human resources is favourable to them.
So what advice would you give young women today to enable them to assert themselves in their professional life without losing themselves in it?
I am appreciative of the Ignatian approach and I cannot but encourage young women to reflect, as soon as possible and as often as possible, on their plans and on their goal. In what area can I make my best contribution to the world? I am convinced that it is necessary to stay free in one’s decisions but to do this it is sometimes necessary to discern, to dare, to take the risk of refusing certain compromises. When at the age of 32 I was appointed director of human resources of an important French company I was young and I had two very little children. Nevertheless I chose to impose part-time work in my role as director, at the risk of not getting the post. I have always accepted responsibilities without sacrificing balance in my personal life. On another occasion I left the business for the council to have more time to spend with my children. I think one should cultivate one’s garden. In order to build, it is necessary to be clear about one’s priorities and objectives.
After graduating from the Institut des sciences politiques in Paris and earning a Master’s in private law, Corinne Boilley (1956) served as chargée de mission (consultant) in the service of information and distribution of the French Prime Minister for the two-year period 1981-1982. Director of Human Resources and of Internal Communications Europe of the restaurant group Quick, since 2007 she has been Director of Human Resources of the Conference of Bishops of France. On 1 September 2012 she was appointed Assistant General Secretary of the CEF, with responsibility for the supervision of economic, juridical and social issues.
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