The appointment of the first woman to the top of the Vatican Secretariat of State is important and excellent news for at least three reasons. Francesca Di Giovanni, was appointed Undersecretary of that Section in charge of multilateral relations, flanked by Monsignor Mirosław Wachowski, who deals with bilateral diplomacy. Prior to this appointment she was an “official” in the Section of Relations with States.
The first reason why this appointment is important is the place itself. The Secretariat of State is where “power is exercised, the true, great Vatican policy and its diplomacy unravels”, as was written in the many twentieth century Nunciatures’ reports. On numerous occasions, while reading those papers and studying the nature and the complicated organization of the Secretariat of State for Sections and Representations, I have asked myself how a female eye would look at them, and yet
The second reason is, therefore, that the task entrusted to a woman does not “only” concern issues traditionally considered feminine, i.e. nuns, the family, children, disabled people, care, services, issues that we women rightly consider decisive but which are entrusted to us out of pure misogyny or, at best, because these areas are considered closer to our experiences. This is the point of “feminine power” which, in the history of the church, seems to have experienced a sort of reverse process to what has happened in secular society. Here, in the history of their emancipation, women have obtained equal, civil, economic, political rights, which has often devalued more traditional feminine roles. And, then to perceive the damage of this mutilation, and to choose a mindset and an action that highlights the “difference” between men and women as a priceless and inalienable treasure.
In the history of Christianity “the feminine difference” has been preserved. Let us recall the Marian tradition, yet with insuperable mastery has all too often taken the form of subalternity to the point of sometimes reaching a real prevarication by the men of the church. Today, it is urgent that lay and religious women in the Church achieve equality with their brothers and sisters in the faith. Those who continue obtusely to fail to understand how much they themselves could benefit in first instance. To ask for equality, without denying the difference, is a work of discernment that cannot be delegated because it must be assumed directly by the female authority within the church.
And the third reason for the importance of this appointment is that it confirms to us that in order to be appointed to an important role, women do not need the sacrament of the priesthood.
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State, declared some time ago that “women could also assume the role of Secretary of State”. That’s it.
Our best wishes for his work, then, to Pope Francis who had the courage to make this appointment and to the Undersecretary Francesca.
Professor of Contemporary History, “La Sapienza”, Rome