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Protagonists

Good for the good of all

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30 April 2021

A recipe by Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof


It is no longer a secret that Pope Francis relies on women in the economic field too. The appointments he has made in recent months have confirmed this. The German, Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof, is one of the six women who have been part of the Council for the Economy set up by the Pontiff six years earlier to oversee the administrative and financial structures and activities of the Holy See and the Vatican since August 2020. 

Professor Kreuter-Kirchhof is a professor of national and international public law at the Heinrich-Heine University of Düsseldorf. We asked her whether there is a “female economy” or at least a female perspective on the economy and if so, how it differs from the male perspective that has so far dominated the world of economics. A different experience? Attention to the needs of others? An openness to change?

 “As a Christian”, she says, “I am deeply convinced that each person has been created in the image of God, imago Dei, and that each person has been assigned his or her own individuality. Moreover, this is what differentiates us from one another. Gifts and talents, abilities and charisms are unique in every human being and this multiplicity is a gift from God. For this reason, an economy without women would lack half of its potential and would be poorer still. We need an inclusive economy in which everyone can participate. It is more important, in my opinion, to become aware of this fact, rather than asking whether a female economy is different from a male economy. So, I would tend to answer yes to the question but warn against stereotypes. We have to ask ourselves whether our economy is based on the freedom and responsibility of people. Whether it strives for sustainable development. Whether it is solely oriented towards maximum profit or whether it also pursues social and ecological results. These are the fundamental questions for me”. 

Is it true, however, that women can bring considerable added value, for example in finding more creative, inclusive and cooperative economic models?

The business world has long recognised that it cannot do without women’s skills, know-how and creativity. This is also increasingly true in the Church. If different visions and perspectives are integrated into decision-making processes, this results in better and lasting decisions for the economy and society. Today, many companies see diversity as an opportunity. It has been concluded that when inclusive teams promote innovation, the result is more satisfactory. The contribution of women in this context, with their specific experiences and peculiarities, is central to an economy that wants to achieve results.

Pope Francis has urged young economists and entrepreneurs to promote a process of global change. In his vision, the economy must combine efficiency with environmental sustainability, and reject the logic of profit maximisation. Is it possible to combine the market and charity?

The Holy Father’s dream is echoed in the 17 Sustainable Development Goals signed in 2015 by the member countries of the United Nations to find an appropriate balance between economic, ecological and social needs. Instead of the highest possible individual gain, the United Nations Programme has set itself a series of social, ecological and economic goals. World hunger and poverty must be combated, functional health systems must be built, and access to education must be offered to all. Gender equality must be achieved and clean, sustainable drinking water and energy must be made available to all. The earth’s climate system must be protected and biodiversity preserved. This great concept of sustainable development concerns all nations throughout the world. In Germany, we have been familiar with the “social market economy” for many years now. Free competition in the markets is made conditional on safeguarding social progress.

I have always been skeptical of an unrestricted market. The market can be regulated and tied to a good social system. The freedom and responsibility of individuals promotes innovation and contributes to growth. At the same time, a reliable social network is needed. In addition, particularly in this time of the Covid-19 pandemic, the voice of the Church calling for justice throughout the world cannot be ignored. Sustainable development transcends the boundaries of nations.

Now let us talk about the Church, where there is a great delay as regards the participation of women in decision-making processes, their presence in leadership roles. How do you experience this situation and what would you suggest?

In 2013, the German bishops decided to increase the number of women in leadership roles. Hildegardis-Verein, an association of Catholic women that I chair, took on the task of supporting the German Bishops’ Conference with their involvement. We developed a mentoring programme, Kirche im Mentoring - Frauen steigen auf (Church in Mentoring - women emerge). Since 2015, more than one hundred candidates have successfully completed our programme. An experienced female or male mentor who already holds a leadership role in the Church accompanies women who have the required potential and wish to take on a leadership role in the Church for one year. It is the first, and to my knowledge the only, programme of its kind in the whole of the Catholic Church. It works by example, which is a path the Church should pursue with enthusiasm. 

You have said that the future of the Church is closely linked to the tasks that will be given to women. What do you mean exactly?

The future of the Church lies in the proclamation of the Gospel and the celebration of the sacraments. To fulfil this task, the Church cannot do without the skills and charisma of women. We see more and more women taking on leadership roles. Recently, the German bishops elected Dr. Beate Gilles as Secretary General of the Bishops’ Conference, a central leadership role. Other women in Germany are today holding management positions in many dioceses. For example, Stephanie Herrmann heads the Ordinariate of the Archdiocese of Munich-Freising as co-director with the vicar general. Joint leadership forms, structures, and shared decision-making responsibilities offer great opportunities for the Church. We should apply this model in the future at various levels of church life, in communities and dioceses. In addition, the Council for the Economy in the Vatican, our Church has relied on the expertise and suggestions of women too. In all these places, we notice that decisions shared by men and women, by religious and lay people, strengthen the proclamation and mandate that Jesus Christ has given us.

Pope Francis is appointing more and more women to leadership positions. Nevertheless, many Catholic women think that this is not enough. In your opinion, what is missing? What would be the most urgent thing to address?

The history of the Church is also a history of callings. The Lord calls human beings, invites them to follow him. Each person should be able to follow his or her own call so that all vocations, all charisms, could be realized in the Church. I have the impression that the Holy Father feels that the Church is depriving herself of an enormous potential of gifts and aptitudes if it does not open herself seriously to female vocations and if she does not respond to their dispositions. We must find ways in our Church that make it possible for all believers to participate in decision-making processes that require transparency and control and strengthen synodality.

By Romilda Ferrauto