VATICAN CITY — In the past ten years, both the overall number and the percentage of women working in the Vatican has grown. In 2010, during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI, a total of 4,053 people worked for the Pope, 697 of whom were women, which is around 17 percent. In 2019, the Holy See and Vatican City together had a total of 4,618 employees, of which 22 percent (1016) were women.
Holy See: marked increase of women in ten years
What is particularly striking in this ten-year period is the increase in the number of women working for the Holy See, that is, the Roman Curia with all its offices that help the Pope in the administration of the universal Church. In 2010 there were 385 women working for the Holy See; in 2019 that number had jumped to 649, showing a rise in the past decade from 17.6 to 24 percent.
In Vatican City State, on the other hand, the increase in women employees over the past ten years has been less evident. There has, however been one significant exception: in 2016 Pope Francis appointed the Italian art historian Barbara Jatta as director of the Vatican Museums. The appointment also caused a sensation in the art world, as no other museum of this size and importance has a woman at the helm. The Papal Collections are among the five most visited museums in the world.
Four women as Under Secretary of an office in the Curia
Throughout the Holy See, Pope Francis has appointed more women in top positions. The highest level that women in the Curia have reached so far is that of Under-Secretary. Pope Francis doubled the number of women under-secretaries from two to four. Most recently, in January 2020, Francesca Di Giovanni became Under-Secretary of State, in a newly created post.
Pope Francis appointed Gabriella Gambino and Linda Ghisoni, two women married with children, as under-secretaries at the Dicastery for Laity, Family and Life in 2017. Sr Carmen Ros Nortes works as Under-Secretary at the Congregation for Consecrated Life, where she is already the third woman to be appointed to this role; her first predecessor, Enrica Rosanna, was appointed by the late Pope John Paul II in 2004. Up until then under-secretaries had always been priests.
Women leaders in the Curia triples in ten years
At the Vatican Dicastery for Communications where the number of lay people is high compared to other departments of the Holy See, two women hold senior managerial positions. The Slovenian Natasa Govekar is Head of the Theological-Pastoral Department, the Brazilian Cristiane Murray is Vice Director of the Vatican Press Office. At the end of 2019, a total of eight women, along with Francesca Di Giovanni, were in positions of responsibility at the Holy See. Ten years ago there were only three. In other words, the number of women in leading positions in the Roman Curia has tripled in ten years.
Not every prefect has to be a priest
In total, five of the 22 most important Curia offices (Secretariat of States, Secretariat of Economy, three Dicasteries, nine Congregations, five Councils, three Tribunals) today have women on the leadership team. No Pope has ever appointed a woman to a top position. The fact that the head of an office in the Curiadoes not necessarily have to be a priest, but in some cases can also be a layperson, was demonstrated by Pope Francis in 2018 when he made Paolo Ruffini Prefect of the Dicastery for Communications. The Pope had also signaled an openness to appointing a woman as Prefect of the Secretariat of Economy, but in the end he chose a priest – Fr Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves SJ – to succeed Cardinal George Pell.
Pope Francis, who will celebrate the seventh year of his pontificate in a few days, has affirmed that the Catholic Church needs more women in leadership positions. In the Vatican and the Roman Curia, he is gradually preparing the ground.