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Pope Francis appoints six women to senior Vatican positions – a historic first

Pope Francis appointed new members to the Vatican's Council for the Economy on Thursday, and in addition to several cardinals, he also added seven new laypeople to the committee. Six of them are women.

The historic move means there are more senior female officials serving the Vatican than ever before. 

The six female appointees are: Charlotte Kreuter-Kirchhof, of Germany; Eva Castillo Sanz, of Spain; Leslie Jane Ferrar, of Great Britain; Marija Kolak, of Germany; María Concepción Osákar Garaicoechea, of Spain; and Ruth Maria Kelly, of Great Britain. Alberto Minali is the only layperson from Italy that was appointed. 

These new appointees all have finance backgrounds.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Transport Secretary Ruth May Kelly leaves Downing Street
Ruth May Kelly, newly appointed by Pope Francis to the council that oversees Vatican finances, is shown when she was Britain's Secretary of State for Transport in 2008. Stephen Hird / REUTERS

The pope created the Council for the Economy in 2014 "to supervise the economic management" and "administrative and financial activities" of Vatican institutions, according to Vatican News.

A total of 15 members sit on the council — eight of whom are cardinals and bishops, "so as to reflect the universality of the Church." "The other seven are experts of various nationalities, with financial expertise and recognized professional credentials," according to Vatican News. 

Pope Francis has been overseeing efforts to reform Vatican finances and clean up after a series of scandals that plagued Vatican operations.

The appointment of six women to the economic council comes just months after the pope appointed Francesca Di Giovanni as undersecretary for multilateral affairs in the Secretariat of State. Di Giovanni, an Italian lawyer, was the first woman to hold a management position in the Vatican's most important office, BBC News reported.

In the past 10 years, both the overall number and the percentage of women working in the Vatican has grown, according to research published by Vatican News to mark World Women's Day in 2020. Last year, 22% of Holy See and Vatican City employees were women, up from 17% in 2010.

At the end of 2019, eight women, along with newly-appointed Di Giovanni, were in positions of responsibility at the Holy See, while 10 years ago there were only three, according to Vatican News. 

Under-secretary is the highest position women have reached so far, and Pope Francis has doubled the number of women under-secretaries, from two to four. 

"Pope Francis ... 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," Vatican News said in 2019.

Francis has been seen as a more progressive pope. As the head of the Catholic Church, he stakes out the church's positions on issues where morality and church teachings intersect with public policy — everything from abortion and marriage to climate change and poverty. Some liberals have praised him for lessening the church's public focus on issues like marriage and abortion.

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