Home > Archives > 10 - 2007 > How much the other half counts
from issue no. 10 - 2007

The female presence on the Vatican staff

How much the other half counts

by Gianni Cardinale

Nuns in the Vatican telephone exchange

Nuns in the Vatican telephone exchange

The women who work in the Vatican are not many, but they are there. Those who have posts of responsibility are nevertheless rare. What follows is a small, and partial, map of the “pink” presence within the Leonine Walls.
Apostolic Palace. The female presence in the papal apartments is particularly numerous. In fact the four consecrated lay women belonging to the Memores Domini (Carmela, Cristina, Emanuela and Loredana) take care of so-called domestic matters. Their names are not listed, however, in The Papal Yearbook, as is the case instead with a historic secretary of Pope Ratzinger from the time of the former Holy Office. She is Birgit Wansing, of the Schönstatt Institute. Her skill in deciphering the tiny handwriting of the current Pontiff is legendary and she keeps his boundless bibliography continuously and meticulously up to date. Music teacher Ingrid Stampa is very well known, formerly domestic collaborator in the apartment of Cardinal Ratzinger in Piazza della Città Leonina and now working in the German language section of the Secretariat of State. Again mentioned in The Papal Yearbook is the confidential secretary and typist of the Cardinal Secretary of state, Tarcisio Bertone, from the times he was deputy of Cardinal Ratzinger: she is Eurosia “Rosi” Bertolassi, belonging to the Focolare Movement, who last July, at the press conference in which a more incisive female presence in the Vatican was announced, received public praise from her superior (“She is an extraordinary collaborator, so indispensable that I brought her with me to the Secretariat of State from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith”). The woman with most years of service in the Apostolic Palace, whose name therefore is the first female one in the list of staff at the Secretariat of State, is Sister Maria Sebastiana Posati who has an important role in the sensitive office that handles administrative matters. Dr María Isabel Tellería Tapia is also mentioned in the Yearbook. For twenty years she has had the European Community desk in the Second Section. Very able and of such a character that a superior once described her in praise as “a woman with whiskers...”.
Departments. Glancing at the Congregations and the Councils of the Roman Curia one sees that in all these ministries – with the exception of that which deals with Divine Worship – there is a female presence, even if not marked. Very few women however have formal posts of responsibility. Apart from Sister Enrica Rosanna, first, and up to now only, “undersecretary” of a Congregation, we have in fact Sister Sharon Holland, office head of the Department for Religious, and Dr Paola Fabrizi, “office head” at the Papal Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. At the Fabric of Saint Peter’s we then have another office head, Dr Maria Cristina Carlo-Stella, who previously held the equivalent post at the Pontifical Commission for Cultural Assets.
Elsewhere. The Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences is headed at the moment by Professor Mary Ann Glendon, but if the Senate approves her nomination as ambassador of the United States to the Holy See, to which she has been designated by President George W. Bush, obviously she will have to leave her prestigious post. Two women sit on the International Theological Commission: Sister Sara Butler and Professor Barbara Hallensleben. There is then the Pontifical “Auxilium” Faculty run by the Salesian nuns (although the Grand Chancellor is not the Superior General of the Daughters of Mary the Helper but the Senior Rector of the Salesian Order). Apart from the roles for which, on the basis of Canon Law, a priest or a bishop is required, the Swiss Guards, the Gendarmerie and the papal music Chapel also remain taboo for the female genius. Whereas the announced more incisive role for women in the Vatican may more easily be applied in the field of communications. It is true that up to now the editorial staff of L’Osservatore Romano is strictly of the male gender, but the new editor, Giovanni Maria Vian, seems intent on breaking that tradition. Without counting that, when the moment arrives, it will be a woman who gets a post of responsibility in the Vatican Press Room.

Italiano Español Français Deutsch Português