Pope promotes woman to top Vatican post
Pope Francis chose the first woman to hold a number two position in a department of the Roman Curia.
Sister Alessandra Smerilli, a 47-year-old economist, will become Acting Secretary of the Vatican Dicastery for the Promotion of Integral Human Development, an office that covers a diverse portfolio including the environment, Covid-19 and nuclear disarmament. This makes her the most senior woman in the central administration of the Church.
The Salesian Sister, who was previously number three in the department, teaches political economy at the Pontifical Faculty of Educational Sciences “Auxilium” and has undertaken doctoral research at the University of East Anglia under the supervision of Professor Robert Sugden, specialist in behavioral economics. A Vatican press release explained that his appointment was “ad interim”.
The choice of Francis de Sr. Alessandra as secretary breaks a glass ceiling for women serving in the Vatican given that the roles of prefect or secretary of the offices of the Roman Curia have traditionally been held by bishops or cardinals. In 2018, Francis appointed a layman, Paolo Ruffini, to head the communications service, and gradually increased the number of women in leadership positions during his pontificate.
The appointment of Sr. Alessandra makes the nun one of the most influential women in the Vatican. In addition to her new post, Sr. Alessandra sits on the Governing Board of the Vatican City State Administration and was one of the first women to be chosen as Consultants to the Office of the Synod of Bishops in the year. last.
In her new functions, she will succeed two priests: Bishop Bruno Marie Duffé, the former secretary of the department and Father Augusto Zampini Davies, a senior official closely involved in coordinating the Vatican’s response to Covid-19. Both returned to their dioceses (France and Argentina respectively) after serving their five-year terms, which was becoming increasingly common in Francis’s time.
Following the coronavirus epidemic, the Pope asked Sr. Alessadra to coordinate the working group on the economy of the Vatican’s Covid-19 commission and, alongside the role of secretary, she has a management role on the Covid body, previously insured by Father Zampini-Davies.
She described her new post, which comes less than six months after being chosen as Undersecretary at the Dicastery, as a “difficult task”, but pledged to accomplish it with the “Humility, passion, creativity and the listening that it requires”.
The Pope’s decision to appoint Sr. Alessandra comes after a review of the work of the Department of Human Development carried out by Cardinal Blase Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, at Francis’ request. He was assisted by the Dominican Sister Helen Alford, Vice-Rector of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas, and Pier Francesco Pinelli, management consultant.
Last year, Sr. Alessandra was closely involved in organizing a gathering of over 2,000 young entrepreneurs and economists in Assisi entitled “The Economy of Francesco”, an event aimed at helping to build a stronger financial system. fair and more sustainable. She argued that the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi, the namesake of the Pope, opens the way for a new approach.
Talk to The tablet she underlined how, in the 15th century, the Franciscan friars helped set up the first small credit institutions known as “montes pietatis”, which offered loans at reasonable interest rates to the poorest in society. It was a time when usury was everywhere and Sr. Alessandra describes it as the first example of microcredit.
Father Zampini Davies leaves after playing a key role in leading the Vatican’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic, seeking to influence the global conversation on a range of economic issues and environmental issues.
The Argentinian priest spent several years in the UK and is a former theological adviser to Cafod who studied at the University of Bath, the University of Roehampton and the Margaret Beaufort Institute, the University of Cambridge.
The appointment of Sr Alessandra follows the Pope’s choice of Sister Nathalie Becquart as the first woman to hold the post of Assistant Under-Secretary in the Office of the Synod of Bishops (a post normally held by a bishop). She also has the right to vote at a future synodal gathering in Rome. Over the past eight years, Francis has slowly tried to diversify the male-dominated Vatican leadership.
Her appointments include women under-secretaries in the Department for the Laity, Family and Life, the first female director of the Vatican Museums and six women on the board overseeing the finances of the Holy See. He also appointed the first female consultant to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Old Testament and a female deputy director of the Holy See Press Office. Earlier this month, he added five women scientists, including three Nobel Laureates, to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.