Pope Francis says he will add two women to the advisory committee for the election of bishops

Placeholder when loading item promotions

ROME – In a historic first, Pope Francis announced his intention to include two women on the committee that advises him on the selection of bishops in an interview published Wednesday.

In the July 2 interview with Reuters at his home, Francis said he was “open to donations [women] an opportunity,” including laypeople, to fill more top administrative posts, as a recent reform of the Vatican Curia allows.

“For the first time, two women will be appointed to the committee for the election of bishops in the Congregation for Bishops,” he said, without naming names or offering a timeframe for the nomination. “Things open up a bit that way.”

Is Pope Francis nearing the end of his pontificate?

Giovanni Maria Vian, a former Vatican newspaper editor and historian of early Christianity, called it “a factually novel signal, and a welcome one at that, desired by the great majority of believers, not just public opinion.”

“There may have been exceptions over 19 centuries, but generally the selection of the ruling class of the Roman Church has always been strictly internal,” he told the Washington Post.

In the interview, Francis noted how, for the first time, he chose a woman, Sister Raffaella Petrini, to fill the No. 2 position in the city-state’s governorship.

Francis, who has hired other nuns and lay women to run Vatican departments, also mentioned to Reuters the possibility of hiring women to run the Department of Catholic Education and Culture and the Apostolic Library – both of which are currently run by men.

However, some Vatican observers said they were not convinced that Francis’ move – if it actually materializes – would have much of an impact.

“If there are more women, I’m just glad, but we’re very late to this party,” said theologian Cettina Militello, the chair of women and Christianity at the Marianum, a pontifical institute in Rome.

“It should have been obvious, like that [whole] People of God should be included, just as they were in the early church,” she said, noting that change may be limited by the thinking of the women chosen. “Women who guarantee continuity, possibly conservative, are still the most preferred.”

Lucetta Scaraffia, founder of a monthly Vatican publication made up of all women, was equally unsure.

“I’ve always been quite skeptical about these callings from above, women who are sorted out by the hierarchy, who are very obedient and only do what priests want,” she said.

The appointment of bishops not only depends on the advisory board, Scaraffia said, but also involves on-the-spot assessments that require written statements from many people, including bishops, priests and male figures.

“But women’s opinions are rarely asked. Even if they are Superiors General, nuns who know the candidate well and can speak more freely because they are not their competitors,” she said.

Regardless of what happens on the board, Scaraffia said if women are not heard equally at these local assessments, bishop appointments will never change.