A slow "transition" in the government of the Church: by appointing women to positions of responsibility in the Vatican, Pope Francis is moving the lines, but his reforms come up against the mentalities of an intrinsically patriarchal system.
From the colorful uniforms of the Swiss Guards to the rows of cardinals in Saint-Pierre Square, the female figure is far from being the first image conveyed by the smallest state in the world.
However, more and more women work in its administration. Economists, secretaries, historians, archivists: in 2022, they represented 26.1% of the workforce, against only 19.3% in 2013, according to a survey by Austrian journalist Gudrun Sailer, published Tuesday by Vatican News.
If this shift is widely welcomed in public, a dozen employees interviewed by AFP regret, on condition of anonymity, the resistance and condescension they face, especially among clerics.
"There is still a long way to go," said one of them, in office for ten years. Another denounces "a glass ceiling and a generally paternalistic attitude in the corridors", with a backward-looking vision of "the sensitive, gentle woman, found in the pope's speeches".
"We sometimes have the impression of being considered as trainees. These are small gestures, a hand on the shoulder, a lack of consideration, almost daily remarks on the physique and the clothing", adds- She.
Others, sometimes mothers, regret seeing themselves relegated to supporting roles and denounce an implicit injunction to silence and docility.
To increase their visibility, the women joined forces in 2016 to create the association "Donne in Vaticano" ("Women in the Vatican"), whose hundred members meet every month. "The goal is to create a network of exchange and to enhance the role of women," its president, Margherita Romanelli, told AFP.
As early as 2012, the unexpected creation of a monthly women's supplement to the very serious Osservatore Romano, the official daily of the Vatican, had thrown a stone into the pond. Even if it means rubbing shoulders with reluctance.
Its founder Lucetta Scaraffia, columnist and historian, ended up throwing in the towel in 2019 by denouncing a "climate of mistrust".
According to her, the pope's reforms, essentially "cosmetic", actually hide a "macho mentality", according to which "women must serve without asking anything in return".
She wants proof of this in the "modern slavery" of the nuns employed in the Vatican and elsewhere by priests, bishops or cardinals, to do "the cooking, the cleaning, the washing of clothes". But also sexual violence against nuns in Rome and around the world, which often results in abortions.
Despite these criticisms, many welcome the clear acceleration of a feminization that began twenty years ago, with a growing number of lay people recruited for specific skills.
In the middle of the Roman passes, the number of women in positions of responsibility has thus tripled since the election of Francis ten years ago. Like Sister Alessandra Smerilli, who in 2021 became the first woman to be appointed secretary (number 2) of a dicastery, equivalent to a ministry.
Or even Barbara Jatta, first director of the prestigious Vatican museums.
Secularization of the posts of "ministers", participation of women in the appointment of bishops: the Argentinian Jesuit continues to advance in small steps.
“Ten years ago, it would not have been possible to imagine such an evolution”, notes Gudrun Sailer, author of the book “Women in the Vatican”.
"The Vatican is 30 or 40 years behind, but women have a voice today, they no longer allow themselves to be pushed around," adds a lay employee in her forties.
In a city-state that applies strict wage parity, the leader of the 1.3 billion Catholics has also introduced symbolic measures, such as opening up to women the rite of foot washing or reading during mass.
Faced with the gap between these reforms and the persistence of misogynistic behavior, women are wondering about the position to adopt.
"Some believe that we must tell the truth and denounce behavior, others think that this is counterproductive and that we must be satisfied with small advances", comments one of them.
"Changing mentalities is a long process", recalls Romilda Ferrauto, member of "Donne In Vaticano". "François' method is to take action and wait for it to move the lines".
Far from being confined to the Vatican borders, the debate joins the voices rising against the systemic patriarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, engaged for several months in a vast global consultation on its future.
Because the difficulties of women in the Vatican also reflect the heritage of a two thousand year old Church which prohibits divorce, abortion and the ordination of women while defending tooth and nail the celibacy of priests.
Long before the wave
For the French theologian Anne-Marie Pelletier, the "irreversible and happy" movement of feminization must materialize in even stronger decisions, such as the ordination of women deacons... even the creation of women cardinals. "It would be a strong symbolic gesture to erase these stereotypes."
07/03/2023 22:35:55 - Vatican City (AFP) - © 2023 AFP